Project: Education, Art, Recreation. These are the tools that p:ear utilizes to help homeless youth exit homelessness everyday. p:ear, the Portland based non-profit, teamed up with Planet Granite Portland to provide a recreational activity: Climbing. As part of the PG Gives Back program, Planet Granite donated rentals, access and instruction to support p:ear’s use of the facility.
pear2“It blew me away the first time I stepped in there. I never thought I was going to make it to the top, but over time I did….again and again.” – participant Cody

 For most of us, climbing is a hobby, a lifestyle, a community that we partake in. Many climbers can reflect on their early days of climbing remembering the difficulty and rewarding successes of top roping your first 5.10a, completing a V2, or even getting to the top of the wall. These are the types of successes that Nathan Engkjer, a Transitions Coordinator and Wilderness Programs Director at p:ear, hoped to find within the walls of Planet Granite with the youth he works with everyday. For three months, Nathan visited the gym on Fridays with any youth who came to p:ear and was interested in trying rock climbing.

We caught up with Nathan to learn more about p:ear, the challenges youth face in exiting homelessness, and how a climbing gym worked out as a constructive environment.

PG: What is the idea behind p:ear?

Nathan: p:ear creatively mentors homeless and transitional youth ages 15-25 in the Portland Metro Area. Through education, art, recreation, and transition programs, p:ear builds positive relationships with each young person to affirm personal worth and to create more meaningful and healthier lives. p:ear responds to the individual needs of each youth during the precarious and complex process of exiting street life.

PG: What are the biggest issues the youth you work with face?

Nathan: There are many issues facing these youth, most of which lack physical, intellectual and emotional maturity – as well as positive adult role models and mentors to guide them through the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood – homeless youth are among the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our community. But, p:ear recognizes that each of these young people is a valuable human being with enormous possibility to contribute positively to our community, and we are committed to creating programs that meet their unique educational, artistic, social and physical needs in an environment of hope and trust.

We believe that young people need many avenues and opportunities to grow into healthy adults. At p:ear we concentrate on the individual needs of each young person as they make this journey and heal their pasts. p:ear responds to their unique needs during the precarious and complex process of exiting street life, alleviating their poverty, and growing up without healthy, parental support.
pear1“Man, that place was dope. I wish I could climb there all the time.” – participant Luis

 PG: What sort of skills does p:ear hope to equip homeless youth with?

Nathan: Before these youth can develop any skill set there needs to be a shift in thinking. p:ear has identified a strong model for helping youth end their homelessness: assist them to recognize themselves as strong and capable people and provide them with truly supportive relationships that that they can rely on as they make the difficult journey off the streets. Then and only then can we start to implement various skill sets, such as leadership capabilities, non-violent conflict resolution, self-care, the ability to problem solve and increase self-esteem just to name a few.

PG: What made you chose a climbing gym as a constructive environment?

Nathan: A climbing gym is a natural transition from the outdoor climbing we do during the rest of the year. It allows for youth to continue, or begin in some cases, challenging themselves, and hone their skills and ability. Being in a gym also provides a calm and controlled environment. One of the biggest bonuses comes with the positive community interactions these youth get to experience, not only with the staff, but with the other climbers using the gym. It gives youth an opportunity to engage in a way that they wouldn’t out at the crag. It’s as constructive of an environment as one could hope for.

Rock climbing has been one of the best activities insofar as its ability to help youth see beyond their current circumstances. The sense of achievement gained by reaching the top of a climb is second to noneWhether it’s a route they’ve been working on or just on-sighted, they find themselves challenged every time.

By achieving something which once seemed impossible,
it forces these youth to realize their true abilities versus their perceived abilities while increasing their confidence.
When put into perspective of what has already been accomplished, anything can seem possible.

PG: What factors can limit or obstruct youth from exiting homelessness?

Nathan: There are a number of unfortunate factors that prevent youth from exiting homelessness. Hopelessness and lack of self-worth is a big factor. Addiction and mental health issues are also fairly prevalent.  A key contributor to this is the utter lack of mental health resources available to this population. There are a number of other factors that can obstruct these young people: lack of education, lack of housing, personal connection, hygiene, job skills and/or opportunities to name just a few.

PG: What sort of things do you see on a daily basis, in your work, that would surprise most people?

Nathan: I think what would surprise people most about what I see on a day to day basis is the raw talent and beauty that walks through our doors. There are youth that can jam as well as Jimi Hendrix, paint like Van Gogh, write like Poe and smile like your best friend. They are the things that go unseen outside of this place.

pear3“What a great place to climb. I could feel myself getting stronger every week.” – participant Jake

PG: How can someone get involved with p:ear?

Nathan: There are a number of ways for people to get involved with p:ear. Volunteers are critical to p:ear’s success and the success of these youth. It’s incredibly rewarding, challenging and fun. In addition to volunteering, p:ear also relies heavily on donations, both financially and in-kind. Unlike similar organizations who rely on large government grants, p:ear fundraises all of it dollars, from family foundations, individual monthly giving and larger corporate grants. For more information on how to get involved, one can always visit our website or contact with any questions.

Working with community non-profits is an essential part of the PG Gives Back program and allows us to give back to the community we are proud to be a part of. We are psyched to have had the opportunity to work with Nathan, p:ear and all of the participants that were involved.Thanks again p:ear for climbing with us!


p:ear is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization creatively working with homeless and transitional youth in the Portland area.  As Nathan mentioned above p:ear relies heavily on volunteers, if you would like to know more about p:ear,, or have questions about how you can support or get involved with p:ear’s Wilderness Recreation program, please contact Nathan: .