Chris Desir came to Common Ground in 2012 to join our team of academic tutors, committed to supporting and pushing all of our students to take on challenging academic material. He brought with him a passion for rock climbing — and quickly sought ways to engage students in conquering the physical and mental challenge presented by indoor and outdoor climbing, as well.

“For me, rock climbing has become an invaluable tool for building essential life skills,” says Chris. “On Common Ground’s climbing team, I hope to create the environment where that will be possible for my students as well.”

As a long-time climber, Chris also knew that it would take serious work to make the sport of rock climbing accessible, both financially and culturally, to young people of color and young people growing up in cities. “As a person of color who is also an avid rock climber, I recognize the sport’s homogeneity in terms of race, class, and culture is a problem. For instance, the gym where we practice is located in a mostly black, economically disadvantaged neighborhood in New Haven — but the demographics of the gym are largely middle class and white. This team is part of a larger solution to this problem.”

It seems to be working. Common Ground’s climbing program started as a recreation opportunity last year — and has grown into a competitive team with 15 members, 11 of whom are young people of color. “We practice twice a week,” explains Chris, “but are looking to expand to 3 times per week next year. This past year we went to 4 competitions and took one outdoor trip. Next year we will focus on outdoor trips instead of competitions.”

Community partners have stepped up in an enormous way to support this growth. City Climb, a local rock climbing gym in New Haven, helped get the program off the ground by providing a space to practice, hold fundraisers, and connect with other climbers — at heavily discounted prices. Ascent Climbing, a local guiding company, has also provided significant discounts on outdoor climbing expeditions. And Trailblazer — a long-time supporter of Common Ground’s efforts to get New Haven’s young people out into the natural world — stepped up in a big way, donating more than $1,000 worth of climbing gear to get the team started.

“Trailblazer is committed to supporting our local community and the Common Ground Climbing Team,” says Karen Brown of Trailblazer. “Our mission is to support programs that promote youth engagement in outdoor education and activities as well as access to local green spaces. We believe that every child should have access, opportunities, and encouragement to experience outdoor sports and activities that connect them with nature for their physical, emotional, and educational well-being. It was a pleasure to help Common Ground get their Rock Climbing Team off the ground.”

Common Ground’s climbing team is definitely off the ground — and pushing students to new heights.