West Chester area Rotary teams rappel to new heights

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
People who will participate in the big rappel in Philadelphia had the chance to do a five-story practice in West Chester on Sept. 10. (Candice Monhollan)

People who will participate in the big rappel in Philadelphia had the chance to do a five-story practice in West Chester on Sept. 10. (Candice Monhollan)

WEST GOSHEN — Five stories may be enough height for some people, but to others, it was just practice for an even larger goal.

Team Rotary will rappel down 31 stories, or 418 feet, on the One Logan Square building in Philadelphia on Oct. 23 as part of a fundraiser for the Philadelphia Outward Bound School, or POBS.

For now, the team members had the chance to practice on a much smaller building — the five-story West Chester Fire Tower — on Sept. 10.

West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta took part in last year’s rappel in Philadelphia and signed up to do so again this year, though in a different way.

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“I’m not going to jump off the tall building,” she said. “I asked if we could take it to another level, no pun intended. I offered my spot to a girl. I don’t need to go down again. If it would help, I would do it, but I think now we have plenty of help going down because we have Rotary behind us. We’re going to work with the idea of finding a girl who can benefit from that experience.”

Comitta herself is an alumna of POBS, which is the world’s oldest and largest adventure-based education program.

Founded by Kurt Hahn during World War II, the organization’s philosophy is the belief that “for young people to succeed, they need character growth skills to assume leadership roles and take positive approaches to life’s challenges.”

Comitta believes the struggle for self-confidence is huge for young girls, which is why her focus is on helping them.

“We started to support young girls to give them this opportunity so they can build their confidence, trust and leadership skills for themselves and to bring back to the community,” she said. “That’s what we’re about here, in addition to our own personal growth.”

For last year’s rappel, there were only four people taking part in Team West Chester.

“We were the top fundraisers last year for the whole thing,” Comitta said. “All the money we raised goes to West Chester girls, which is a first for the Philadelphia Outward Bound School. They had not gone outside the Philadelphia school district. We were able to send seven West Chester girls — middle school and high school — to the Philadelphia Outward Bound School for a week.”

This year, Team West Chester was folded into a much larger Team Rotary, thanks to the help of Dennis Wallace of the Greater West Chester Sunrise Rotary Club.

“I saw a picture of the mayor rappelling last year. I called her up and she told me the whole story,” Wallace said. “The minute she explained it to me, it just spoke to me that this is a Rotary project. I spoke to all the Rotary clubs in West Chester and all three clubs were on board. I’ve been going around and knocking on other Rotary club doors. Every Rotary club we’ve gone into has somebody rappelling to raise money for their community.”

Wallace went to the practice rappel dressed in blue tights and a blue cape, reading “Service Above Self.” He will be wearing the same thing when he rappels down One Logan Square as well.

“I was sponsored for $500 if I dress like this,” he said with a smile.

Wallace has never done anything similar to this before and, even with the cape, still has some doubts about going over the edge.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m really not looking forward to it,” he said. “That’s not where I get my energy or excitement. Every time I think about going over the edge, I think of helping to change the trajectory of a young person’s life and that just speaks to me. That’s why I’m doing it.”

He can at least get some advice from veteran Comitta, who still recalls vividly her experiences last year.

“It’s terrifying and thrilling,” she said. “It’s the letting go at the top. It’s a metaphor, I think, for life. It’s the first step. It’s trying something you haven’t done or haven’t done in a long time and saying ‘I can trust myself and also the people who are helping me do this.’

“Both those trusts are really, really important. You can trust yourself, but if you don’t trust the people you rely on, it’s not going to work. Outward Bound and this experience really puts your life in the hands of another person. That is life changing.”

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Categories: Community, Education

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