On Belay uses adventure-based recreation as a platform to build community for kids whose families have been affected by cancer. The Kontarinis are one such family. After Angelo passed away from kidney cancer in October, 2010, His wife Melissa and their three children (aged eight, five and three) faced the daunting task of “getting on” with their lives.
“I was looking for different opportunities to get through that,” says Melissa, “and luckily a friend recommended On Belay.” They attended their first event just three months after Angelo’s death, “just after our first Christmas without him.” Melissa remembered it was a cold night, “really cold and we went to this indoor climbing place. And right when we entered I just felt so comfortable, inviting and warm.”
Though her youngest was too young to participate, Jack and Tess were met by peers who had faced similar trials, and well trained staff who helped in teaching them how to climb taught them a way to process grief as well.
As Tess, now nine, points out, “On Belay is mostly about climbing.” But her older brother, Jack, now 12, identifies that there is another important element, though it is quiet. “Everyone here has been through the same thing you’ve been through. But it’s not like you’re sitting around talking about your feelings. It’s not a therapy thing, but it kind of is.”
Melissa appreciates the unspoken communality among the kids, and credits the group with helping her family achieve some sense of normalcy. “After my husband passed we needed to establish new ceremonies or rituals and On Belay has been such a beautiful consistent “go-to” for us, and has really helped us all just get through this.”