Outreach: Community Service

Outreach Programs at Great Western

By GWPC Climber and Long-Time Touchstone Member: John E. Ricco

I have a lot of pride in being part of the GWPC community. Something about this gym feels different to me, in the best possible, welcoming, type of way. In exploring a bit more past the friendly staff and smiling, ass- kicking members, I found that our community gets involved in quite a few charitable endeavors.

GWPC works directly with many groups and schools, offering discounted rates that make it possible for their youth members to learn and experience climbing in a safe and instructional environment. Many of these kids come from disadvantaged families, and would not have the opportunity to experience climbing without this type of assistance. A few of the gym's regular groups include GirlVentures, Oakland Technical High School and Brothers on the Rise.

trust exerciseGirlVentures brings together a group of 6th to 12th grade girls from diverse ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds to experience climbing on a weekly basis for 10 weeks. The program teams up with Great Western and Mission Cliffs and brings partial to full scholarships to about two-thirds of their participants who are from low to moderate income backgrounds.

"GirlVentures is delighted to have Great Western Power Company as a partner for our after school climbing and mentorship program, Girlz Climb On," said Susie Barr-Wilson, East Bay Girlz Climb On Program Manager. "The facility is great, the staff are tremendous, and the partnership allows us to fulfill our mission to empower adolescent girls to develop and express their strengths through rock-climbing. The girls leave our 10-week program with increased confidence, strength, self-awareness and a willingness to 'say YES to try’ -- just like they did on the wall.”

A few youngsters climbing at GWPC from the inner-city may not sound like a significant experience to some people, but I can assure you that this opening of a door to an entirely different world can make a huge impact on a kid's life. These youth build relationships, learn trust, take leadership roles, problem solve, control and overcome fear and hone communication skills.

Nestor Amaya, now 19, had the opportunity to climb at GWPC with his Oakland Tech High School peers through a weekly program that Great Western and Tech teamed up on to create. “Rock climbing has taught me that nature should be respected and to take advantage of what it has to offer,” said Nestor. He now is pursuing the outdoor industry as part of his career, most recently teaching kayaking to other youth and adults in Oakland. Nestor has also found backpacking and continues to climb. I think it is doubtful that a kid from inner-city Oakland would have discovered these possibilities without these types of youth programs.

Great Western, along with the other Touchstone gyms, is often asked to make donations to various groups that are doing auctions to raise money for all types of noble causes. GWPC has donated two Intro to Climbing Classes for the auctions of each of the following groups: Alameda County Food Bank, Our Family Coalition, Skyline Preschool, Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, Oakland Firefighters Random Acts, among many others.

yoga roomI think that it is amazing to be a member of a community that goes way beyond just a place to climb after work. My hope is that by sharing a few stories of our gym's charitable works, we as members will not only take more pride in what we are a part of, but also may reach out on our own to do work in the wider community. There are so many volunteering opportunities and needs in Oakland, and throughout the Bay Area, that we can all find little ways to give a bit back. Visit www.girlventures.org and www.brothersontherise.org to get your own volunteering wheels turning.


YMCA Youth Group

In the middle of August, Berkeley Ironworks hosted a two hour climbing workshop for the YMCA-CBA Youth Institute. The Youth Institute is a three month long digital media arts program geared at community building, job readiness, and leadership development. 

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The Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and Emeryville participants come from a wide array of backgrounds, including low income, incarceration, violence, and abuse. Being able to come climbing was a completely new experience for all of the kids. "The Berkeley Ironworks staff was so helpful, patient,  and fun, making the overall experience nothing short of amazing," said one instructor. Some of the kids were able to make it to the top of the walls, conquering fears and gaining confidence they didn't know they had! 

"There is something really special about hosting local youth groups," said manager Lyn Barraza. "Seeing the kids walk into the gym and go nuts over how tall the walls are and being able to help them reach their goals is so energizing. It even gets ME even more psyched on climbing!"

The group was able to spend time climbing, cheering each other on, and talking about their experiences. “Berkeley Ironworks is the perfect place for youth to safely explore the world around them, to trust other people, and find their inner strength,” said program director Pegah Rahmanian. “We had so much fun, thank you so much Ironworks for an unforgettable afternoon!”


Climbing to Wellness at MetalMark

unnamed-13Imagine you are a 19 year old and in your first year of college. You are living away from your home for the first time. You are feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the requirements of school. Each day is a battle to survive the pressure and stress of school. Until one day the stress and anxiety become too overwhelming. You have a nervous breakdown and you quit. You leave school—your dream and your hope for the future. On your drive home you feel like a failure. Each day spent at home is a constant reminder that you failed and you feel that you will never succeed.

Or imagine that you are an 18 year old male who has a history of depression. Your depression feels like a demon that is with you wherever you go. It robs you of your energy and motivation. You try to do the things that bring you joy, but they feel empty. Each day you tell yourself that this is a new day but soon you feel empty again. It affects every area of your life: school, family, and friends. Now picture that you are a 20 year old who suffers from crippling anxiety. You are continually afraid of being in new places with new people. Going out to new places or to meet new people feels impossible because it triggers panic attacks and fear of the unknown. Isolation and withdrawal is your only way of coping.

