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Hope at the Base of Kilimanjaro

by Alison Qualter Berna 

Twelve-year-old Priella called out to me as I walked out of the overcrowded classroom in Moshi, Tanzania and simply said, “Wait, Alison, before you go…” I turned to approach her with a smile and in that moment I knew she was a kid who believed she could do more than her circumstances allowed. She wanted to fly.

A few days earlier, I had fulfilled a lifelong dream to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. I climbed to the “roof of Africa” with four friends, one of whom is blind. Together we summited in the fastest amount of time possible to set a record for an athlete who is blind (we did it in 2 ½ days) and we trekked at night to simulate, even in the smallest way, what it’s like to live in darkness.

Climbing Kilimanjaro already had inherent value. We could go home and share our story with our kids, friends and family for the rest of our lives. But our intention was to use our experience for something greater than ourselves; how could we share a message of hope and empowerment with children who desperately need it? If my friend Dan couldn’t see and yet climbed Africa's tallest mountain anyway, the message was simple: each person is capable of much more than they may realize.

On the descent down the mountain through what felt like moon sand, I was dreaming about the schools we would visit in the days after our return to Moshi. As part of the preparation for our trip, I reached out to my network and within a few months we discovered programs that support children who are blind, street children and impoverished schools that might want to share in our messages of hope. Within a few months, I had virtually connected with three principals/directors (two in Tanzania and one in Kenya) and after doing some research, holding several Skype calls and assessing what each situation entailed, we planned three events where we could share Dan’s accomplishment and inspire the children. 

At the Mwereni school for 600 sighted, blind and albino children in Moshi, Dan shared his bravery to take on the challenge of climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro unable to see. The hope in the room was palpable as kids lit up under the gravity of his message. If he could do it blind, couldn’t they?
As I took the podium, I saw faces of young girls in front of me and focused my message on what it’s like to be the only girl in a group of male friends. I asked them what they felt was possible in their own lives and what they thought might be stopping them. I challenged them to take the time to set their own intentions, goals and dreams, however small, however grand.

In that classroom two hours later, Priella’s eyes reflected that she heard me. She wanted someone to hear her intentions, goals and dreams. She asked for my email and we continue to stay connected. Perhaps with someone even climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

When you are immersed in the developing world, every word matters. Every dollar counts. You quickly realize that the material trappings of success we surround ourselves with is sometimes just noise crowding out the true connection of the human spirit and the simplest way to be.

In that simplicity you find the most  basic truths. That we all deserve a chance. That as sentient beings, we are not that dissimilar. And that all of us have hope, a hope that can carry any one of us to the top of the tallest mountain.

To donate to this amazing school and the various causes my team and I are dedicated to, please visit our website at www.teamseepossibilities.com

Thank you!


A great Saturday afternoon activity for your whole family. Join us!

apple seeds is a PROUD and devoted supporter of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.

We will shout from the rooftops anything Cookies is involved in or attached to…because every nanosecond of every single day they are working to save the lives of children battling cancer.

How do they do that? They raise money all year long and use it to help to fund research to develop new and improved treatments for childhood cancers being worked on at the top 5 pediatric cancer hospitals in the country.

How do they raise that money? Through bake sales, 5ks, dodgeball tournaments and a couple of high caliber events that knock it out of the park in terms of quality + fun = major fundraising. Here is one of those events we are thrilled to tell you about because it is perfect for apple seeds families.

Family Fun Day is one of the best events we have ever been to with our kids. The quality of activities and COOKIES cannot be beat. You and your kids play & eat cookies – and you get to help save lives.

What could be better? Nothing!

Come hang out with Christina Tosi - Chef, Owner & Founder of Milk Bar and Judge on FOX MasterChef and meet some of the city's most talented pastry chefs, make holiday gifts and munch while mingling with friends. You'll leave with a bag full of gifts ready to spread holiday cheer.

Join us!

