It’s 6:30 in the morning on September 25, 2020, and a small team from The Home Loan Expert is beginning their long climb up Mount Elbert, the highest summit in the Rocky Mountains of North America and the highest point in Colorado.
In a class commonly referred to as 14ers by those adventurous enough to climb them, this 14,440 foot-high mountain isn’t for the faint of heart.
On this particular early morning, The Home Loan Expert President Ryan Kelley, Chief Compliance Officer Michael Chiarella and Chief Financial Officer April McCoy were determined to make the roughly 10.5-mile ascent, which, on average, takes seven hours to complete.
Literally taking it one step at a time, Chiarella recounts just trying to take the journey 25 yards and 30 yards at a time, making the most of the incremental milestones to hopefully add up to reaching the summit. Finally, after two false summits, which is a peak that appears to be the pinnacle of the mountain, Chiarella made it to the top.
“It was absolutely exhilarating,” said Chiarella.
Drawing a connection between the strength it takes to summit the mountain and the determination it takes to go through life, Chiarella said, “Once you get to the top, you see the reward for all your hard work, so to some degree, that is a metaphor.”
While hiking Mount Elbert was Chiarella’s first hike with The Home Loan Expert, for others on the team, this year marked the sixth year in a long, heartfelt journey on how the company has used hiking as a way to raise money. The reality is that this group wasn’t hiking to simply check something off the bucket list. Instead, every step and minute that went by on their hike was fueled by a greater mission.
Kelley is not only the president of The Home Loan Expert but is also the founder of Climb For The Kids, an annual campaign to climb mountains to raise money to help families of children with cancer and bring awareness to life-threatening diseases. Kelley started the campaign in 2015 by hiking Mt. Rainier, which is right outside of Seattle, Washington. At the time, he was able to raise over $14,000 for Friends of Kids with Cancer, which is devoted to enriching the daily lives of children undergoing treatment for, and survivors of, cancer and blood-related diseases.
To Kelley, the heart of giving back began around five or six years ago when he would go visit SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri after a long day at the office to spend time with the children who were getting treatments. These children sparked something inside of Kelley, a core desire to give back and fight to bring awareness to what they’re going through.
So, when Kelley dreamt up this whole plan for the company to come together to climb a mountain, his mission was to raise money for Friends of Kids with Cancer.
McCoy, who was there for the first hike in 2015 up Mt. Rainier, credits that first climb and the fight it took to attempt to climb the extremely technical mountain, as the climb that set the company on this trajectory of helping kids, and completely changed her life forever.
Since that first climb in 2015, Climb For the Kids has been able to raise more than $14,000 in 2016 and 20017, more than $50,000 in 2018, and more than $85,000 in 2019. The campaign has been able to donate money to places like Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and the Staunton State Park Track Chair Program.
But for McCoy, one person in particular, Alec Ingram, who they donated to, holds a special place in her heart. After making the first climb in 2015, The Home Loan Expert was offered the opportunity to throw out a first pitch at a Cardinals baseball game, which they turned into a raffle drawing as a way to raise money. However, the person who won the raffle donated the pitch back, allowing them to give the first pitch to a boy, Ingram, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma bone cancer in May of 2015 at nine years old. Over years, he became part of The Home Loan Expert Family. McCoy and the team would visit him in the hospital, bring him food and just be there to support him. He even became an honorary employee.
After fighting the disease for more than four years, Ingram passed away on Nov. 7, 2019, a true superhero to everyone who knew him. Ingram’s legacy lives on through his parents, who started the Team Alec Forever Foundation, which McCoy now sits on the board of. Their mission is to financially help childhood cancer families with end of life expenses, who are treated in the St. Louis area.
Since her first climb in 2015, McCoy wasn’t able to climb again until this year’s climb when she hiked Mount Elbert in honor of Ingram and to advocate for the Team Alec Forever Foundation.
“I did not quit this time because of Alec and because of what I was fighting for,” McCoy said. “When I finally got to the top, I was really proud of myself and that I made it so I could tell people I made it for Alec and to raise money for the foundation.”
When McCoy reached the top, she texted Ingram’s mom letting her know that she inspired her to get to the top.
Alec’s mom replied, “So glad you made it. Tell Alec I said hi. I feel like you’re a little closer to him at 14K.”
When she said, “Tell Alec I said hi. You’re a little closer to him,” McCoy said that was her moment because she did it for Alec’s mom. It also helped her to bring awareness to the foundation.
It’s stories like Ingram’s that drive The Home Loan Expert team to continuously climb mountains every year.
From this past climb in 2020, The Home Loan Expert was able to raise $90,000 for Team Alec Forever, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Friends of Kids with Cancer, Girls on the Run – St. Louis, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and First Descents.
“What motivates me now is the larger we grow the company and the bigger we get, the more dollars in awareness we can raise for charitable partners,” Kelley said. “We will always have this as one of our main cornerstones of the company.”
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