Bostonia is published in print three times a year and updated weekly on the web.
Elena Barbera knows something about the difficulties of life as a new amputee; she has several close relatives who have lost limbs to trauma or disease. Active in many charitable causes, she has also learned that small, targeted fundraising efforts can get help quickly to those who need it. So in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings in April, Barbera committed to climbing the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown every day for 30 days to raise money for the 14 victims who lost one or both legs.
By her last climb, on May 22, Barbera (SHA’97) exceeded her goal of $8,820—a dollar for every step she climbed. (It’s 294 steps to the top.) By June 23, she had raised nearly $13,000. Barbera, a marketing writer, consultant, and community activist, who also volunteers with iPods for Wounded Veterans, was “hoping to get beyond $14,000 so we can give each of the amputees $1,000 or more.”
“We did it,” Barbera said through tears on the 30th and last official day of her effort. Under the cupola at the top of the monument, its windows framing a panorama of Boston and the harbor, she told the small group who’d made the climb with her—including a fundraiser from a charity for the homeless, a friend, and Boston mayoral candidate Bill Walczak—that she intends the money to be used for the small expenses that add up quickly for people who won’t be able to work through the long rehabilitation process. A May 15 write-up in the New York Times gave her effort an unexpected boost and led to several far-flung donations. “Among the people who donated $50 each were three who are still living out of suitcases after losing their homes in Hurricane Sandy,” Barbera said. Another donation came from someone in Australia.
Century Bank in Boston helped Barbera set up a special account for the money she’s raised and will help disburse funds to the 14 amputee survivors. Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who represents East Boston, “will be helping to facilitate communication with the survivors’ families to make sure the money gets into the right hands,” Barbera said. “Every dollar will help make the lives of new amputees better. They’ll need to pay for medical bills, prosthetics, prescriptions, new clothes, modifications to their homes, and transportation.”
The Bunker Hill Monument, which is on Breed’s Hill, stands 221 feet tall; it is the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution, fought on June 17, 1775. The iconic battle order to colonial soldiers not to fire “until you see the whites of their eyes,” attributed to Colonel William Prescott, was given to make sure that each shot would count. British casualties were high, and the ragtag colonial forces repelled two major assaults by the British Army before retreating.
To Barbera, long captivated by Boston’s history, the monument represents “the freedoms that were fought for and won for us. It was the perfect context for taking action that would raise money for the survivors,” she said. “Taking steps every day has its own symbolism. It’s my hope that those 14 people can eventually make this climb themselves.”
Barbera was rarely alone on the climb to the top of the monument, which takes fit adults no longer than 20 minutes. On a blog chronicling 30 days of ups and downs, she wrote of being joined by Republican US Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez, a runner who passed the Boston Marathon finish line shortly before the first bomb exploded. Other politicians who showed up for the morning climbs include Massachusetts State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, from the third Suffolk District, John R. Connolly, a candidate in this year’s Boston mayoral race, and LaMattina.
Although her stated mission was completed on day 30, Barbera ended up making the climb the following three days, to accommodate people who wanted to accompany her, but hadn’t had the chance.
And on the 34th day, she rested.
Donations to Elena Barbera’s Boston Bomb Victim Bunker Hill Climb fund can be made here.