It’s 7 am on a Saturday. Just looking at the alarm clock makes me deeply troubled and feel ill. I worked late last night, but I’m up early and a few minutes from now, 40 antsy kids will show up outside my door. We are piling into cars, driving up to Squamish, and today this group of city kids will be introduced to the world of climbing rocks.
Climbing is one of the most wonderful gifts I’ve ever been given. It strengthens me physically, mentally and socially. It enables me to overcome fears: immediate fears of falling and more abstract fears in other facets of my life. It has been my observation that people around me, regardless of age, have experienced the same phenomena through climbing. When I was first starting out, friends generously spent time climbing with me, teaching me and ultimately gave me the gift of climbing. I want to pass on that same gift to people around me: to empower lives, increase happiness and build lifelong friendships.
Charity work through climbing was a new concept to me. Several years ago, my friend approached me with a Climb-A-Thon idea as a way to fundraise for Haiti earthquake relief. Participants would raise money for the cuase by climbing for 24 hours straight. I’m always up for trying new things so I kick started the fundraiser and have been organizing the event every Christmas since.
In 2011 was taking a rest from the Christmas rush after wrapping up the annual Climb-A-Thon, and was pondering where I could go from here. I wanted to do something long-lasting instead of a one time, manic push. At that time, I was volunteering as a big brother mentor with the organization KidStart, meeting with youth from at-risk backgrounds once a week. Aware of the positive impact climbing had on my life, I thought climbing could greatly empower these youth, encouraging a healthy body, strong mind and friendships. This sport could open up their world to new terrain, outside of their normal routines and struggles in life. There are many barriers to getting into climbing, from costs of entering a program to equipment and acquiring knowledge; I realized I could use what I knew in climbing and in the not-for-profit worlds to connect the dots and create something great.
After talking with a few friends, I knew, if I didn’t do it, no one else would. So I took the leap. If I didn’t use the momentum and further this idea, it would have been like winning the lottery and burying the money deep underground. So I went ahead and started the charity; Climb and Conquer Society Canada for Vancouver and Squamish. It was a lot more work than I could have expected, but it’s been so rewarding and worth every effort. Currently, the registered charity supports at-risk youth with one-on-one climbing mentorships, and runs a monthly climbing club for youth as well as summer camps and youth employment through local gyms. Program costs are subsidized by donations and the primary goal is to make climbing accessible to all.
The harsh early Saturday everyone showed up at my house had softened into an uplifting day by the time we drove the Sea to Sky and reached Squamish.
We pull into the parking lot and the kids start tearing around the field like lunatics, collecting blackberries, shouting and staring up at the wall of rock. I felt a big surge of happiness. These kids were experiencing something so dramatically different from their day-to-day lives in the city. They were about to hike in the woods, make new friends and have their first experience climbing. Come the night, this would be the first time sharing stories around a campfire and their first time in a tent for many of these youth.
My calling and dream to bring happiness through climbing was realized in this moment. And I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
Shout out Oscars Photography and Andi McLeish for taking some of these photo of the Climb and Conquer project and Joesph Wong.
By Joseph Wong
Joseph, founder of the Climb and Conquer Society, shares some of what it was like to start the charitable organization. He is from Hong Kong originally.