Campaign to watch: Setting a new record

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Kathleen Henkel is getting ready to conquer the PopCap game, Solitaire Blitz. PopCap is hosting a 30-hour gaming marathon to beat the Guinness World record — all to benefit charity: water. So far, $89,000 has been pledged for the event with Kathleen and Laura Rich (playing from London), kicking it off tomorrow, June 26. PopCap has committed $10,000 in donations to charity: water in addition to the pledges made online through the event’s Facebook page.


We took a minute to talk to Kathleen before she kicks off her gaming marathon adventure. She’s from New Jersey, but spends much of her year in her second home, Guinea, West Africa, where she’s funded numerous development projects of her own. Kathleen shared some of her thoughts on the water crisis, gaming marathons, African drumming, and of course — Solitaire Blitz.

What got you interested in Africa and the water crisis?
I’ve had an interest in Africa since I was a little girl. I went to Catholic school and we were always collecting for the missions and you’d send your allowance or your lunch money.

Finally, when it got to be a significant birthday, I thought, “if not now, when?” And I went on my first trip to Africa. And, you know, it just changed my life. And I went back again, and I went back again, and then, I went back solo without any kind of groups. And then I started traveling out into these villages, outside the city.


What were the water conditions there?
Being in the city is one thing, with the conditions that people live under, and even there they don’t always have water. But there’s a source somewhere. But when you go out into these villages, there’s no water source, unless you’re walking miles. I don’t drink the water when I go to Guinea. I buy bottled water or they sell water in little plastic sachets which is not the greatest either. And at the house in Lambanyi, we have running water. When it runs. It doesn’t run all the time.

Going out to Koba, Guinea, I was all excited that the ladies were going for water. Well, I didn’t know that I was gonna walk a mile one way, and then a mile back and get to this place where a kid jumped down into a hole and straddled the sides of this hole and handed the water up. And then these women walked back with these Jerry cans on their heads. And they have to do this two, three times a day. Maybe more. We tried to build a well two years ago, and the guy who did it just didn’t dig down deep enough. When there was no water, there was no water. This year, when I was there, we started that process again of digging deeper. I left before that was finished and the man who was doing it, somebody died in his family and I didn’t see him again.
Kathleen and drums

How did you become involved with the Solitaire Blitz Marathon?
I met Laura (from PopCap) in Africa. Laura maintains contact with some people over there. I came back this year with things that some people over there had sent her. And I woke up one morning and I thought, “I’ve been back five or six weeks now and I haven’t gotten in touch with Laura. People will be wondering what I’m doing with the stuff. So, I’m gonna call Laura today and make some kind of plan.”

Well I didn’t get from my bedroom to the kitchen that my phone didn’t ring and it was Laura with, “It’s you.” “What’s me?” “PopCap is doing this promotion and I think you would be a good person to be able to do this because of your connection with the game, with Africa, and with water.” So there we have it, that’s how it all got started. I had no idea it was gonna be such an enormous thing, such a widespread thing. So global.

What’s inspired you about doing this?
One of the prime motivators is the fact that it was a benefit for charity: water. I feel so honored to be able to do this. Way before there was any of this, I was aware of charity: water. I’m always impressed with people who are doing anything in developing countries. So the fact that I’ve been invited into this event, I’m ready to do it because I can do something far beyond what I could do on my own for charity: water. I can’t sit down and write a check for even $2,500, much less $80,000. If I can do this for charity: water by just sitting there and playing that game for 30 hours — that’s cool.

Solitaire Blitz

How did you get started playing solitaire?
I played solitaire with cards when I was young. When I got my first computer, they always have a little FreeCell game or something like that. When I got to Solitaire Blitz, it’s a whole world. It’s stimulating and at the same time, it’s meditative, because when I’m playing that game, all I’m thinking about doing is getting my cards up there in the right place at the right time. And everything else is gone. I think there’s a whole Solitaire Blitz community. That community is throughout the world. I’ve just been playing the game and I really haven’t gotten into that part of it yet, but I did see one of my drumming friends is on my leader board. And I thought, “that’s so cool.” He’s really high scoring. What I’m doing mostly is I keep on trying to surpass my own score, or acquire more time to play.

Do you have a strategy?
I was a substance abuse counselor and I ran a program for criminal offenders. The whole twelve step model is one day at a time. Or, if you have to do it, one minute at a time. So, we’re gonna just do this one Solitaire Blitz hand at a time. And that’s how we’re gonna get through it — one game at a time.

Visit the Solitaire Blitz Marathon Facebook page to pledge and watch the live feed of Kathleen and Laura starting tomorrow morning!

Update: Kathleen completed all 30 hours of the marathon! Both Kathleen and Laura (playing from London) finished strong with tired smiles on their faces. Kathleen’s passion for developing nations has been an inspiration to the charity: water staff. Several of our Interns were able to join Kathleen where she was playing in New York City to cheer her on in the last few minutes. The total amount pledged to support clean water projects during the course of the event was more than $92,000!

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