By Holly Rock. All photos by Fred Pompermeyer unless otherwise attributed.
Working with the kids and staff of the Boyle Heights Boys and Girls Club (VBGC) has been an amazing honor for the LA Boulders team and we are thrilled by the interest this partnership has generated from our members. Having the opportunity to empower the local community is very important to us at LA.B, and the excitement the kids bring when they come in to climb is contagious. Being a part of that means the world to us.
Since the grand opening of the climbing wall at VBGC on August 30th, 2018, we have been working closely with the kids to introduce them to the basics of the sport, provide mentorship, and develop strong relationships. We are lucky to have staff and members at LA.B who feel passionately about this partnership.
Touchstone member Hugo Perez and LA.B staffer Efren Huerta come from similar backgrounds as many of the kids and know firsthand the power of rock climbing. They are truly excited to have the opportunity to share their personal experiences and spread the wealth of knowledge that has been such a huge part of their own lives. We are extremely appreciative of all the hard work and passion they have put into this partnership.
We visit the Boys and Girls Club either once or twice a week, in addition to hosting groups of VBGC kids at LA.B about every other month. The staff are always impressed by the kids’ ability to dig deep and overcome fear. Some of them started climbing to only about ten feet, then would stop because they became gripped with fear. (We’ve all been there at one point or another in the process of learning to climb!)
“You can see the confidence shining through them.”
The important part is that this fear did not stop them. They kept trying and eventually came to trust the system and find the confidence within themselves to reach the top! According to Hugo, “They are usually in disbelief that they progressed so far and so quickly, and you can see the confidence shining through them.”
Overcoming the difficulty of the challenge is the next obstacle that the kids have tackled bravely. “When I first arrived, I met kids that told themselves that certain routes were too difficult, so they stuck to repeating the routes they knew they could climb,” Hugo said. “I coached them through difficult sections and taught them that failure is okay, that it is okay if they do not send first go. After a few sessions, many kids had completed routes that they originally thought were impossible!”
“The kids have learned to cheer each other on as opposed to being in a constant state of mind that says, ‘I’m better than you.'”
Instilling confidence, the drive to work through difficulty, and the camaraderie that comes as a result are some of the most important things we teach kids. As both Efren and Hugo have said, “The kids have learned to cheer each other on as opposed to being in a constant state of mind that says, ‘I’m better than you.’” This eye-opening experience has led the kids to encourage their friends to join. “Another unique experience is watching the kids cheer each other on, push each other, and challenge each other to reach the top,” Efren observed.
Climbing is the only physical activity some of these kids experience during the week, and it has already led many of them to wonder about climbing outdoors and what is beyond plastic. We’re excited to focus on more than just coaching the kids on the technical aspects of climbing in our curriculum; this includes topics like outdoor education and etiquette, the outdoor industry, and associated life skills.
“We want to do more so the kids can get a real grasp on climbing and its transformative effects.”
Jen Menendez, another LA.B staffer who works intensively with our outreach groups and who is working hard to help develop new curricula, says, “We essentially want our outreach groups to be more engaged with the sport and ultimately, the community as a whole. We want to do more so the kids can get a real grasp on climbing and its transformative effects.” To us, that means developing a more holistic approach so we can engage with outreach groups on a deeper level. We’re working on a curriculum that is more than just climbing, but one that also includes showing climbing videos, educational craft activities such as hold-making, and creative projects about the outdoors. The possibilities are endless!
Aside from group events at LA.B and the Boys and Girls club, we also give youth team scholarships to kids who excel at climbing and have the enthusiasm to stick with it. Our staff have also been working with these kids one-on-one. We believe we’ll see some of the biggest changes to the sport by trying to bridge the mentorship gap and creating pathways for youth to find freedom and community in climbing.
The Boys and Girls club will be back at LA.B in March! If you or someone you know would like to be a volunteer, contact [email protected].