Every gym manager knows how quickly climbing shoes pile up in the lost and found. Climbing shoes are also one of the more challenging pieces of gear that nonprofit climbing programs need to source; they are expensive, wear out quickly and are needed in a wide variety of sizes.
That’s why Eldorado Climbing Walls decided to create a program, called Sole Purpose, that gets climbing shoes to those who need them. The program will work with facilities like climbing gyms and college recreation centers to get thousands of lost and unclaimed shoes into the hands, and onto the feet, of the kids participating in rock climbing activities offered by nonprofits like YMCAs, community recreation centers, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Sole Purpose is taking gear that might end up in the trash or be sent off to languish in thrift stores, and is making sure that it gets to nonprofits that will put it to good use.
To support this effort Stone Age Climbing Gym in Albuquerque, NM, and the Youth Education Program (YEP) of the Colorado Mountain Club in Golden, CO, have signed on as the Lead Gym and Lead Nonprofit Partner, respectively. These organizations will serve as ambassadors and advisors for Sole Purpose over the coming years.
YEP will receive shoes from the Boulder Rock Club’s lost & found as well as shoes collected through a donation drive. “Whenever possible, the partnerships will be locally based,” notes Christina Frain, who is Eldo’s Marketing Manager and the Sole Purpose Program Coordinator. “Keeping the pairings within the same town or region will give the nonprofits an opportunity to draw support from their local climbing community as well as make the collection and transfer of shoes simple and cost-effective.”
Frain thinks that reusing shoes isn’t just practical, it can be very influential for the youth programs. “This helps climbing become not just a one-off activity,” Frain told the Daily Camera. “Climbing a wall with sneakers can be fun (for a kid), but the odds of them going back a second time are much less likely.”
YEP serves 7,000 youth in their programs every year, and roughly half of YEP’s students rely on them to provide climbing equipment. “Having climbing shoes means we can provide a positive and authentic climbing experience for these students,” commented Holly Barrass, YEP Director. “Most of our shoes currently have holes in the toes so it is an immense help to receive donations that allow us continue to provide these experiences for our students and maintain high quality programs.”
Starting a nationwide shoe repurposing program may seem odd for a climbing wall manufacturer, but according to Frain, it fits into the staff’s mantra that everyone should climb. “The staff truly believes that part of our mission as a climbing wall builder is to make climbing accessible to as many people as possible,” she said. With that in mind they started exploring how to support the growing climbing community beyond just the climbing walls they built.
Frain had tested a small scale version of this program during her previous role as Director of Programs and Innovation for the Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails program. She partnered with Stone Age Climbing to collect unclaimed and donated shoes. In less than three months, the gym collected 71 pairs of shoes in every size imaginable. The Girl Scouts were able to use the shoes to launch a climbing program that grew from a handful of girls going to a crag to full-fledged camp programs.
Frain proposed taking this tiny local partnership and scaling it nationally from Eldo’s headquarters in Colorado. “Jerad Wells, Eldo’s CEO, was all for it,” she recalled. “He recognized that because of Eldo’s scope as a nationwide firm, we would be able to tap into the world of climbing gyms well beyond the Front Range.”
Sole Purpose has already been in contact with a number of climbing gyms and university recreation centers to start collection. However there are thousands of nonprofit groups across the country that could benefit from this program. “Virtually every YMCA, JCC, community recreation center, and children’s camp that has a climbing program would qualify [for shoe donation], as would all the Girl Scout, Boy Scout, Campfire and hundreds of other organizations that provide outdoor climbing as an activity,” Frain said.
Climbing gyms that want to collect climbing shoes, and nonprofits that need shoes for new or existing climbing programs, can apply through the program’s Facebook page or contact Christina Frain at firstname.lastname@example.org
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