Outreach: Community Service

Wounded Warrior Project at Mission Cliffs

It was late on a Saturday afternoon when the bus pulled up outside of Mission Cliffs. The sun had already gone down, and only a few dedicated climbers were still pressing on, trying their hardest to get just one move further on routes they’d been projecting all day. The doors to the gym opened, and the group from the Wounded Warrior Project came through.

The event had been organized months before in a flurry of emails and phone calls, but no one was quite sure just what to expect as the Warriors filled the gym. There was laughing and shouting, everyone staring up at the Main Wall, and the light clacking of paws on polished floors as several service dogs dutifully trailed their owners.


“Who’s this?” one of the belay staff asked, pointing to a service dog that had nosed its way behind the front desk as the group was outfitted with harnesses and climbing shoes. “That’s Lucy,” a young man answered. At the sound of his voice, Lucy, a skittish German Shepherd, sat up at attention. “We were in Afghanistan together,” he went on, and explained that Lucy was a bomb-sniffing, parachuting dog from a military K-9 unit.

“You mean she jumps out of planes?”

“Yup, with her parachute on. She’s seen it all.”

Lucy whimpered and circled her owner.

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The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) was founded in 2003, in the wake of 9/11, to provide support and empowerment for wounded service members returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization, which was originally based in Virginia, is now a nationwide network that works to raise awareness and help injured veterans heal and recover. Through specific WWP programs, tens of thousands of wounded service members and their families and caregivers receive the support needed to transition back to civilian life.

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These Warriors had come to California from all over the country as part of a week-long program filled with various physical challenges. “We’ve been working out,” said one of the veterans, laughing and flexing his bicep. Their visit to Mission Cliffs was one of the last stops on their trip, and was particularly exciting because WWP had arranged for a special guest to meet with the Warriors and help facilitate the event: Mark Wellman, two- time Paralympian and former Yosemite Park Ranger.

While everyone was still clustered by the front desk, Mark Wellman had grabbed desk- staffer, Shawn, and the two of them had got to work rigging up an adaptive climbing pulley in the gym, next to the Harrison Street Arch.


Wellman, who lives in Northern California, is an accomplished mountaineer who has ascended over 50 Sierra Nevada peaks. What he is best known for, however, are his ascents in Yosemite. In 1989, just a few years after an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, Wellman made the historic first paraplegic ascent of the 3,000-foot granite face of El Capitan. Two years later, he went back and snagged the first paraplegic ascent of Half Dome.

The Warriors divided up into groups, with some of them heading straight to the walls with the Mission Cliffs belay staff, eager to try out top rope climbing. Another group clustered around Wellman as he explained and then demonstrated his adaptive climbing set up. Using an adaptive pull-up bar and ascender, Wellman showed the group how to pull themselves up the ropes to reach the anchors.


One of the Warriors volunteered to go next. “This is harder than it looks!” he shouted down from the halfway point. When he got to the top, everyone cheered. A crowd started to gather on the ground around the adaptive pulley. Other climbers in the gym, curious about what was going on, had come over to watch and support the Wounded Warriors on their first ascents at Mission Cliffs.

Over the next hour, veterans who had never envisioned themselves in a climbing gym, found themselves at the top of the Mission Cliffs walls. There was a lot of cheering, a lot of laughing, and a good measure of disbelief. “I never thought I could do that,” said one woman as she was lowered back to the ground.


Climbing is always about pushing yourself past what you think you can do. At the heart of the sport is a love for embracing challenges and facing fears. It’s what keeps climbers coming back: knowing that we can continue to redefine our own limits.

The Wounded Warrior Project works hard to help wounded service members face the challenges and find the support that they need once they are home. Their visit to Mission Cliffs with the legendary Mark Wellman was an inspiring reminder that anything is possible.


Photo Credits: The Wounded Warrior Project. 

Trust and Teamwork at BIW

When soccer people talk vertical it is mostly about getting under the ball and sending it high and as far down field as possible. This winter Soccer Without Borders went vertical a different way at Berkeley Ironworks.

Teamwork, trust, leadership and fun were the goals and we hit scored a bunch in January, February and March of 2014. Berkeley Iron Works generously provided access to provide five climbing experiences for a total of over 70 kids. Those of us who have rock climbed with kids know that it is one of those activities that immediately draws them in, gets them excited and challenges their minds and their bodies. What happens when you bring a group of recently arrived refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world to a climbing gym? Fun and adventure.

