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Passion, Perseverance and Philanthropy Fuels K2 Adventures Foundation to Great Heights

Hike in Nepal

Courtesy of K2 Adventures

Founders Kristen Sandquist and Kevin Cherilla are changing the lives of people with disabilities around the world one step up the
mountain at a time.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is no small feat. Neither is doing it while guiding a group of 25, eight of whom are blind. But that’s exactly the sort of thing that Kristen Sandquist, CEO and co-founder of K2 Adventures Foundation, and Kevin Cherilla, President and co-founder of K2 Adventures Foundation, do.

It all started 10 years ago, when Sandquist and Cherilla were introduced by a mutual friend who thought Sandquist could help Cherilla fundraise for the climb, which benefited the Foundation for Blind Children. She agreed, and created a charity event to help raise money to fund the climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Courtesy of K2 Adventures

As fate would have it, one of the guides dropped out of the team, and Cherilla asked Sandquist to step in. “At first I took a step back and kind of thought, ‘Is he kidding?’ Because this isn’t at all what I do,” she says, adding that she had zero experience with mountain climbing, and the trip was set to depart in just 52 days.

“I knew she could do it, because she had the right mindset,” Cherilla says. With daily training with Cherilla and a personal trainer, Sandquist prepared to do the climb.

“I could barely climb Pinnacle Peak; I literally trained seven days a week for 52 days and was ready to go. The day we left, I felt really good. I had lost about 20 pounds and was feeling really strong and confident with the woman I was guiding. She was really awesome; a young woman who had lost her vision in a two-week period of time. She wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, and if I didn’t say yes to being her guide she wouldn’t have had a guide.”

Within a year, Sandquist became an international mountain guide, and upon returning from that climb she and Cherilla sat down to hash out the details of what became their joint venture: K2 Adventures Foundation.

“Here we are, in our 10th year of giving back, millions of dollars raised and helping thousands of people around the world.”

“We met at Peter Piper Pizza with my kids running around and playing with her kids, and we wrote out a game plan on a napkin,” he says. “Here we are, in our 10th year of giving back, millions of dollars raised and helping thousands of people around the world.”

K2 Adventures Foundation is a unique non-profit that specializes in aiding individuals with disabilities around the world through various programs, services and philanthropic efforts.

Photo by David Evison/Shutterstock

Through the “voluntourism” arm of the organization, they’ve organized philanthropic adventure trips to destinations like Peru, Tanzania and Nepal. “Tanzania is definitely our favorite trip. The impact that we’ve had in the community, the overall beauty of Tanzania with the safaris and beaches, and the lives that we’ve changed over there is incredible,” Cherilla says.

This year, they’re opening a new orphanage called Summit Happy Home in Arusha, Tanzania, which will house 35 children. There will also be a greenhouse, chicken coop, cows, water well for the community, fruit trees, and the ability to collect their own eggs, garden, grow vegetables and herbs and create healthy meals.

“The thing we love most is the fact that we truly have an impact in the areas that we go to and that people really appreciate what we are doing for them,” Cherilla says. When you have an impact that goes all the way to the president and first lady of a country, that’s a pretty big impact.”

Other global organizations supported include the Señora del Carmen School in Peru and the Mwereni Integrated School for the Blind in Tanzania.

On the local level, K2 Adventures Foundation has eight programs that benefit people with disabilities and create opportunities for them to participate in a variety of activities.

On the local level, K2 Adventures Foundation has eight programs that benefit people with disabilities and create opportunities for them to participate in a variety of activities.
“We really focus on building programs here in Arizona that individuals with disabilities can go out and just have fun in a recreational setting and never feel uncomfortable about the disability or ever be limited to activities because of it,” Sandquist says.

Through K2 At the Bat, for example, children and their families can enjoy baseball in an adaptive recreation facility. And through K2 Equine Therapy, children ages 13-16 can access equine-assisted therapy in an eight-week program. New this year is K2 At the Bat Cave, where kids will have the opportunity to ride in the original Batmobile.

In addition to these programs, donations are also made to help with medical expenses, additional therapies, prosthetics and more. Individuals can apply for an award consideration directly on the website.

“We just bought an adaptive mattress for a young boy who has cerebral palsy, and he can’t turn himself over. So instead of his mom having to get up four times in the middle of the night to flip her son over, this mattress flips him over so he can be moved and asleep, and Mom doesn’t have to get up. Insurance companies won’t pay for that,” Sandquist says.

The foundation raises funds through donations and several events throughout the year. This November, they’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary with a black and white masquerade ball at Westin Kierland Resort & Spa.

Photo courtesy of K2 Adventures

Trips booked through K2 Adventure Travel, a separate organization owned by Cherrila and Sandquist, also benefit K2 Adventures Foundation. “About 70 percent of our clients are repeat clients,” Sandquist says. These travelers get to immerse themselves in an exotic adventure while participating in on-the-ground community service, working with orphanages, communities and hospitals around the world.

“Right now, we have some amazing things in the works in Tanzania,” Cherilla says. “We’re going to be sending another container of about $600,000 to $1 million in medical supplies that will arrive, hopefully, in May. That’s a big thing we have coming up,” he says.

It’s a proud moment for them both, as it should be.

“How our help affects the individuals we serve is so rewarding,” Sandquist says. “Just seeing the smiles on their faces when they get to get on a horse for the first time or put on their prosthetic leg for the first time or go outside and play basketball—it’s everything.”

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