conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


The life loyal


November 18, 2011

Local travelanthropist Loyal Mehnert is a nominee for a 2011 Classy Award.

Several times each year, Loyal Mehnert, 34, will veto a resort-style vacation in favor of a volunteer project.

A travelanthropist, heís concerned with the philanthropy of travel. So far heís been to 24 countries on five continents. Sponsorships for his Facebook page Ė which has close to 5,000 fans Ė and fees for hiking and service trips he leads to far-flung places like Vietnam, Scotland, the Middle East, South America and England, constitute his salary.

"Travelanthropy has an adventure component to it," the East Side resident says, "and you have to travel light and travel smart." The hardest part, he says, is about not knowing where youíll be next.

Last year People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named him Sexiest Vegetarian. Heís followed a meat-free diet for 10 years and is pretty sure his girlfriend nominated him. In 2009, he won a People Magazineís All-Stars Among Us award and represented the Milwaukee Brewers at the All Star Game in St. Louis. Heís currently a nominee for a 2011 Classy Award (Young Nonprofit Leader of the Year), which he calls "the Oscars of philanthropy." If he wins, heíll donate the cash prize to Habitat for Humanity.

After all, that organization led him down this road. In 2007, employed by Habitat as a national field-media spokesperson and after a decade spent in marketing and advertising, he got fed up with it all. "Like a lot of people I was invested in things that really werenít important ó wearing fancy clothes and buying a nice car," he says. Seeing poor communities in his own country opened his eyes up to possibilities to help others. Soon he was leading fundraising trips for Habitat all over the world, from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Gambia. He currently sits on the nonprofitís development committee.

Talk to Mehnert long enough and tales of adventurous, even dangerous, travel eventually spill out of him, including the time he escaped a bear attack on the Appalachian Trail or had guns drawn on him in West Africa.

So far this year heís been to Haiti twice ó a 10-day trip in August and two weeks in November. For the August trip, as part of the first group of Habitat volunteers in that country since the January 2010 earthquake, he hiked and blogged about his adventures while chatting with locals about creating a sustainable eco-tourism community and laying the ground for future Habitat trips.

When looking for a volunteer opportunity, he suggests picking a cause that hits close to home. For him thatís Habitat for Humanity. "I grew up in poverty housing," the Chicago native says. "When I think about growing up with roaches or mice in my house I donít want any other kids to go through that."

"You donít have to trek to Africa," he says. "There are things locally that you can do. Donít forget afternoon activities. If you do it over a year it all adds up."


This story ran in the October 2011 issue of: