Ashley Underwood survived the popular reality show “Survivor” while millions watched her on television, was crowned Miss Maine USA in 2009, and starred on the basketball court.

Ellen Sherwood has climbed mountains and recently completed a half-marathon shortly after pulling through a severe car accident.

Heather Veilleux created and runs a nonprofit organization, raising money to help others while also making a career for herself in New York City.

The three women, all in their 20s and with central Maine ties, share a knack for overcoming challenges.

Now they hope to rise to the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa, at 19,341 feet above sea level.

“I’ve never done anything quite like this before,” said Sherwood, of Portland, who grew up in Augusta, attended Cony High School and now works at a therapeutic center for children with autism.

First they have another challenge to overcome: raising $6,000 each, half of which will pay for their trip, and the other half going to the Flying Kites Leadership Academy, a home and school for orphaned, abandoned and abused children in Kenya.

During their Climb for the Kids trip, scheduled for January, the group of climbers will spend time volunteering with the children they’re helping.

“They take in orphaned and abused children, love them, give them the best schooling and living arrangements that they can, and essentially give them a second chance,” said Underwood, a Benton native and former basketball star at Cony High School and the University of Maine. “The adventure program they run is how they raise money and keep their leadership academy afloat.”

Underwood was the fourth runner-up — just missing a spot among the final three — when “Survivor: Redemption Island” aired earlier this year. Now she is pursuing a career in hosting and plans to move to New York in a few months.

Veilleux, who grew up in Hallowell and attended Hall-Dale schools, is a senior at Berkeley College in New York City, where she is also working full-time as a real estate agent at Bold New York. She is founder and president of Heels to Healing, a nonprofit organization based in Augusta.

Veilleux said she and Sherwood were talking last summer about making a trip to South Africa with a different organization when they learned of Underwood’s involvement with Flying Kites.

“I asked (Underwood) about her trip and immediately fell in love with the Flying Kites organization, after some research,” Veilleux said. “I have always wanted to volunteer in Africa, as well as visit and explore Africa. So this is my chance to do both.”

Underwood said the trip has some similarities to, and differences from, her time competing on “Survivor.”

“It is similar being that I don’t know what to expect,” she said. “The difference is, I won’t be paranoid and alone. I will be with a great group of people, and we will be carrying each other through and making memories together.”

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

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