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Kevin Jorgeson has been climbing since before he can remember. He said his parents tell him stories of him ascending fences, trees, and ladders. But it wasn’t until he walked into a climbing gym at age 9 that his whole world opened up and changed the trajectory of his life.
Through his non-profit 1Climb, Jorgeson is presenting that same opportunity to kids across the nation. He and his partners—rock climbing brand So iLL and lifestyle shoe company TOMS—launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign today to raise $20,000 to go toward building walls in Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“A couple of years from now we’ll probably be able to say that kids in the 1Climb programs have climbed to the moon and back,” Jorgeson said, mentioning how he wants to find a way to track their mileage. “That would be amazing.”
In 2010, Jorgeson through Professional Climbers International installed a few walls in Sonoma, California, to increase access to the sport. Then in 2015, after he had free-climbed the Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell, he resurrected what he had begun in Sonoma. At an Outdoor Retailer trade show that year, he shared his idea with So iLL Founder Daniel Chancellor, and together, they constructed a custom wall in the Boys & Girls Club in St. Louis, Missouri.
“When we finally did the ribbon cutting and watched these kids take to the wall like they’ve been doing it their whole lives, it was super emotional,” Jorgeson said. “Toward the end, one of the kids came up to me tugged on my shirt. He was like, ‘Are you guys going to take it away now?’ And I said, ‘No man, this is for you. This thing is going to stay here forever.’ His eyes got all big and he said, ‘Really?’ He was so stoked. He couldn’t believe it. That memory has always stuck with me.”
TOMS entered the picture because Jorgeson knew Founder Blake Mycoskie, one of his climbing buddies, was interested in taking his Argentine alpargata-style shoes to a whole new level. As part of the fundraiser, So iLL and TOMS have partnered on a lineup of technical climbing shoes, casual outdoor shoes, and chalk bags to offer as perks to donors. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, hours after it started, the campaign had reached its goal.
By working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Jorgeson hopes to introduce the sport to kids from every background, socioeconomic background, and ethnicity, making climbing gyms more welcoming, inclusive, and diverse as a sport. To ensure those experiences last, his team is looking specifically at installing walls in clubs that are in close proximity to climbing gyms rather than just building standalones and hoping they get used. The clubs’ walls act as stepping stones for the kids who take a liking to the sport and want to visit a commercial gym, where a relationship is already established.
1Climb’s mission is to introduce 100,000 kids to climbing, but secretly, Jorgeson hopes to introduce ten times as many kids as that.
“The Boys & Girls Clubs of America serve 4.5 million kids a year and that’s a lot of kids just hanging out in these clubs after school doing all sorts of awesome stuff,” Jorgeson said. “But hardly any of them have climbing walls. It just didn’t seem that far-fetched that if we built enough walls and let it run for enough time, that we could totally introduce 1 million kids to climbing.”
As of now, the count is 5,600 kids and growing.