Known for breathtaking views, distinctive snowy caps and a vast array of wildlife inhabitants, the White Mountains of New Hampshire are a year-round destination for adventure seekers and nature lovers. Standing at the base of the White Mountain range, peering up at peaks that reach thousands of feet in elevation, the thought of scaling the mountains might seem daunting to some. For a group of approximately 50 women, the climb has become a more meaningful endeavor, one that invites the challenges and trials the journey brings. Enter, Wilderness Heals, an all-women three-day hike through the White Mountains to benefit the Elizabeth Stone House, a Boston-based organization that provides essential transitional services to survivors of domestic violence. In its 25th year, the hike has become almost a performance, a symbolic acknowledgement of the mountains a survivor of domestic violence climbs each day. It is ESH’s largest and most important fund-raising event.
For Samantha Marre, Great Hill Partners’ Compliance Manager, Wilderness Heals has become an annual commitment. Sam was introduced to the organization in 2018 and says she is, “continuously moved by the strength and dedication of the staff and clients of ESH. The clients are faced with immense challenges, but they persevere and fight for a better life for themselves and their families.”
The first day of the journey kicks off at 5:00 am. The hikers gather, get acquainted and meet with both staff and clients of ESH. It is a moment, before the long hike, for clients to share what Sam calls, “their struggles and their victories.” It is also an opportunity for ESH to showcase the impact of their services. While ESH receives government grants and other funding, those funds are accompanied by restrictions that limit how ESH can distribute the dollars. Money raised through the Wilderness Heals hike, however, can be used at the organization’s discretion. This permits ESH to offer broader resources for offerings such as life skills classes, support groups and even a day of apple picking for parents and their children. ESH is also designed to respond to emergency circumstances when other outlets fail domestic violence survivors. One client’s story has stayed with Sam, “ESH used funds to change the locks of a survivor’s home the day her abuser was released from jail; the abuser ended up murdering someone else that night but was unable to gain access to his previous home where the survivor still lived.” This holistic approach to healing and safety is what makes the Elizabeth Stone House so effective in their mission to help survivors achieve stability. For ESH it is not solely about transitioning clients away from domestic violence, it is essential that they are able to thrive.
The Presidential Traverse of the White Mountains is considered one of the most intense routes and can take several days for an experienced hiker to complete. In 2018, Sam and the group hiked the southern half of the Presidential Traverse, summiting six of the Presidential Mountains. The next year, in 2019, they hiked the northern half, summiting six more mountains. In 2020, Sam’s goal was to summit Mount Washington, but that was put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising goals, however, were more important than ever, as the pandemic complicated so much of the work ESH does. The hike was held virtually and ESH raised just over $150,000.
The hike itself might be Sam’s accomplishment, but her participation, she makes clear, is an extension of the contributions from her community and GHP family, “John [Dwyer] is always supportive of me taking time to participate in the hike, including my very first Friday working for Great Hill Partners! GHP also allocates a day, quarterly, to employees so we can give back to our community. Members of the Finance Team have personally donated to my campaign each year. We talk about the hike before and after and they always pump me up!”. In fact, Sam finds the hike is comparable to working with her GHP team, “It is all about collaboration and unity. The team gets together after dinner each night and decides which trails make the most sense for everyone. The team decides together which mountains to summit, which challenges to take and which to pass on.” Nonetheless, Sam’s greatest motivation remains the survivors, “Inspired by their strength, I am motivated to challenge myself physically to raise vital funds for a great organization.”
For more information on the Elizabeth Stone House visit https://www.elizabethstonehouse.org/