Mountaineers program introduces kids to the joys of climbing

Wulfric Mangkornkeo bounced on his toes as he waited for his chance on the climbing wall.

When it was his turn, the sixth-grader and member of the Mukilteo YMCA’s Minority Achievers Program helped tie the knot to his climbing harness and started up the wall at New Life Church in Everett.

He was aiming for the roof — a challenging section of a climbing wall horizontal to the floor. He powered up to it quickly and easily and then stalled.

He tried several hand holds. None worked. He started to tire, hanging 15 feet above the ground, but yelled down he wanted to keep trying. Then he got it. A new combination of reaching and twisting his body and he was above the roof. He let out a whoop.

“It was awesome going over the overhang,” he said. “I didn’t think I could do it there for a bit.”

Wulfric was climbing with Mountain Workshops, a program of the Mountaineers that recently expanded to the Everett branch to serve youth in Snohomish County.

Through Mountain Workshops, the Mountaineers team up with groups that serve youth to help kids gain life skills through learning outdoor skills.

So far, Mountain Workshops has offered seven climb opportunities in Everett. The kids have been climbing at New Life Church, which has a climbing wall with about two dozen routes.

Alex Costumbrado, Casino Road Youth Development director, helped lead the group of students that Wulfric was climbing with. They were all part of the Mukilteo YMCA’s Minority Achievers Program, a mentoring program to support college-bound minority and immigrant students.

Costumbrado appreciates being able to take MAP students climbing.

“Rock climbing is a great way to provide self confidence and challenge them,” he said.

Some of the kids he works with may be struggling in school or have issues at home, he said.

“The kids loved the social aspect. They loved challenging themselves. They loved racing,” Costumbrado said.

“We started this program because we heard from volunteers in Everett that they were interested in starting youth programs,” said Caitlin O’Brien, youth education manager for the Mountaineers.

The Mountaineers group has, historically, been oriented toward adults. However, it is expanding its offerings to help kids learn the skills to get outdoors, have fun and be safe.

The Mountaineers have always relied heavily on volunteers for their programs, and the Mountain Workshops are the same. Volunteers help belay — the term for holding the rope that supports the climber in case of a fall — during Mountain Workshops.

Mountain Workshops are tailored to each group. O’Brien hopes that the groups will get chances to get outside over the summer for hiking or climbing.

Todd McNeal, executive director of Hand in Hand, a group that supports kids in foster care, wanted to introduce the kids he works with to outdoor activities. Teaming up with the Mountaineers seemed like a perfect fit.

McNeal appreciates the options the Mountaineers program opens up.

He’s an avid hiker and has led field trips to the Cascades.

That can be a challenge, though, and he’s looking forward to doing it again, this time with the support of Mountain Workshops.

“Getting inner-city kids and kids in poverty into the mountains is very difficult,” he said.

Just the basics of transportation are expensive. Many of the families he works with don’t have transportation beyond walking.”

Additionally, since many kids have never been exposed to the outdoors, there’s a bit of fear about going into the mountains. “They don’t really understand what it means,” he said.

Another barrier is the cost of some of the activities.

“When we have groups who do snowshoeing, or whatever, they have a cost. It may be a low cost, but it may be out of reach for those families,” he said.

The Mountaineers can help with all of those issues.

The Mountaineers offers up to 90 percent financial assistance to help offset the cost of the programs. They have gear they can lend and volunteers who are passionate about climbing and other outdoor recreation.

McNeal says having excited volunteers is important. While some volunteers feel that kids in poverty or hardship need someone to check on them or rescue them, McNeal says neither of those things are really true.

“The best volunteers are those who are passionate about something and want to share it with everyone,” he said. “That’s the great thing about this program. The volunteers understand the strength and resilience of kids and they just want to share their passion. It just takes a little more work with our demographics.”

Pairing with the Mountaineers lets Hand in Hand offer opportunities they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

McNeal said that the kids he works with often have to worry about big issues like housing security or hunger.

“Our hiking gets thrown together as an afterthought,” he said, “whereas the Mountaineers are getting it organized much more thoroughly. … This frees us up to do what we do, which is helping families here deal with the day-to-day struggles. But in order to do that, you have to build relationships with people, and that’s how these field trips come in.”

Field trips such as hiking really let them get to know the kids. Some of the kids have never seen an old-growth tree. It’s a great chance to build trust and camaraderie.

He said that some of the kids surprised him while climbing. “The quietest, most timid kids ended up being the most brave.”

Learn more

If you’d like more information about Mountain Workshops, or have a youth group that would like to team up with the Mountaineers, contact Josh Gannis at joshg@mountaineers.org.

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