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AIM students to embark on African adventure

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Brad McGarry, left, at Kilimanjaro (2015)

Eight students and staff members from the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) will kick off 2017 with a 12-day trek through Africa that includes both an adventure hike in the shadows of the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and a Tanzanian wildlife safari.

The group will also spend several days in the village of Arusha, experiencing life in Tanzania and visiting a school for students on the autism spectrum to make a presentation and serve as mentors to the young students.

AIM Director Brad McGarry organized the “Raise the Roof for Autism” trip in cooperation with The Walking Connection, which has led walking and hiking adventures in more than 30 countries around the world.

Making the Africa trip with McGarry and his wife, Aimee, are: Aim coordinator Paulina Wielandt, graduate assistant Michelle Winwood, and AIM students Ben Reinert, Daniel Dooley, Paul Cohen and Samuel "Connor" Griffin.

The Walking Connection previously arranged two “Conquer the Canyon” trips to the Grand Canyon for AIM students, as well as the inaugural “Raise the Roof for Autism” adventure in 2015, during which McGarry reached the summit of Kilimanjaro.

McGarry said the trips provide unforgettable experiences for his students, but also increase awareness of the capabilities of students on the autism spectrum and of their need for meaningful employment opportunities. He said his slogan for this trip is “Learning about the world, while the world learns about us.”

The group will depart from Toronto on Jan. 2 and return there Jan. 14.

Though the group won’t attempt to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, their hike will be physically challenging. Participants completed a 10-week training program to prepare for their hike on Kilimanjaro's Lemosho Route through the Montane Forest up to the Shira Plateau, reaching an elevation of about 12,000 feet.

Their safari will take them to Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater, considered one of the most special places in all of Africa. Dense in wildlife, it’s home to wildebeest, hippos, lions, leopards, cheetah, impala, gazelle, elephants, buffalo, warthogs, kudo and potentially rare rhinos. Safari guides will teach students about the game and its relationship to life on the plains and to the Maasai people who inhabit the area.

Mercyhurst University developed the AIM Program to meet the unique needs of the growing population of college students diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Learn more at mercyhurst.edu/aim.