Outreach: Community Service

Mission High at Mission Cliffs

Tol Lau is a Math Teacher at Mission High School. He also teaches an advisory period, where he spends most of the time helping kids draft their college resumes. He decided to try something a little different.... Climbing!

Many of you have seen the big white building across the street from Dolores Park, but few SF residents know what goes on inside. Originally built in 1897, Mission High School was San Francisco’s first comprehensive high school. Now in the 21st century, Mission serves a diverse population, many of them immigrants to the United States. 40-50% of the students are classified as English Language Learners.


At the end of March, Mission Cliffs donated their time to host some of those students from Mission High School. These 11th grade grade students immigrated to the U.S. in search for more opportunities for their families and future. They came from countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, Mongolia, China, Mexico, and the Philippines.


At Mission Cliffs, they got a chance to take a break from the endless hours of studying, writing personal statements for college and got to challenge themselves in a different ways by rock climbing! Students learned how to put on harnesses, double back and tie their figure eights.


Some were terrified of heights, many had some pumped arms, but all had a great time in the end. “These kids are super hardworking and I’m excited about what colleges they’ll be getting into next year. But getting a chance to learn how to rock climb for the first time shows a whole different side of them. I usually get to see what they’re like as students, but it’s interesting to see what they are like as people outside of the classroom. Rock climbing is a really unique experience that they will remember for years," said Lau.  


'Science ROCKS' goes Rock Climbing

We are always excited to hear back form teachers and leaders who bring kids from our community into the gym to CLIMB! We received this nice write up from Katie. Thanks for coming! We had a blast showing the Science ROCKS kids the ropes!

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Each semester I select a group of students to be the Science ROCKS All Stars in my middle school science classes. These students earn their title based on effort and improvement over the course of the academic semester. The prize? A climbing trip to Berkeley Ironworks!

We walked over after school on a recent Friday, and the Berkeley Ironworks staff was there to help my kids get everything they needed to be ready for climbing. Each one pushed beyond the limits of what they believed they could do, and they had a great time! I am so grateful to Berkeley Ironworks for making these Science ROCKS field trips possible for my students-- who would otherwise not have the financial resources to go rock climbing. Thanks everyone!

~Katie Kelly-Hankin- 7th & 8th Grade Science Teacher

Fitness Wednesdays at Pipeworks

Sacramento Pipeworks has been working with an organization called the Women’s Empowerment for years. During an eight-week program, an instructor walks a group of ladies to Pipeworks once a week to participate in one hour of fitness. By attending Fitness Wednesdays, the ladies get to spend that one hour of their day focusing on self-care. The mission of Women’s Empowerment is to educate and empower women who are homeless with the skills and confidence necessary to get a job, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and regain a home for themselves and their children. The partnership with Pipeworks is crucial to the fulfillment of that mission.

As of today’s date, 1115 women have graduated from the Women's Empowerment program. One of these graduates is named Sharon McGuire. Here is her testament about what she accomplished during her time at Pipeworks:

I joined Fitness Wednesdays at Pipeworks because it was an opportunity for me to focus on myself and to be healthier. I wanted to get back into a consistent schedule because that’s what being back in the workforce is like.
When I first entered the building, the front desk staff members were so friendly. They greeted us and gave us assistance in filling out first-time waivers. During our workout sessions, I often used the treadmill. While I spent most of the hour on this machine, I reflected a lot because it reminded me to keep my goals in perspective. I had so much fun during this time and felt extremely rejuvenated after I finished my workout.
I truly needed this program because it’s part of my recovery process. The process encourages us to make time for ourselves and Fitness Wednesdays allowed me to do that. I highly recommend Pipeworks!”

Sharon continues to strive towards her main three goals: to keep her recovery, secure permanent housing, and to see her daughter graduate from high school and enter college. Pipeworks makes it possible for her to continue on our journey towards a positive and healthier lifestyle. We're so glad to be a part of such a valuble program within our community! 

Sharon McGuire Fitness 2014

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



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