The climbers aged from 12 to 19. They come from all over the world – Eritrea, Nigeria, Guatemala, Nepal to name a few. A handful had climbed once or twice – but none of the others had never climbed before. Each climbing day started with a thorough introduction to the safety protocols and general tips on climbing – then we hit the walls.

We had a great group of volunteers. Bill Walsh a long-time climber, walked everyone through the basics making sure that the returning climbers remembered what they had learned and showing the newbies the ropes for the first time. Bill actually worked at Berkeley Ironworks for years and connected with SWB through a serendipitous meeting on Christmas morning (best present for SWB that day!). When Bill heard about the project he committed to volunteer to run a training session and come to the climbing days in late January and February. Also helping out was Martin Muller a long time outdoors experiences pro and group facilitator. We also trained up a bunch of SWB staff, interns and volunteers to help with belaying.

Trust, teamwork and dealing with stress are all front and center when climbing up a 45 foot wall for the first (or 100th ) time. Bill shared with the group that the reason he got into climbing was to work on his fear of heights. That allowed the kids to open up about some of their fears and realize that everyone has fears and the question is how do you deal with it. The climbers had to trust the adults. Facing a potentially dangerous situation they had to trust that we knew what we were doing, that we had the right equipment and the right skill sets to make it physically and emotionally safe for everyone involved. And the kids had to trust and be supportive of one another.

Berkeley Ironworks is a great partner and supporter of our work. The climbing gym has been really generous and made it possible for SWB to afford adding this activity to the program. The staff has been super nice and their overall support makes this work. One of the interesting side benefits is making a connection with the Ironworks community. Every day we showed up we get into informal conversations with the staff and customers about what SWB is and does. We're looking forward to making this a regular part of our programming. Climb On!

-Dan Robinson

Soccer Without Boarders

Soccer Without Boarders at BIW

We are always happy to welcome community groups into the gym to build confidence, get active, and have a blast. Last month, Soccer Without Boarders, an Oakland non-profit, visited Berkeley Ironworks for a day of climbing. SWB Oakland creates positive team communities for recently arrived refugee and immigrant youth. Harnessing the power of soccer as a universal language, the Oakland program engages newcomer, English Language Learning youth from more than 25 countries. As youth adjust to their new and often difficult circumstances, their SWB team provides an avenue for positive engagement. In a safe and supportive environment, youth build meaningful friendships, community connections and powerful mentor/mentee relationships, which play an important role in their successful integration into their new lives in the US. 

Soccer Without Borders Trailer from Reinhard Cate on Vimeo.

We received this thank you letter from founder Ben Gucciardi:

On behalf of all the youth in Soccer Without Borders, I just wanted to extend my sincere thank you for taking the time to host our young people at Berkeley Iron Works . The kids really had so much fun, and the experience challenged them and brought them closer together. For 98% of our kids, the trip marked the first time they have ever been climbing, and they were all beaming when we returned from the trip. As refugee and immigrant students who just arrived to the US and are living in East Oakland, our youth are some of the most vulnerable in the East Bay, and it meant a great deal to them to have this experience.

You and your staff, especially Ryan, Michelle, Jeff and Jerome, have been so great to work with!
With much gratitude and appreciation,

Ben Gucciardi

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Project Reach at MetalMark

For many, climbing is a passing hobby. For others it can offer a huge support system. At MetalMark in Fresno, climbing is helping to change the lives of local students and keep them in school.

Twice a week, a group of inner-city high school students climbs at MetalMark. Will Haskins, a high school Cross Country coach and teacher with McLane High School, first proposed the Project Reach climbing club in 2011 to the Fresno Unified School District. “McLane High School is an inner city high school where 25% of the student population is in the foster care system and holds the highest density of poverty in the nation”, stated Haskins. “McLane’s graduation and student retention numbers are atrocious.”  Haskins added that, “participation in after-school programs and athletics is a determining factor in these students staying in school.” Haskins hoped that a climbing program would help students graduate.

