The second Highlands Challenge fundraiser has raised $75,794.10 for Abbey Retreat Centre’s cancer care programming. Marianne Fenninger, a facilitator with the centre, thanked supporters for “all the possibilities that are now open to the Abbey Retreat Centre (ARC) because of the generosity of you and all our donors,” at an outdoor celebration on Sept. 26. 

The centre set a goal this year of $50,000, and for a while, they worried they might not hit it. However after a plateau in donations midsummer, the challenge gathered momentum. “I’m feeling very humbly grateful,” said executive director Barb Smith-Morrison. “I marvel that this happened and I’m so humbled by it.” The challenge was for Highlanders to get moving in return for donations, but it was open to all interpretations, skill levels and interests. 

Participants ran, walked, biked and paddled in spots around the County. Bob Stiles, a past participant in the centre’s cancer retreats, set out to paddle the Kash chain of lakes and rivers with his friend Greg Roe, under the team name “Stroe Coureurs des lacs.”

 The pair paddled Roe’s 54-year-old canoe, reminiscing about spots on the lakes they remembered from their childhoods and zigzagging from shore to shore to say hello to friends. “I was a canoeist while I was young,” said Stiles.

 “There’s something elemental about it. I’m hopeful we’ll do it again.” Roe agreed, saying there is “something spiritual about canoeing, something spiritual about [this] event.”

 All together they gathered $9,224.50 in donations, more than tripling their initial goal. Stories shared about the challenge at the celebration ranged from Smith-Morrison’s parents walking 86 kilometers, nearly 10 times their goal, or the Haliburton Rotaract Club becoming keenly aware of the centre and avidly supporting the challenge. One group of friends made a goal of walking two or three times a week, all while sporting their bright green fundraiser T-shirts.

 Many who participated said passerbys would offer donations on the spot. “Our work of creating a safe, loving and healing community that supports people living with cancer and also supports their loved ones is meaningful work, it’s inspiring work and it’s even sacred work,” Smith-Morrison said to the participants. “And I believe it’s made all the richer by being part of this community together.” Each dollar raised helps the centre continue the work of providing those living with cancer a space to talk, learn, and heal, along with their support person. 

The challenge also exposed the centre to people who may benefit from its services, Smith-Morrison said. “People are wanting to come to our retreats,” she said. “Not only have we raised money, we’ve raised awareness.”

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