Thankfully these stories don’t end in hopelessness. Climbing to Wellness is a group organized by a local Fresno County mental health program. The group focused on working with 17-21 year olds from the Fresno area who struggle with the negative effects of depression, anxiety, bipolar and other mental challenges. The group facilitators focused on providing a safe and supportive environment where the participants could face and then overcome their feelings of fear, anxiety, isolation, hopelessness, depression, and doubt. The group facilitators also focused on allowing each participant to build and maintain healthy relationships with the other group members. The group accomplished these goals by combining traditional group therapy with adventure based therapy.

unnamed-12Adventure therapy combines traditional psychotherapy with the twist of adventure. The group would meet at the office for traditional group therapy to learn new skills and gain greater understanding. For the adventure component the group would go to MetalMark Climbing. MetalMark volunteered gear, time, and support for the “Climbing to Wellness” group to use their facility. Adventure therapy is a profoundly powerful therapeutic tool that greatly complements traditional therapy. One person wrote the following about the use of climbing in therapy, “Climbing is an effective and therapeutic intervention for young adults that may help increase self-confidence, trust, achieve a feeling of accomplishment, and overcome fears. Therapeutic climbing promotes healthy mental, physical, and emotional development to increase positive relationships with others and create a better sense of self.” The Climbing to Wellness group met and surpassed this expectation.

The outcomes of this group deeply impacted the participants and the staff involved. The anxiety of the participants greatly decreased as a result of the group. Each member grew in confidence and trust. They learned how to recognize their feelings and express them in healthy ways. One participant shared, “Climbing has helped me let go of my built up anxiety. I hope that my anxiety continues to go away because I am finally beginning to feel happy.” Another member said, “I have become more confident. I have learned better ways to take care of myself. I hope to use these things I have learned from the group to apply in parenthood, work, and school.” Going back to the beginning scenarios, all of those stories shared a common factor; they all lacked hope. The greatest success that came from the Climbing to Wellness group was that it helped each participant begin to regain their hope.

We're so happy to be able to support Climbing to Wellness at MetalMark!

Finding Solutions at LA Boulders

10303734 747317021987432 2978481387160047633 nThis Month, LA Boulders had the pleasure of hosting a group from Breathe Life Healing Center, an LA-based clinic that aides adults in overcoming addiction. "We were lucky enough to work with this awesome organization twice in two weeks, and some people from the first group even came back the second week for round two!" said LA.B Manager Remi Moehring. 

After a thorough safety lesson, the group scattered themselves around the gym explore the terrain. By the end of the session, they were all plopped down in one big mass, cheering each other on and taking turns working through tough moves while the others talked them through the sequence.

From program director Shane Coyle, the climbing experience "allowed clients to find solutions in-the-now as opposed to in theory. This allows them the chance to create small achievable goals they can feel good about." He also recognized the significant amount of fear one can experience on their first climbing experience and how that can act as a motivator. "It allows our clients to face uncomfortable emotion such as fear, and instead of running from such fear, they use it as support to push them farther."

10440722 747407601978374 1710383344833426735 nRoxy, the group's instructor for both sessions, noticed a change in the group as well. "It was so inspiring to see a group of people, who have all come together because of personal challenges they're facing in life, support each other in a physical challenge and come out on top. Climbing has always been used metaphorically in this way, but it's cool to see it come to fruition."

By the end of each session, everyone left feeling sufficiently exhausted, stronger mentally and physically, and more confident about their climbing prowess. We are so proud to be able to host groups who can better their lives through climbing. Come back soon! 



Pinole Summer Camp at DRG

Summertime means many things. If you're used to climbing at Mission Cliffs, it might means stocking up on puffy jackets and trying to remember what blue sky looks like. But for Diablo Rock Gym members in Concord, it means sweltering temps and an living life from one air conditioned room to the next.

Diablo Rock Gym, which is blessed with air conditioning, is a great place to beat the summer heat. We end up hosting a handful of summer camps that are looking for a cool place to hang out. (Get it? Cool?!)

10353253 10152110786455653 2121005914759533681 oIn June we hosted 38 young climbers from Pinole City Summer Camp. Pinole City offers a variety of camps where elementary age and middle school youth enjoy safe, supervised fun at the Pinole Youth Center. They focus on homework help, arts, sports, cooking, computer access, games, workshops, and youth leadership. 

But sometimes, they get to leave the Youth center and come climbing! When the group first entered the building, they were dumbstruck. With necks craned backwards and fingers raised, they oo'd and ahh'd over our 40 ft climbing walls. "Are we going to get to CLIMB that?!" said one girl incredulously. "You sure are!" said DRG staffer and coach Michael P. Hershburger. "I wonder who will be able to climb highest?" To which the whole group collectively broke into yelps of 'Me! Me! Me!'

1799944 10152110785725653 3951759475903994190 oThe kids separated into teams and divided up among the belay staff. Each were tied in with a figure-eight and started climbing! Their fellow campers cheered each climber on as they pushed their physical and mental limits. Each climber reached a different point on the wall, but every time a climber was lowered back to the ground the reaction was always the same. "This is my most favorite place EVER," gasped one boy. "Can we come here again tomorrow?!" said another.

They've been looking forward to this all week," said one of the counselors. "Climbing at DRG is definitely a highpoint. In fact.. mind if we try it out..?" Once the campers saw their counselors struggling up the same section of wall, they really lost it. "It was hard for both of us! I can't wait to come back and climb more!" said one girl.

Among the belayers for the group was none other than speed record holder and gym manager Hans Florine. "This is one of my favorite parts of the job," said Hans, as he happily belayed child after child. "I am constantly pleasantly surprised at the number of community members who bring in groups into Diablo Rock Gym. The energy people here put into introducing folks to climbing is so energizing. You know they love climbing so much they want to share it with others." Hans might be a world famous climber, but to the kids of Pinole Summer Camp, he was just another encouraging voice from far below. 

If you have a group that would like to come climbing at Diablo Rock Gym, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




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