DORSET - Danby resident Julia Lees, a senior at Long Trail School, spent 26 days hiking the entire Long Trail this summer to raise money for the Interfaith Council's Kids' Summer Lunch Program. Her ambitious project started with a need to fulfill a CAS (Community, Action, Service) project for her International Baccalaureate Diploma and a goal since her childhood to hike the Long Trail, but it soon became a personal mission.

"I heard about the lunch program from LTS teacher Patty Midura, and it addresses a big problem," said Lees. "During the school year, children who may not have food available at home are fed through school meal plans. However, over the summer, when school is no longer operating, these programs are no longer running either, and a bunch of kids in the area go hungry. For $10 per week per child, the program really can do a lot."

To fund-raise, Lees mailed appeal letters to area businesses and friends to pledge per mile or to donate a flat sum. She also solicited local business owners for support in person. Planning the hike was a major effort, too, as she had to coordinate supplies and a rotation of friends and family to hike with her so that she was not alone on the trail. Mapping out the route was critical, as she had a relatively short window of time to hike and she had to cover 8-12 miles a day to complete the more than 270 mile trail. She had 26 long days of hiking, often camping overnight, but sometimes getting home to resupply or attend appointments.

"I had some really amazing experiences like climbing Mount Abe, my first really hard hike, or going over beautiful Camel's Hump," Lees added, "Because of time constraints, we also had to do some night hikes, like hiking over Jay Peak at the end of the trail with headlamps. It was really fun and meditative, in a way."

When asked about her biggest challenges, she stated that "beyond the planning of the whole trip, it was getting over Mount Mansfield. It was really windy, and there were some terrifying moments moving up ladders when we were really high up."

As for what she gained from the experience, Lees noted that beyond the successful fund-raising, which totaled over $700, she learned a great deal about her capacities.

"It was hard to communicate and explain a cause, make calls, write letters, and coordinate people to go with me. I learned to be more assertive to get people to commit and to keep others' spirits up amidst all the process and grind of the trip."

She expressed gratitude to all the donors who helped with funds for the Summer Lunch Program, as well as her parents, friends and faculty who helped her execute the trip.

"As a lot of people worked with me, I learned important things about endurance, self-sufficiency, and sticking to a goal. What an unforgettable summer," Lees said.