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Hiking for a Cause

BU People: Emily Feinberg takes on mountains to raise money for women’s health

Emily Feinberg, an SPH assistant professor of maternal and child health, has raised more than $30,000 for Wilderness Heals during 10 years of fundraising hikes.

When Emily Feinberg takes a hike, she often does so with a mission: to raise money for Elizabeth Stone House, a Boston-based mental health facility and shelter that provides residential and community-based services to women and children escaping violence. For Feinberg, the mission started 10 years ago, when she saw a sign in her neighborhood for Wilderness Heals, an all-women three-day pledge hike in the White Mountains that benefits the facility. “I’m a very avid hiker, and I thought this would be a great way to go hiking and to support a community organization,” says Feinberg, an assistant professor of maternal and child health at the School of Public Health.

To participate, each hiker must raise a minimum of $1,200. Initially, Feinberg had the usual trepidation about asking friends and family for money, but she sent out letters about the project and managed to raise more than $3,000 the first year. “It’s kind of amazing,” she says. “I figure I’ve raised over $30,000 for the organization.”

Every year she writes a new letter about what the organization and the hike mean to her. But four years ago, the annual experience took on a personal significance when her sister committed suicide. As she wrote in that year’s letter, “Supporting an organization that embodies my sister’s commitment to families and provides services to women, who, like my sister, struggle with mental health issues, will help me affirm my sister’s strengths and the incredible work that she did with birth mothers placing a child for adoption.”

Besides being a fundraiser, Wilderness Heals is an opportunity for Feinberg to do something she loves. An outdoors enthusiast who rides her bike most days from Jamaica Plain to campus, Feinberg relishes the chance to go on a three-day hike in the White Mountains. “For me,” she says, “it’s a place for reflection and a time to think about what’s important in life.”

This year’s hike will take place July 20 to 22. Wilderness Heals offers a range of hiking routes tailored to a variety of skills and interests. Teams of four to six women — comprising hikers with similar styles and abilities and led by an experienced team leader — go on one of four trips that differ in mileage, difficulty, terrain, and lodging. Depending on the trip, some hikers stay overnight in Appalachian Mountain Club huts, while others sleep in backcountry campsites. They attend weekend training hikes beginning in May to prepare for the three-day hike.

Feinberg began hiking when she was in college, slowing down only when her children were young. For the past 10 years, she has taken annual weeklong hiking vacations, usually out West. Although occasionally joined by friends (she’s still trying to convince her daughter to hike with her), she usually participates in Wilderness Heals on her own. “I’ve met some very interesting and dynamic women as part of it,” she says.

This year Feinberg hopes to recruit women from the School of Public Health. “It’s quite a remarkable event in terms of feeling connected with the women there,” she says, “and feeling like you’re united in trying to use your enjoyment of being outdoors for the benefit of a larger community.”

For more information about Elizabeth Stone House, click here. For more information about Wilderness Heals, click here or contact Feinberg at emfeinbe@bu.edu.