‘Changing the way that young people look at philanthropy:’ A profile of UConn’s ‘Choose a Challenge’ club

Photo by Rita Plante, Group shot from a warmup hike at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland before the 2019 Edinburgh Marathon in 2 days

Photo by Rita Plante, Group shot from a warmup hike at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland before the 2019 Edinburgh Marathon in 2 days

From hosting fundraisers outside of Stop and Shops to running 20 miles multiple times a week, members of the University of Connecticut’s “Choose a Challenge” club are always preparing for their next journey. 

 The club’s main purpose is to provide undergraduate students unique opportunities, such as hiking up Mt. Kilimanjaro, for a low out-of-pocket cost, according to Rita Plante, campus leader of “Choose a Challenge” and fifth-semester applied mathematics and communication double major.  

Funding for the trips comes from fundraising, with half going towards trip expenses and the other half being donated to charity, Plante said. She said the best part of the organization is that it allows college students the ability to travel while also teaching them the value of working with a charity.  

“Every trip has not only opened my eyes to a whole new part of the world I never would have experienced otherwise, but it also introduced me to a community of kind and adventurous people that I am so glad to have met,” Plante said. “I highly recommend that everyone take on a trek with this company because they are changing the way that young people look at philanthropy in the best way possible.” 

This year, there are two officially planned adventures: A trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the Edinburgh Marathon in England, Plante said. Before the planning for the trips begins, students must start fundraising.  

UConn’s chapter of the national organization is partnered with Make-A-Wish CT, Plante said. Before each adventure, students have to fundraise with goals ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 for Make-a-Wish. Students have from the time they sign up for a trip, typically in early fall, until the early spring to fundraise, she said. 

“Some great fundraisers I’ve either done myself or seen other people do are carnival game booths at fairs, paint parties, bowling tournaments and Krispy Kreme sales,” Plante said.  “Last year...one student organized a benefit concert, and another student organized a 5k race. These larger fundraisers take a lot of planning, but are generally very successful.”  

Photo by Rita Plante, Plante at the Machu Picchu Ruins in 2018

Photo by Rita Plante, Plante at the Machu Picchu Ruins in 2018

Once enough money has been raised, students have to start preparing for the physical toll of their upcoming trip, Elizabeth Chamiec-Case, fifth-semester engineering physics major and student challenge leader for the 2020 Edinburgh Marathon, said. She said that preparation is different for everyone, but the goal is to finish. 

“Luckily, the course was mostly flat, and we all managed to finish [last year]. Preparation looks different for each participant,” Chamiec-Case said. “Running-wise, I personally did about four to five runs per week with long runs getting up to 20 miles, although I know there were other participants who had run at most 13 miles at a time before coming.”  

When it is time to book the trip, the national organization of “Choose a Challenge” helps organize flights, find hotels and make sure students have everything they need for the trip, Plante said. Once in the country, local representatives provide transportation, meals and medical attention, if needed.

“I actually got pretty bad altitude sickness on the Machu Picchu trek [my freshman year] and the guides gave me medical attention to help me continue the trek,” Plante said. “The guides and representative from Choose a Challenge that I have met are some of the kindest and most helpful people that I have ever met. Trust me, the students are in great hands.”  

When students are not fundraising or on their adventures, they are able to explore the cities and even add on an extension trip for additional travel time outside of the trek itself, Plante said.  

Photo by Rita Plante, Group shot at a campsite during the 2019 Kilimanjaro Trek

Photo by Rita Plante, Group shot at a campsite during the 2019 Kilimanjaro Trek

“For Kilimanjaro, students can go on a three-day safari and spend time on the beaches of Zanzibar,” Plante said. “For the Edinburgh trip, students spend a week in London and visit the Harry Potter studios. These trips may seem too good to be true to some people, but they are so not.”  

From last year’s Edinburgh trip, nine students from UConn participated and raised $22,440 for Make a Wish, Jacob Knight, one of the nine students and third-semester nursing and English double major, said. Each person on the trip raised between $2,000 and $4,000, he said.  

“It took a lot of dedication, but it definitely paid off,” Knight said. “I think everyone who was apart of this trip was more than happy taking some time out of their days every now and then to raise money for local kids who were battling many kinds of illnesses.”  

Knight said being a part of “Choose a Challenge” is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will never stop being rewarding. 

“I think it [is one hundred percent] worth all the hard work,” Knight said. “ When you are 10 miles into the run and exhausted and a kid recognizes the organization you are from, thanking you, there really isn't anything else like it. It makes the whole journey worth it.”  


Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.philipson@uconn.edu