Create Hands-On Holiday Gifts:
Decorate cupcakes
Make no-bake cookie balls
Water color cookie decorating
Dip and decorate pretzels
Create sandwich cookies
Decorate gingerbread cookies
Activities Include:
Music by DJ Fulano
Custom placemats with apple seeds
Custom character sketches
by Artist Matthew Langille
Spin art with Kulinary Kids NYC
La Colombe coffee cart
Balloon twisting
Face painting
Airbrush tattoos
Snap pics in the photo booth


Helping the Childen of Kenya and Tanzia

by Alison Qualter Berna

I've just returned from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro "in the dark" with my friend Dan Berlin, who is blind, and our fellow co-founders of Team See Possibilities, Charles Scott and Brad Graff. It's hard to put into words the tremendous impact of this experience. 

We are raising money to support several local charitable causes (see below). Many thanks to those of you who have already made a donation - if you haven't received a personal thanks from me yet, you will. And please know how grateful I am for your support and generosity. 

As you’ll see below and in the attached photos, your contributions will have a direct impact on the lives of hundreds of children in Tanzania and Kenya. If you haven’t donated and would like to, we will continue to raise funds through the end of the year -- click on “Donate Now” on our website www.teamseepossibilities.com.

Here are some highlights from the trip.

The climb up Kili “in the dark”

·         To raise awareness about blindness, we decided to climb Africa’s tallest mountain “in the dark.” While guiding Dan at night, we used headlamps and could see no more than 10 feet around us. This forced us to use our other senses and experience the mountain in an unusual way. The experience was surreal and perspective-giving. 

         Mount Kilimanjaro stands over 19,300 feet above sea level. At that altitude, the human body undergoes a great deal of duress, including headaches, nausea, exhaustion, extreme cold and difficulty getting enough oxygen. We suffered from all these symptoms but with help from one another, and our experienced guide from our sponsor Intrepid Travel, we were able to reach the summit in the shortest amount of time allowed by safety guidelines. We were rewarded at the top with a stunning sunrise and the glistening snows of the surrounding glaciers.

Charitable Causes 
Our mission as a team is to support children who are blind all around the world. There are many ways to do this. In addition to visiting schools that educate children with vision impairment, we also sensitize sighted children and adults to the remarkable contributions all people with disabilities can make to society. We hosted three local events: 

Mwereni School for the Blind 
This school on the outskirts of Moshi, Tanzania provides a safe haven and wonderful learning environment for over 100 blind and albino children, many of whom are hidden, suffer discrimination and even threats to their lives because of their disability. At our event, the children performed traditional songs and dances; the Director of the school delivered a moving speech highlighting Dan’s accomplishment as an example of the tremendous potential within every person; and each of us spoke about Team See Possibilities’ mission.

Mathare slum in Nairobi 
Working with Futbol Mas, an organization that uses soccer as a tool to support vulnerable populations, we held an event for primary school children living in the heart of the Mathare slum, a part of Nairobi notorious for its extreme poverty and desperation. Using Dan’s historic accomplishment on Mount Kilimanjaro as an example, we encouraged each child to keep hope alive, even in the most desperate of circumstances. Through blindfolded relay races and soccer games, the children learned what it’s like to lose your sight and to depend on friends for help. Each child promised to help people with disabilities in their community, and not give up on their own dreams, seeing what is possible.

Education East Africa 
Working with the Intrepid Foundation, we hosted an event attended by government officials from all over the region to support the development of a center that will provide vocational skills to get young people off the streets and into meaningful employment. In order to highlight the importance of trust and teamwork, we organized a blindfolded tug of war that generated a lot of laughs. In a way, by closing their eyes, this experience opened them to a new way of perceiving the world. After hearing Dan’s story, several government officials spoke movingly about how his words changed their perception of people with disabilities. They pledged to seek out ways to reduce discrimination and better integrate a population that has all too often been marginalized.

Thank you again for your generous support. This trip was both perspective-giving and life-changing for me. It’s hard to put into words just how big of an impact only a little amount of money can make.
Thank you!!


Kili in the Dark

Hello from Africa! I am in Nairobi, Kenya and will soon drive to Tanzania to guide my friend Dan Berlin up Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain on the African continent. We’re not simply going to climb the mountain – we’re going to climb it at night.

