Resting between routes, Ted Pappageorge sat on the white chalk-stained climbing gym crash pads, overwhelmed by his surroundings.
An acrobat twirls in the air, suspended by a silk fabric. Beneath her, inside a cave of indoor routes, a group of climbers walked through yoga poses, guided by an instructor. On the walls all around him, climbers grabbed plastic holds, dangling their feet on small holds like a dance.
Pappageorge thought, “Wow, that’s amazing.”
“I was just surrounded by all this well-being. At that time, I thought that six or seven years ago, I was sitting drunk in a bar, and now I am here”, is remembers Pappageorge on a November afternoon in a downtown Las Vegas cafe, “If someone had shown me this when I was 12, my life would have been dramatically different.”
As he stood inside the Nevada Climbing Center that day six months ago, “a light bulb went out,” he said.
Since then, Pappageorge has made great strides to launch Higher Ground Climbing and Wellness, a nonprofit that aims to introduce underprivileged youth to rock climbing – potentially the first nonprofit of its kind in Las Vegas, according to a Review of 501c3 tax returns in Nevada.
He formed a three-member nonprofit board, raised nearly $8,000, and hosted two events in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Department’s DREAM youth mentorship program.
“There are a significant number of at-risk young people in Vegas who would benefit from the sense of community and uplifting energy that rock climbing offers,” Pappageorge said. “Higher Ground will provide access to a sport that these young people might not have for many reasons, such as finances or transportation.”
“It took over my life”
One of the police officers who helped create DREAM – an acronym for Discover, Redirect, Empower, Defend and Mentor – now sits on Higher Ground’s board of directors.
“Being there at events and seeing the joy on the faces of the kids, how much they loved rock climbing, that was definitely something I wanted to be a part of,” subway officer Donte’ Batiste said in Las Vegas. Review-Journal. “We understand that for many of the inner city kids we interact with, rock climbing is something they would never have thought of doing.”
Such was the case with Pappageorge, now 35, who grew up in Las Vegas and started drinking and partying in his early teens.
“I had a lot of destructive behavior when I was younger,” he recalls. “It definitely hindered my accomplishments.”
This is a phase of his life that would extend into his early thirties.
“Until I found something I loved more than partying,” he said. “Some people aren’t so lucky.”
A date brought him to a climbing gym – Nevada Climbing Center – for the first time in his life just over a year ago.
The experience was metamorphic. He returned to the gym the next day.
“I kept climbing,” he said, “and it took over my life.”
Pappageorge hopes his work through Higher Ground will have the same effect on at-risk young people in the Valley.
“I think he definitely has a great idea,” Batiste said. “Any help I can give to take it to the next level, I really want to do that.”
The climber and the officer met in July through a mutual friend, after a graduation ceremony for the first cohort of DREAM participants. Pappageorge was overflowing with ideas. Batiste was impressed.
“The biggest driving factor was Ted’s passion for helping young people and this connection we have to make sure we can help those who are in need and don’t have an outlet,” he said. . “That way they don’t go down a slippery slope.”
Although still in its infancy, to date Higher Ground has introduced 23 children and teens to the Nevada Climbing Center in partnership with Metro’s DREAM program. Pappageorge hopes to expand later to other climbing gyms in the valley.
Between events, he and his board members have been busy with fundraising and paperwork. In September, they raised $5,000 in nine hours through an ongoing GoFundMe campaign – money that was spent on licensing and incorporation fees, climbing gear and gym time for young people, and marketing materials, according to Pappageorge.
With these funds, Pappageorge was also able to apply for a business license in the State of Nevada before Christmas. Then, he said, he will tackle the nonprofit’s application for federal tax status.
In the meantime, Higher Ground and DREAM are set to introduce a third class of at-risk youngsters to rock climbing early next year.
But eventually, when more funds are raised, Pappageorge said he plans to create a comprehensive indoor training program that will prepare Higher Ground participants for outdoor climbing.
“In the climbing world,” Pappageorge said, “it’s a big deal when you first make the transition from the gym to the crag as we call it. So the real mission for is to get the kids out on real rock so they can have that mind-blowing time with nature.
Pappageorge said it was important to him that Higher Ground gave children and teenagers something to work towards together.
“The wonderful thing about rock climbing is that everyone is on the same team,” he said, “and that’s a very beautiful thing.”