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Haskins confronted a number of difficulties when starting the club. After a six month grant approval process from the school district, Haskins faced the hurdle of funding the project. To achieve this goal, Touchstone Climbing partnered with Project Reach and offered a discount on purchasing equipment for the students. Other members of the climbing community supported the project as well. Haskins posted on various climbing websites looking for shoe and chalk bag donations and climbers flooded Project Reach with gear, and within months gear was arriving at MetalMark from all across California. 

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“Many of these students are from all ethnic backgrounds, all grade levels, all athletic abilities, and many of them are feeling hope and success for the first time in their lives,” said Haskins. A student approached Haskins and said, “Rock climbing is the first thing I’ve ever been excited about.” Haskins knew he was on to something big after more students approached him. “This is my first year rock climbing, and it has really changed me. I have learned that even though a route is really hard, I shouldn't give up,” said Project Reach student Alexis. “When life gets hard, don't give up. MetalMark is a positive place to hang out, and the rock climbing staff inspires me.”

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“I had broken my arm, and rock climbing helped me recover. Also at that time I was having problems at home and it helped my life feel better,” said Tshaaj, a Project Reach student. “Not only did it help me physically, it also helped me mentally. I feel like rock climbing has helped me a lot.”

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Haskins feels that along with the strong relationships he is building with his students, the climbing club also resulted in students staying in school, passing classes, building friendships with other climbers, and essentially building a positive community in which they feel safe.

Haskins and the other teachers at McLane High are excited about the rock climbing club. When they see a student needing extra help, not doing well in school, or how would benefit from an extracurricular activity, they know they can send them to Project Reach.


P.E. Class from Oakland Tech continues to reach new heights

Under the guidance of GWPC member and Oakland Tech P.E. Instructor Carlos Bover (affectionately known as "Coach" to his students), students are redefining what's possible in a P.E. class by pushing their limits and haveing a blast. This is the programs 4th year running, so we decided to turn over control of our monthly outreach series to Coach Bover and this year's group of "A Period" students.

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My name is Carlos Bover. I teach Physical Education at Oakland Technical High School. I teach a 10th-12th grade, A-Period class which goes from 7 to 8am. A few years ago, I suggested the possibility of offering an A-Period physical education class, for those students that did not have time to take PE during the regular school hours. I started A-Period and after the first year, I realized that this class had the potential to offer a unique and diverse P.E. experience by taking the students off-campus to vist local recreational businesses. After receiving approval from my school's administration, I started contacting various local businesses to offer my students the best, most interesting P.E. experience possible.

936103 10151428466527725 124966475 nI contacted the staff at GWPC and quickly made contact with their manager Jeremy Yee. Mr. Yee loved my idea and worked with us to develop a program that was both enriching and affordable for my students, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged families. Thus, rock climbing was introduced to the A-Period P.E. class, as a way to increase the physical fitness of the students, and to grant them an opportunity to learn sport/activity that can contribute to their health & wellness for the rest of their lives. We go to GWPC once a week for the entire school year where the students are introduced to climbing in a controlled and safe setting. They learn basic belaying and climbing techniques, as well as ongoing lessons about safety, reliability, support and how to work together. The number of students in my A-Period class can vary from 40-50 (sometimes more).

I've also tried to structure this class so that it's more than just "free-time" at a Climbing Gym, so my student's grades are dependent on a series of monthly climbing "tests" which include their retention of safety rules/techniques as well as challenging them on new routes & boulders. Since we spend 1 day a week at GWPC, rock climbing is 20% of their semester grade. The students are also tested on their knowledge of the history of rock climbing, climbing techniques, and the geography/geology of various climbing areas.

Most of the students that take this class have never been climbing or even heard anything about it. Over the course of 8 months, most students improve from struggling on V0/5.6 to completing multiple V3/5.10 climbs, and many students show even more rapid improvement. Some of my students have even gotten hooked and continued climbing on their own time even after the class is over. Rock climbing is the reason why many of my students take this A-Period class. It gives them an opportunity to enjoy the process of learning, have a good workout and share a unique experience with their peers.

Through it all, GWPC has been amazing to Oakland Tech. They have been accommodating to the specifics of our group, they provided staff to help teach and test students, they made it affordable for Oakland Public School students and most importantly have provided a safe and supportive environment for the students to learn and develop a love for climbing. On behalf of all the A-Period students for the past 4 years... thank you so much.

Thanks to you too Coach! 



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