Naming our trek “Kili in the Dark,” we’re raising money to support children who are vision impaired (see causes below). If you would like to make a donation, please click the “Donate” button here: www.teamseepossibilities.com. Our sponsor, Intrepid Travel, will match every dollar raised through the Intrepid Foundation.

We will post updates from the climb on our site and please follow us on Facebook. And look for the Wall Street Journal’s article about our trek on November 8th, the very day we hope to reach the summit!

The four of us co-founded the nonprofit Team See Possibilities to raise money and awareness for children who are blind as well as sensitize communities more broadly on the issue of persons living with disabilities, in this case, the loss a sense many of us take for granted. While in Tanzania and Kenya this week, we organized three charity events in the days following our climb and plan to hold blindfold relay races with young children, meet with government officials, engage with the media and discuss issues of inclusion.

- Thanks to our incredible sponsor, Intrepid Travel, we were linked with the nonprofit Education East Africa through the Intrepid Foundation and will host an event at the Motor Mechanics Center in Nji Panda working with youth and the development of basic life skills.
 - We will also visit the Mwereni School in Moshi, Tanzania that educates over 100 children who are blind, and
- We will visit a school in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, to educate the children on what it’s like to be blind through a variety of play-based activities including relay races and a soccer game.

Dan lost his eyesight in his 30's to the disease cone-rod dystrophy. Instead of letting this tragedy slow him down, he decided to start making history. With the help from his guides Charles Scott, Brad Graff and me, Dan became the first vision impaired athlete to:

- Run across the Grand Canyon and back nonstop (a treacherous 46-mile trek with over 20,000 feet of elevation change that took us 28 hours) and 
- Ascend the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu nonstop (a rugged 26-mile trek over 3 mountain passes that typically takes 4 days, we completed it in 13 hours).

Here’s a short video to give you a flavor of those life-changing experiences. I also added a photo from today…this is the place where we will host Monday’s event and where some of the funds raised will be channeled.

I will send an update and photos of the climb and the events when I return. In the meantime, I am deeply grateful for your support. Your donation will go a long way…big or small, every single dollar makes a huge difference in the lives of these children.

With many thanks,


Ilysa Winick – a mom just like us -- whose life changed on her birthday with no warning

Ilysa Winick is just like us. NYC mom of two kids – Benjamin (7 years old) and Ryan (4 years old).

Ilysa left her job on Wall Street and founded Reade Street Prep – a well-loved Tribeca preschool/enrichment center. She is an incredible artist…and loved to work out.

5 months ago Ilysa’s life changed forever. The weekend of June 8th she celebrated her birthday with her sister and friends. By Monday she did not feel so well. By Tuesday she was in the emergency room in terrible pain. Within 12 hours of her arrival -- she was transferred to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital because she had contracted a near-fatal blood infection which caused her body to go into septic shock – shutting down her vital organs. The doctors have no idea how this happened.

Ilysa was in a coma for three weeks. A complication developed from sepsis called DIC which caused blood flow to stop going to her extremities. This led to the amputation of both her feet below the knees and both her hands below the elbows. Ilysa will be on dialysis until she can get a kidney transplant.

5 months after this devastating illness, Ilysa has full brain function and has just started walking with prostheses (you have to watch the video of this incredible woman making it happen).

Ilysa is determined to get her life back. Even though she had great insurance, there is a rule that insurance only covers one limb per loss per life. Regardless of how ridiculous that is, she’s been denied coverage for any prosthetics at all so far. This is why Ilysa’s family partnered with HelpHopeLive to raise money for prosthetics as well as a kidney transplant, the related immunosuppressant drugs that she’ll have to take for the rest of her life, home care, therapy and more. We have been thinking of Ilysa and her family since the day she got sick. Tribeca is part of our apple seeds community and Ilysa’s contribution to her neighborhood is greatly appreciated by all of us. Read about Ilysa. If you would like to join us and Ilysa’s community in supporting her ongoing recovery you can donate and/or share her story. Thank you for reading and caring.