Bold Steps and Big Hearts: Ecuador Challenge for Shelter smashes fundraising record

December 13, 2023 10 min. read
Trekkers head steadily towards Mount Cotopaxi during the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter. Photo credit: Colby Bayne

More than one year ago, Royal LePage professionals from across Canada were given the opportunity to take part in the adventure of a lifetime. As a participant in the ‘Ecuador Challenge for Shelter’, they would camp in tents for four chilly nights and hike for 5 days towards the base of Mt. Cotopaxi – one of the highest active volcanoes in the world – all in support of their local women’s shelters and national domestic violence prevention programs.  

115 brave Royal LePagers answered the call, each one agreeing to cover their personal trek and travel costs and to raise at least $6,000 for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. Ultimately, this team of fundraisers collected a staggering $1.7 million for the cause, setting a new record for the most money raised by a single Shelter Foundation event. 

Enjoy this teaser from the absolutely incredible ‘Ecuador Challenge for Shelter,’ held November 2023 in support of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation! More amazing footage from this adventure-of-a-lifetime coming January 2024!

Funds will be split between each trekker’s local women’s shelter and programs in communities from coast to coast that teach youth how to build healthy relationships and avoid violence in their lives. An additional donation was made to the women’s shelter in Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, as a show of appreciation to the trek’s host country and as a signal of solidarity that women everywhere deserve to be safe in their homes and closest relationships. 

“We are in awe of the flood of donations received in support of the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter, having never imagined that this year’s group of trekkers would achieve such incredible fundraising success,” said Carly Neill, fundraising and communications manager with the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. “At the same time, it’s sobering, because we know that these donations come in response to the overwhelming need of our local women’s shelters which continue to see troubling rates of intimate partner violence.”

Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal LePage pauses for a photo during the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter with fellow trekker, Melody May. Photo credit: Melody May.

“On average, a woman in Canada is killed by her current or former partner every six days,” added Lisa Gibbs, executive director of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. “Since June 2023, over 60 Canadian municipalities have declared Intimate Partner Violence an epidemic. While the issue is complex, as Royal LePagers we understand instinctively that home should be a safe place for everyone and our resolve to be part of the solution has never been stronger.” 

Energized by their fundraising success, trekkers headed to Quito where they set off on their hiking adventure in four groups, spaced two days apart on the trail. Very quickly, the effects of a high-altitude environment began to set in, with many trekkers experiencing a range of symptoms, including headache, nausea, dizziness, and insomnia, all of which were closely monitored by a physician who traveled with each group. 

With full rain gear on, trekkers in the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter head into an afternoon storm. Photo credit: Dale Temple.

Unfortunately, some participants experienced frustrating setbacks that added an additional challenge to their trek. “At some point on our second day of hiking I pulled a muscle in my leg and could barely lift my foot higher than a few inches,” said Carlie Smith with Royal LePage NRC Realty in Port Colborne, ON. “To train all year and push so hard and then have something happen outside your control was devastating. Through many tears, I had to remind myself that regardless of what my body had in mind, I had already completed what I set out to do in raising over $77,000 for my local women’s shelter. The safety, security and hope we are funding is what the trek is all about. Thankfully, with a half day of rest and stretching, I was able to complete the hike with my teammates which made for a very emotional finish.” 

While everyone came prepared for unpredictable mountain weather, many were surprised by the wild and wide-ranging conditions they faced. From frosty mornings, to scorching afternoons, to rain-soaked evenings, trekkers faced each hour with a mix of enthusiasm and fortitude as they climbed steadily up – and cautiously down – some of Ecuador’s most grueling terrain.

High fives for strong finishes during the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter. Photo credit: Nicole Hacault.

“As a group, we laughed, we cried, we froze, we sweat, we were soaked and pelted by rain and hail. We were sunburnt, scratched, bumped, bruised, and more. But through it all, we persevered,” said Steve Nabuurs with Royal LePage Prince Edward Realty in Charlottetown, PEI. “This experience has had a profound effect on me physically and emotionally and provided a sense of clarity that I’ve never experienced.” 

Each day on the trail, trekkers paused to read aloud an account of intimate partner violence, each one written by a fellow trekker who bravely shared her story to help center the purpose of the trek. “It was heart wrenching to hear the pain and suffering that these women have had to endure,” said trekker Jennifer Robb with Royal LePage State Realty in Hamilton, ON. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in the group during the reading of the letters, and for many, this may have been the most challenging element of the trek. But, through the sadness, we all drew strength from the resilience of women who have faced domestic abuse and the families of those who have been lost to this senseless violence.” 

Trekker Isabelle Lecour crosses an icy stream barefoot during the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter. Photo credit: Nicole Hacault.

During the steepest of climbs, while traversing the most treacherous passes, and as they faced their most physically and emotionally demanding moments, trekkers relied on one another and their crew of experienced and compassionate guides to get them through.    

“Sharing extreme physical and mental stress has a way of creating life-long friendships,” said Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal LePage, and beloved member and veteran of the trekking team. “I watched the bonds grow between complete strangers as they struggled up the steep mountain trails side-by-side, before collapsing, exhausted into crowded tents at night. It is rare in our busy lives that we spend so many days in the wilderness. Unplugged, walking and talking hour after hour, people would bare their souls to each other. To create these unique relationships between colleagues while doing such good work is a huge point of pride for us at Royal LePage.” 

Crossing a narrow path next to a steep drop off, trekkers in the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter rely on a rope for balance. Photo credit: Nicole Hacault.

A bi-annual fundraiser, the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter follows in the footsteps of Royal LePage Shelter Foundation treks in the Purcell Mountains (2021), Sahara Desert (2019), Iceland (2017), and Machu Picchu (2015). A total of $4.7 million has been raised via the ‘Challenge for Shelter’ series. Those interested in participating in a future trek should stay tuned next year for the announcement of the top secret destination for 2025. 

The Challenge for Shelter is proudly sponsored by TD Canada Trust Mobile Mortgage Specialists, Sagen, and Just Sell Homes. To learn more about the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation or to make a donation, visit rlp.ca/shelter. 

Feeling grateful at the summit of Pasochoa during the Ecuador Challenge for Shelter is Mike Heddle. Photo credit: Mike Heddle.

COMING SOON! Stay tuned for more photos and video from this amazing adventure.