Announcing the FA Foundation

Published June 25th, 2021

We believe climbing is for all people. At the same time, we recognize that climbing has historically been accessible only to a privileged few, and that the climbing community in our gyms does not represent the diversity we see in the cities we call home. 

That’s why we’re launching the FA Foundation. The mission of the FA Foundation is to harness the energy of the climbing community to provide access and programming to underserved people and communities, breaking down barriers to entry and creating pathways to pursue climbing for life.

We’re starting with two main initiatives in 2021:

  • REACH Youth Program, offering free weekly coached climbing sessions to kids from 5 non-profit partners who work with youth in the neighborhoods we serve
  • RISE Membership Program, providing reduced-priced First Ascent gym membership options to those who face financial barriers to becoming a member

You can learn more about the FA Foundation and the initiatives mentioned above at

Our first REACH cohort wrapped up this week, and it’s been a blast to see kids engage in positive relationship building with their peers, expand their climbing skills, and become outstanding citizens in the climbing community. 

And if you’re interested in submitting an application for our RISE Membership Program, head to

By June 2022, our goal is to provide 1,000 people with a climbing experience and 250 people with long term climbing access. We know there is a lot of work to be done, and that these efforts represent a small step in the right direction, but we’re glad to be on the journey.

Let’s keep on climbing – together.


Dan Bartz, FA Co-founder


June 2021 Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Update

Published June 25th, 2021

We’re excited to update our community on the DEI work we’ve been doing and some new initiatives we’re embarking on this summer.

To start, here are some things we’ve been working on since our last update:

  • We launched the FA Foundation, which focuses our giving back efforts on expanding climbing access for underrepresented communities in climbing and marginalized people in the cities we call home.  For more information, see the above announcement.
  • We have completed Implicit/Unconscious Bias training for all founders, full time and hourly staff, with extra training for those in supervisory roles.
  • Over the summer, we will be conducting roundtable conversations to keep the momentum going and allow folks to reflect on what was learned and integrate it into the work they do at First Ascent.
  • We have scheduled additional Implicit/Unconscious Bias education for all part time staff and will be conducting those trainings by the end of July.
  • We are finalizing a series of DEI and communication courses that will continue as a part of our ongoing new hire onboarding processes.
  • We continue to prioritize the hiring of diverse candidates (BIPOC, women, etc.) for part time and full time positions
  • Our Diversity Council continues to meet regularly. After a year of reviewing and building upon our community guidelines, the Council is now in the process of defining its ongoing mission statement, setting goals, and looking toward the future.

Thanks for reading. Moving forward, we will update this page twice each year in June and December so you can follow along with the work we’re doing. If you have any questions along the way, please reach out to us at

We look forward to continuing to build a climbing culture and community that we can all be proud of with you. Climb on!

The First Ascent Team


Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Actions Update

Published December 31st, 2020

As the year draws to a close, we wanted to share one more update on our DEI Actions progress. 

We started this journey with big goals for the year, and much of the work we embarked on is still in progress. One learning we came away with since our last update: this work takes significant time and energy. We have invested a great deal into this work during this difficult season, and we remain committed to continue taking the next step on the path toward a more diverse, inclusive climbing community.

We acknowledge that we have room to learn and grow. We continue to listen to our staff and our community to better understand what will make our gyms more welcoming, safe, and supportive spaces for everyone, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.


Here are some updates for you:

We formed a staff led Diversity Council and created a Community Engagement Manager role on our leadership team.

Our Diversity Council is made up of setters, customer service staff, yoga instructors, and community members, and the Council is led by Paula Bui, who has recently been promoted to Community Engagement Manager. Paula will work closely both with the Council as well as the First Ascent leadership team to address feedback and implement changes that make FA an inclusive place to work, climb, and connect.


We have completed the first full round of DEI training with all staff. 

Though the first round of Cultural Humility training started many great conversations, we know that training is an ongoing effort and that more work is needed in this area. We have hired experienced external consultants to provide additional training in Unconscious Bias & Inclusion, Leading Diverse Teams, and other key topics for our leadership team, and we are implementing an Unconscious Bias training for all staff. We are also moving forward with a Cultural Wellness Audit facilitated by an expert on organizational culture to better understand the needs of our staff and the broader community, and will use the findings from that audit to craft a training plan as well as other initiatives for the remainder of the year. The audit will be completed by March of 2021.


We are gearing up to work with local community groups.

The challenges of the pandemic have made outreach efforts difficult, with group programs on hold at our gyms and most in-person programming suspended around Chicago. So we spent the last couple of months looking to the future, brainstorming initiatives that can help create access and opportunity for underserved communities long term. These initiatives require close coordination with many stakeholders, so we’re not ready to announce them to the world just yet, but we look forward to sharing them with you early in 2021.  


As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas about our diversity, equity, and inclusion work, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at, which goes directly to our Community Engagement Manager, Paula Bui.

Thank you for your continued interest and support as we work on these initiatives. We look forward to continuing to work with you to create a climbing community we’re all proud to be a part of.

