It all started with a few phone calls.
After traveling to Tanzania and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in 2000, Solana Beach resident Cindy Outlaw decided she wanted to give back to the children of the East African country. During her trek she learned about the dilapidated state of school in her guide’s village and the lack of opportunities for education.
“I saw the needs of the children,” Outlaw said.
Once she returned home, Outlaw contacted Fred Schnitzer, who built schools in Africa, as well as her alma mater Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU). Outlaw, an avid mountain climber, met Schnitzer on a previous hike.
A year later, Outlaw returned to Tanzania with a group of PLNU students and constructed a school on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. During the three-week trip, she was struck by the malnutrition she saw in the children and the deforestation of the local rainforest.
That’s when she called Plant With Purpose. The San Diego-based Christian nonprofit organization works to reverse deforestation and poverty around the world by transforming the lives of the rural poor.
“I’m here in my house in Solana Beach and I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life,” said Outlaw, who has successfully summited six of the world’s seven summits — the highest points on each continent. She plans to summit the seventh, Mount Everest, in May 2018.
“I really haven’t wanted for nothing,” she said. “I’ve always had food. I’ve always had a house. To live among people who have one meal a day, it tears your heart apart, especially when it’s children.”
After meeting with Executive Director Scott Sabin, Plant With Purpose’s board approved an exploratory trip in 2003, and one year later, launched its Tanzanian program. The program aims to provide long-term solutions to the root causes of rural poverty through activities such as community-based savings groups, leadership development, reforestation and sustainable agriculture training.
“It just hit my heart seeing kids who didn’t have enough to eat,” said Outlaw, who has traveled to Tanzania 14 times. “It was very fortunate the organization was here in San Diego. They are so good at what they do.”
Founded in 1984, Plant With Purpose currently works in more than 495 communities in seven countries, including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Tanzania, and Thailand. The organization has planted more than 18.9 million trees worldwide.
The Tanzania program has acted as the launching point for country programs in Burundi and, most recently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A program in Ethiopia is scheduled to start in early 2017.
More than 8,000 families in over 500 villages have been impacted by the Tanzania program. In Tanzania alone, 7.5 million trees have been planted restoring farms and providing food for families in poverty.
“I just made a phone call and it grew,” Outlaw said.
Outlaw and her husband, Ed, raised their two children in Solana Beach, where they have lived for nearly 30 years.
Always active in the community, Outlaw volunteered in her children’s classrooms, served as a Girl Scout troop leader and taught Sunday school. Since her youngest child started college last fall, she has been a full-time volunteer.
In addition to her work with Plant With Purpose, Outlaw also currently volunteers with Summit Adventure, a Christian outdoor ministry with an emphasis on experiential education.
“So I’m starting a new career,” said Outlaw, mother of 23-year-old Molly and 19-year-old Ryan.
Since 2003, Outlaw’s work with Plant With Purpose has included launching the program in Tanzania, serving on the board of directors and co-chairing the Plant For Tomorrow expansion campaign. Through the campaign, she helped raise $3.5 million to expand the international development organization’s work into the Congo and Ethiopia.
In recognition of her work with the organization, Outlaw is receiving the Adrian Award for Exceptional Service on Oct. 8 at Plant With Purpose’s annual Planting Hope Gala at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad.
“You volunteer because you feel a call to do that,” Outlaw said. “It’s my privilege to be able to impact a few lives.”
The Planting Hope Gala will feature a wine reception, live entertainment, three-course dinner, opportunity drawing, live and silent auction, village marketplace and more. As the organization’s largest annual fundraising event, previous Planting Hope Galas have raised $350,000.
The event starts at 5:30 p.m. Tickets cost $125 per person or $950 for a table of eight.
“You can impact the lives of thousands of people around the world,” Outlaw said about volunteering with Plant With Purpose. “You can make a better life for people that really have limited opportunities.”
For more about Plant With Purpose or to purchase tickets to the Planting Hope Gala, visit plantwithpurpose.org.