And down they went, one after another. Some nervous. Some afraid. And one or two were simply terrified.
“You become a lot more religious in the week before you do this,” Duane Albert said. “But I kept telling myself: It’s for the kids. It’s for the kids.”
Thankfully, Albert and the others were tethered to orange and yellow nylon ropes as they walked, slid and hopped down the tawny south side of the 12-story Overland Park Marriott hotel Saturday.
It was the climax of a fundraising drive for Cornerstones of Care, the umbrella organization for several long-standing social service agencies that serve children, teens and their families in the Kansas City area.
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Anyone who raised or contributed $1,000 or more was eligible to rappel down the side of the hotel, and about 40 people availed themselves of the opportunity.
Atop the Marriott, Daniel Hodes looked on nervously as Albert, an insurance sales executive at Willis Group of Kansas, climbed over the roof ledge shortly before 11 a.m.
He wore a blue helmet and was all trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey in a rappelling harness.
Ever done this before, Dan?
“Never before,” he said.
And why are you doing it now?
“At the office, they asked for someone to do this and there was not a long line, so I volunteered.”
Hodes is an attorney specializing in business litigation at the Kansas City law firm German May PC, which is the “they” of which he spoke.
The fact that he is a lawyer who sues people for a living was not a deal breaker for Cornerstone of Care, the Marriott and the company that set up the rappelling rig. Hodes, like all the others, signed a will-not-sue waiver before entrusting his life to the ropes suspended from two metal tripods jutting above the roofline.
But not to worry. Ninety seconds after his descent began, Hodes was safely standing on the ground smiling and being subjected to a critique by his 5-year-old daughter.
“Daddy, you’re supposed to jump, not walk down,” Caelyn Hodes said.
Cornerstones of Care raised about $40,000 from the event, which will go to support operations and programs at its five member agencies: Marillac, Gillis, Ozanam, Spofford and Healthy Families.
Each agency holds its own fundraising events one or more times a year, such as galas and golf tourneys. But this was the first time Cornerstones had a fundraiser benefiting its whole family.
Cornerstones CEO Denise Cross wanted to have something unique, or close to it, to inspire participation. But she also found this particular fundraiser compelling because it seemed like a metaphor for what Cornerstones’ programs ask their at-risk clientele to do every day.
“It was a way for us to demonstrate resilience and courage,” said Cross, who despite her fear of heights took the plunge, as it were, around noon.
“Let’s just say I’m stretching myself today,” she said.
Over the Edge USA, which ran the event, has staged 500 similar descents down tall buildings for charities across North America since it was founded in Nova Scotia in 2004.
Four years later, the company set a goal of raising $50 million for nonprofit organizations by 2018. But it now expects to reach that mark by the end of this year.
“People are scared to death,” Over the Edge founder Paul Griffith says on the company’s website, “but they do it for a purpose.”