Rock Climbing Meets Community Service at This on-the-Rise Local Nonprofit
Rock climbing and community service come together at The Arch Project Hawai‘i to form a nonprofit that can make you feel good, inside and out.
photo: courtesy of the arch project climbing center
What do you get when you cross rock climbing and community service?
Up until last July in Hawai‘i, nothing. But for hairstylist Nancy Nguyen and veterinary surgeon Nathaniel Lam, these two seemingly separate passions were combined into one big project. The Arch Project Hawai‘i is a nonprofit organization that bridges volunteer grassroots community service and a love for the sport of rock climbing.
“He climbs and is a general outdoor enthusiast, I love climbing and we both are passionate about community service. So The Arch Project Hawai‘i formed because we wanted to engage the climbing community with volunteer service opportunities,” Nguyen says.
Creating a nonprofit had always been a dream of Nguyen’s but it wasn’t until a friend of hers started one that she was able to visualize her own, one that incorporated both fitness and climbing. For the first six months after launching in July, Nguyen and Lam dedicated themselves to planning events, including beach and hiking trail cleanups and holiday food drives, as well as screening documentary films about sustainability.
“The majority of our volunteers began as strangers who hadn’t climbed before or who were climbers that we didn’t really know, but eventually we became good friends and they started participating in every event we had,” says Nguyen. All of The Arch Project Hawai‘i’s events up to this point had been paid for out of pocket by Nguyen and Lam or scraped together through fundraising, so the duo decided to open a climbing gym—the Arch Project Climbing Center—to supplement the nonprofit. They partnered with the climbing construction pros at Futurist Climbing and Walltopia to build a sprawling white-, gray- and cyan-striped wall, with 2,000 square feet of climbing surface and a custom 16-inch-thick padded bouldering floor in a warehouse in Waipahu. Three months after opening in August 2017, the climbing center had a gym membership of close to 250 people.
“Most of the members didn’t know the nonprofit existed until I brought it up or they asked how we started,” Nguyen says. “Climbers may do community service on their own but our organization helps to pull everyone together to do stuff with other climbers.” The Arch Project has supported other nonprofits, including 808 Cleanups; Big Brothers Big Sisters; the anti-sex trafficking organization, Ho‘ōla Nā Pua; Project Hawai‘i Inc., which provides support for homeless children; and others. Events are held once a month, except for January.
What’s next for The Arch Project? “One thing we’re focusing on in 2018 is getting more kids involved, working with local schools, building climbing teams, maybe setting up a league system,” says Lam. “Climbing builds confidence and evens the playing field between gender, age, height. We’re just trying to get people enthusiastic about climbing and taking care of the community.”