Peak Potential Princeton: Community Service Climbing Program for Children with Disabilities
Kids are Incredible
Peak Potential is all about helping kids achieve more than they thought was possible. Using the OA Climbing Wall and a team approach volunteers help children with disabilities reach new heights (literally). All children require a belayer and many also require a climber with an additional belayer. The climber encourages the child and may help her place hands and feet on holds as they climb. OA is looking for students who would be interested in working with children at the Wall on a weekly basis throughout the semester. No previous climbing experience is required, although you will need to go through a belay training and orientation in order to work with children with disabilities. Interested volunteers can sign up at the OA TripStore.
A partnership between Outdoor Action and Peak Potential has created Peak Potential Princeton—a weekly community service program where Princeton students mentor children with disabilities at the OA Climbing Wall.
Peak Potential was started in 2000 by Dr. Jen Fu Cheng ’93 when he was a resident at a pediatric rehabilitation facility. Jen Fu, a former OA Leader and Climbing Wall staff member, was an avid climber and wanted to merge his love of the sport with his vocation of serving children with disabilities. Neurological, muscular, and developmental disorders such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy affect thousands of children each year and the emphasis too often has focused on the limitations caused by these conditions. Because of these misperceptions, many activities, especially outdoor adventure activities have traditionally been inaccessible to these children. Jen Fu single-handedly started Peak Potential in an effort to expand the variety of experiences available to children with physical challenges. With the use of a harness and a belay system, children are able to use all four extremities to propel themselves up a wall, and those who may have a deficit in one or more extremities are able to participate and excel. The goal is to provide a psychologically beneficial activity for children with physical and developmental disabilities to improve self-esteem, cooperation, and trust and utilizing climbing movements in a scientific manner to address strengthening, motor control, and flexibility.
Here's Jess, one of the student volunteers, helping Ronni up the Wall (or is it the other way around?)
Peak Potential is a wonderful opportunity to have a tangible and meaningful impact on kids from the greater Princeton community. The kids absolutely love the program, and they bring an infectious energy and enthusiasm to every session. Every success is celebrated – whether it's a child's first step off the ground or their third time to the top of the thirty foot wall there are high-fives, praises and smiles all around. As a volunteer it's easy to get caught up in the excitement – the environment is happy and supportive, and the good feelings spread fast. I find the sessions are just as therapeutic for volunteers as for kids – the experience is wonderfully grounding and re-energizing, and I always leave feeling better about my work, myself, and my life in general.
- Sam Borchard '10 - Peak Potential Princeton Co-coordinator
The most rewarding experience I’ve had with Peak Potential has been watching the immense improvement in the kids, both in their abilities and confidence as climbers. It is incredible to see how quickly volunteers and the children form close bonds. Even something as simple as a little encouragement can help create powerful feelings of optimism in the kids. In our last session, a little girl named Olivia came to the OA Wall with her entire family. She climbed twice and on her second try she managed to double her progress up the wall, smiling and waving to her baby sister the whole time. After working with Olivia, I realized that climbing isn’t just a fun activity or a new experience. For these kids, climbing is a way of challenging the conceptions of their limitations and achieving something truly inspiring for themselves and the people around them.
- Tracy Walsh '10 - Peak Potential Princeton Co-coordinator