By Matt Inman
I recently had the opportunity to visit the J. Churchill Owen Boys & Girls Club in Denver, Colorado. December 17 marked the grand opening of their indoor climbing wall, donated by the climbing nonprofit organization 1Climb. Tim Baum, Executive Director of 1Climb, invited me to see first-hand the process of opening their climbing walls. This is the fourth wall they have donated since 2017, but they plan to double that number this year.
1Climb started as an idea of professional climber Kevin Jorgeson. Jorgeson grew up in Northern California and credits finding rock climbing with giving his life purpose and direction. Having gotten so much from climbing, he wanted to find a way to give more youth in America that same opportunity. In 2015, Jorgeson shared his objective with brothers Dan and Dave Chancellor of So iLL, known for their creative climbing holds. Dan and Dave saw the potential too and agreed to partner up. 1Climb was born.
The 1Climb founders set out to reach the most youth in the shortest time. A partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of America seemed like a perfect match. 1Climb could build climbing walls in clubs across the US, which welcome hundreds of youth daily.
In 2017, the hard work came together and 1Climb built the first wall at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club in St. Louis. After this initial success, Jorgeson and the Chancellors knew they had an idea that would work. They stepped up fundraising and partnership efforts in order to build walls at other clubs. Since then, new partners have come on board with a shared goal: to get 100,000 new youth climbing.
At the grand opening in Denver, I spoke with Kevin Spak, the Outdoor Education Coordinator of the club and keeper of the climbing wall. Spak is an energetic person who enjoys talking about the club and the youth that go there. Not having grown up nearby an operation like the Boys and Girls Club, he gave me a rundown of what organizations like these contribute to their local communities. Each Denver club sees around 200 youth per day between six and 18 years old. They provide services ranging from STEM education, arts and crafts, sports, health and wellness, leadership training, and now climbing.
The new climbing wall in front of us stands almost 20 feet tall and 24 feet wide in the corner of the gym. 1Climb partners with Eldorado Climbing Walls to design a unique wall for each club. The wall at J. Churchill Owen can take up to 6 climbers at a time and relies on TRUBLUE auto belays for secure falls. El Cap, the largest gym network in the US, donated the wall this time and also committed to ongoing programming and instruction. Black Diamond provided harnesses and So iLL stocked shoes for the climbers.
Spak shared with me what getting this wall means to him and his staff. He mentioned how it would be a centerpiece in many new programs, and not just for this club. 20 clubs in the area plan to bring their members to climb. Additionally, his club can appeal to more Denver youth who may not join for the other sports. Besides the health benefits, these sports pave the way for Boys and Girls Club staff to support youth in other areas of their lives.
Watching the climbing is the highlight of the grand opening for me. Like at most gyms in the US, there are a mixture of climbing styles which remind me of sloths and mountain goats. Some youth are meticulous as they look for the next hold of the right color; others jump from hold to hold not caring if it’s the right color or not. Most of the young climbers show no fear as they climb and fall, get back up and do it all over again. Jorgeson, the lone adult on the wall, has been climbing with them all day. Watching him teach the new climbers, I’m not sure who is enjoying the day more.
For this grand opening, 100 youth in the Denver metro area came to climb on the wall. Many of 1Climb’s sponsors also had the opportunity to see firsthand what their contributions mean to the local communities the organization supports.
1Climb is well on its way. Thanks to partnerships around the climbing and outdoor industry, they are sure to meet and exceed their goal of getting 100,000 youth climbing.
To help make that happen, visit the 1Climb website here and make a donation today.
About the Author: Matt Inman is a speaker facilitator, freelance writer, and adventure traveler. He recently left a 25-year business career to explore life. Matt has found a passion connecting with people and helping them develop and explore opportunities in their own lives. He lives outside St. Louis, Missouri, with his family.
Climbing Business Journal is an independent news outlet dedicated to covering the indoor climbing industry. Here you will find the latest coverage of climbing industry news, gym developments, industry best practices, risk management, climbing competitions, youth coaching and routesetting. Have an article idea? CBJ loves to hear from readers like you!