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Actions Update

Earlier this summer, in recognition of the history of racial inequity in our country and the lack of diversity in the broader climbing community, we committed to taking a more proactive approach to how we practice diversity, equity, and inclusion in our gyms.

Click below to view our original DEI Action Statement.

This post serves as an update on First Ascent’s progress on the specific actions we committed to take in 2020. We know the work in this area will be on-going, but we are looking forward to building a more inclusive space with our staff, climbers, and surrounding community.


Action 1: Provide DEI training to all First Ascent staff

In Progress. We are happy to have completed our first round of cultural humility training with over 70% of all staff and counting. We are currently assessing the impact of that training and opportunities for continued learning.

Action 2: Form a staff-led Diversity Council

In Progress. We have launched a Diversity Council featuring an Inner Council composed primarily of staff of color to generate recommendations for diversity, inclusion, and equity growth initiatives, and an Outer Council composed of First Ascent owners and managers to work with and support the implementation of recommendations from the Inner Council. The formation of the Diversity Council is being supported and facilitated by Levi Baer, an external DEI strategist with strong experience in leading collaborative groups focused on racial equity initiatives.

Action 3: Engage an HR partner to improve staff diversity

In Progress. We have successfully begun our working relationship with RTR HR and Staffing Services, and we are looking forward to continuing to build our HR practice together in a way that enhances our ability to attract, hire, develop and retain a diverse workforce.

Action 4: Launch the FA Community Guidelines

Complete. The FA Community Guidelines are published on the First Ascent website. One of the first actions of our newly-formed Diversity Council undertook was to review and update the Community Guidelines to ensure a thorough and multifaceted creation process that reflects the goals and needs of our shared spaces. Now that the Community Guidelines have been reviewed and approved by the Diversity Council, they will be implemented at all FA locations.

Action 5: Focus giving back efforts on underrepresented groups in the climbing community

In Progress. We have successfully completed one donation drive event in August 2020, working with Earth Remedies, a West Humboldt Park resource initiative, on a book bag drive and family climbing session benefiting West Side kids and families. We are looking forward to continuing to build these initiatives and more, coordinated by the Diversity Council.

In the next phase of this work, we will continue staff training efforts until all FA staff have completed the first round of training, implement the Community Guidelines at all FA locations, and prioritize and implement additional diversity and inclusion initiatives led by the Diversity Council. 

We’re excited to keep the momentum going, and we’re looking forward to building a more inclusive space at First Ascent with our staff, the climbing community, and the communities that surround our gyms.

As always, if you have any questions or suggestions about our DEI Actions, please reach out to us at

Original Statement

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Actions

Published July 14, 2020

Over the last month, we have been listening carefully and thinking critically about what First Ascent can do to combat racial injustice and promote diversity and inclusion in our gyms and our community. We’d like to thank everyone who has shared their opinions, suggestions and feedback with us.

We recognize the long history of racial injustice in our country and the magnitude of work that must be done to promote racial equity and reconciliation moving forward. We also recognize that there is not enough diversity in the climbing community, and as a majority white-led organization, we want to take intentional action to make climbing more inclusive. As we seek to bring people together through climbing, we are committed to doing our part to make climbing more accessible and equitable for underrepresented communities, particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). 

We have been planning a number of efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in our gyms and the communities we serve, and now is the time to put them into action.

By the end of 2020, we will:

  1. Provide diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all First Ascent founders, management, and staff through Inclusion Chicago, a YWCA Metropolitan Chicago initiative, as soon as possible and completed no later than September 30th, 2020.
  2. Create a staff-run Diversity Council led by Paula Bui to guide First Ascent leadership towards improving diversity in the climbing community and engagement with underrepresented communities inside and outside the gyms. We will work to have at least one staff member from each FA location serve on the Council.
  3. Boost our efforts to recruit and promote more BIPOC by partnering with RTR HR and Staffing Services, a 10 year old HR consultancy that is a certified Minority and Woman Owned Business, to review and improve First Ascent’s hiring and training practices, staff experience, and culture.
  4. Launch the FA Community Guidelines, a series of actions FA recommends to all members and visitors to ensure a welcoming environment for all people, especially those from underrepresented communities. The Guidelines will be posted in each FA gym and include an explicit zero tolerance policy for racism and other forms of discrimination.
  5. Focus our giving back efforts on creating access to climbing for underrepresented communities, particularly for BIPOC communities, by:
  • Expanding our programs and partnerships that serve underrepresented communities in the neighborhoods that FA gyms call home
  • Creating long term access for those in need of economic assistance through a membership scholarship or sponsorship program

One thing is clear: fostering a more diverse and welcoming climbing community will take consistent effort over time. The list above represents our next steps. We are committed to doing the work, and we will publish updates here at least every 2 months as we put these plans into action to create transparency and accountability.

If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas, you can reach us at

We look forward to joining with you in making First Ascent a more welcoming, inclusive place to experience and enjoy climbing.

All our best,

Dan, Joe, Jon, & Dave | the First Ascent founders