CHEYENNE — Over the last 35 years, thousands of single moms gained skills to improve their own lives and the lives of their children with the help of Climb Wyoming.
Through life skills training, mental health services, and job training and placement, Climb has empowered women across the state to break the cycle of poverty and build a better future for their families – having spread to 17 counties in the state since its inception in Cheyenne in 1986.
Climb Wyoming’s staff, moms and supporters celebrated those accomplishments Friday at the organization’s 35th anniversary virtual breakfast event.
“We have been able to work with 10,000 families over the last decades and see the impact that the program has had on poverty in Wyoming,” Climb’s incoming CEO, Katie Hogarty, said. “That’s what we’re here to celebrate today.”
The mission of Climb all began with a trip that founder Dr. Ray Fleming Dinneen took with her mom, also a psychologist, to the women’s prison while finishing her doctoral program. Within those walls, Fleming Dinneen said she saw women at the lowest moments of their life, but even then, their hope for the future persisted – their hopes to be reunited with their children and to earn a second chance.
She eventually founded Climb Wyoming in order to make that happen for struggling mothers in the Cowboy State, and more than three decades later, that is not a responsibility she or the Climb staff carries lightly.
“You have to bring your strength. You have to bring your best self with you, because if you don’t, you can’t greet 10 to 12 women every day that you’ve said yes to – (who are) trusting that you’re going to find them the best training and the best career opportunity to move forward in their lives,” Fleming Dinneen said. “That is not an easy task.”
But it is a task that has the power to change people’s lives.
Climb Wyoming’s model is based deeply in neuroscience, since growing up in poverty causes your brain to develop differently, researcher, therapist and psychologist Dr. Anjali Nandi said during the virtual event.
But with education and experience, Climb Wyoming staff know how to reinvigorate the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the executive functions that come with it. Otherwise, many people get stuck in the cycle of toxic stress and fight-or-flight, which often limits opportunity and can impact success on the job.
“Research indicates that people get stuck in the cycle of poverty, generation after generation. And this is where Climb comes in and changes the trajectory of people’s lives,” said Nandi.
At Friday’s breakfast, Climb Wyoming leaders said they hope to offer these services for the next 35 years, as well.
Going forward, Climb itself will also be going through some changes, as Hogarty and Molly Kruger, the incoming chief operating officer, are planning to take the reins from Fleming Dinneen. Hogarty and Kruger will carry the mission forward, as they described Friday, and Fleming Dinneen will move into a focus on sharing Climb’s expertise with other entities around the country.
While Hogarty said Fleming Dinneen has left “big shoes to fill,” she said, “I know that our program makes a difference for families and that makes a difference for the state, and making sure that we can thrive into the future means the world to me.”