Meet Charley

Meet Charley

Charley’s knuckles turn white as his fingers cling to a narrow purple rock five yards up the South Bend Kroc Center’s rockwall. For as much purchase as the hold allows him, it might as well be a grape glued to the face of the wall. The purple route provides one of the more difficult climbing paths on the rockwall, one that requires a unique blend of skill, strength, and flexibility. Charley has all three, but on this occasion, his fingers slip from the handhold and he falls backward into his harness, guided safely to the padded floor by the auto-belay system he’s tethered into.

Charley Lawrence is not dismayed.

It’s not the first time he’s slipped off the wall and it certainly won’t be the last. He claps his hands together and prepares to climb again.

Before his first visit to the Kroc, Charley was the new kid in town. After the Tunisian government put a stop to his family’s mission work in north Africa, the Lawrences moved back to South Bend, a place Charley hadn’t called home in nearly a decade. His family had moved abroad when he was five. Now fifteen, Michiana was barely a place he even remembered.

Charley was going to have to learn his way around a new school in a new town in a new country, but when you watch Charley climb, you already know he’s the kind of person who knows how to find a way.

His first attempts at the wall came on a visit to the Kroc Center with a few friends. They came to swim and explore; and yes, to give the rockwall a shot. It didn’t take long after that before Charley was hooked. The Kroc Center was within walking distance from his house, and soon, Charley was on the wall every day after school.

“When I first started,” Charley remembers. “I just didn’t look down.”

It only took a handful of climbs before Charley began to feel more comfortable. He gained skills quickly and moved on to the grey and purple paths, each new color representing another degree of difficulty, the space between the footholds longer and the depths of the handholds shallower. On this day, Charley climbs the grey path with ease, just his warmup before moving on to the next challenge.

As the Kroc staff members who oversee the rockwall, Simon Meska and Kendall Jeremiah have observed Charley’s growth as a climber – and as a person – from a front-row seat and sometimes from an adjacent harness.

“Charley moved up very quickly,” Meska said. “He started on beginner paths and in less than a year, he was on the most difficult paths we have. During maintenance week, he helped build new routes and put up the new holds.”

Charley speaks with program attendant, Kendall Jeremiah.

It’s not just climbing that’s captured Charley’s passion. He spends whole afternoons and evenings at the Kroc Center, works out in the Fitness Center, swims in the Aquatics Center, and even takes hip-hop dance classes with Mr. Mike. But before and after those classes, he’s on the wall. He loves the challenge and the adrenaline and the workout, but the best part of climbing?

“Simon and Kendall.”

For Charley, the rockwall is bigger than a 25-foot vertical challenge. It’s friends. It’s support. It’s an opportunity to give and receive encouragement, to cheer and be cheered.

It’s a community.

The Kroc staff became his friends and his mentors, pushing him, challenging him, and encouraging him every time he made another attempt at the wall.

“Rock climbing is fun,” Charley says. “But rock climbing with other people is just more fun than rock climbing by yourself.”

Charley wants to become a mechanical engineer, and as he works toward that goal, the South Bend Kroc Center promises to continue to be the place that will push him to new heights and support him every step of the way. No matter what’s ahead of Charley Lawrence on his journey, one thing’s for sure:

There’s no need to look down.

This Giving Tuesday, consider making a one-time or recurring gift to the South Bend Kroc Center.
Your donation helps kids like Charley find their after-school home.

Love Beyond Christmas

Your sustaining gift to The Salvation Army Kroc Center supports St. Joseph County families this season and beyond. So you can put a present under someone’s tree today and a roof over someone’s head tomorrow.

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