Indiana Bouldering Gym Opens With a Focus on Immigrants and Refugees

Inside the new Summit City Climbing Co. facility
Summit City (pictured) is Fort Wayne’s first bouldering gym, and while climbing is the gym’s main purpose, its focus is also tied to the nonprofit organizations next door serving immigrants and refugees in the community. (All images courtesy of Summit City Climbing Co.)

Summit City Climbing Co.
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Specs: Summit City Climbing Co., Fort Wayne’s first commercial climbing gym, opened to members on April 27th this year and held its grand opening party on May 18th. Prior to the bouldering-focused gym’s opening, founders Edwin Chow, Collin Jester, David Detweiler and Ryan Perkins would make the trek to North Mass Boulder—an Indianapolis climbing gym located two hours from their homes in Fort Wayne—at least once a week to get their climbing fix. “We were just waiting for someone to start a climbing gym [in Fort Wayne], because we were tired and we would probably save a lot of money [on transportation],” Chow explained.

Elevate Climbing Walls

Jester and Perkins have lived in Fort Wayne since birth and wanted “to show the city that it deserves a climbing gym,” Jester said. Jester noted the Fort Wayne metro area is growing fast, “with about half a million people and then about 1.8 million people within a 60-mile radius,” so they felt the area could use a climbing gym right in town. The team found a 3,400-square-foot space in proximity to three universities for their new bouldering gym, which Chow hopes within two years will act as a proof of concept for “a larger top rope facility in North Fort Wayne.” Inside the current gym is 2,130 square feet of bouldering surface on 10-to-15-foot walls, plus a fitness room with weights for additional strength training and a retail area.

Some of the bouldering walls at Summit City
The new gym has a variety of bouldering terrain, from slab to 30-degree and 40-degree overhanging walls.

The building that houses the gym is also home to multiple nonprofit organizations: Empowered Legal Aid Network (ELAN), which “[offers] holistic legal assistance to immigrants in the Fort Wayne community;” and Empowered International, a nonprofit started by Jester’s parents that’s focused on “equipping and empowering young people to pursue sustainable change,” with two locations in Haiti and now one in Fort Wayne, per the organizations’ websites. “Our dream for the facility is for it to be almost an immigration center,” Chow said. “Yes, it will have a climbing gym. But it will also be attached to a legal service where refugees, immigrants can find asylum and have legal help.”

Trango Holds Pardners

Chow noted one issue for many immigrants and refugees in the area is finding work, yet “they have so many skills and talents that they can offer,” he said. The team intends to employ refugees and immigrants at the climbing gym, and hopes there will be other opportunities onsite to work in legal services as a translator or in the attached automotive shop. “We want to get to know the individuals and provide…what they’re equipped with, what they can offer, because they have so much to offer the world,” Chow said. The gym operators are also planning to host fundraisers to support the work of Empowered International, ELAN and other nonprofits in Fort Wayne.

More bouldering walls and a mural at Summit City
According to a recent Instagram post, Summit City hosted routesetters from North Mass Boulder and Apex Climbing Gym for help with the gym’s opening set.

In terms of the climbing, the team is working to provide gym access at a discounted rate for immigrants and refugees in the community on a case-by-case basis. “We don’t want to have a blanket rate because every story and need is different,” said Chow. “This will actually help us know who they are and create a plan with them…It’ll take more time and investment, but they’re worth it.” The gym will also have an appreciation membership for “those whose job it is to make an impact in the city of Fort Wayne,” Chow said, including people working or volunteering at nonprofit organizations. Additionally, the team plans to host climbing nights for volunteers in the community as well as immigrants and refugees, intended to make the gym more accessible, promote the discounted rates, and bring the community together. “What is the best way then to get to know a different culture?” Chow asked. “It’s by climbing with them.”

Capitan software

Walls: Owner/Contractor
Flooring: Kilter
CRM Software: Approach
Instagram: @SummitCityClimbingCo

In Their Words: “The vision of the building is to be a place for immigrants to feel welcomed and loved. However, many immigrants in every city live on the fringes of society due to X amount of reasons. There are so many reasons why immigrants feel marginalized and taken advantage of. But we believe a climbing gym can be a place where those living on the fringes can be integrated into a place where you can actually meet one another and engage with one another.” – Collin Jester, Co-Owner of Summit City Climbing Co.

Climbing Gym Management Series