The Healing Power of Community: Kismet and COVID-19

At this time, like many organizations, Kismet is facing an unprecedented dilemma. We are up against the critical question of whether 2020 programming will be happening or not. To be honest, I do not have an answer for you right now. What I do have is a series of personal thoughts and general data to invite you, the reader, to think about how the COVID-19 pandemic affects our Kismet community. You may be wondering how a rock climbing school is relevant. For my answer, I humbly ask you to please read on.

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What is Kismet Rock Foundation?

Kismet Rock Foundation is a non-profit that nourishes the physical, intellectual and emotional development of underserved youth from both rural and urban areas throughout New England. Kismet's success in redirecting the path and supporting the potential of children is accomplished by providing scholarships for a comprehensive education in technical rock climbing within the context of a stable and loving family-like atmosphere.

Those of you intimately familiar with the Kismet program are aware that its power lies most significantly in the family-like atmosphere the program cultivates. Because of the extraordinary advantages that an education in technical rock climbing offers, this came as a bit of a surprise early on to the founder Mike Jewell. During these last twenty years, we have fully come to understand the nature of Kismet’s power by listening to our students.

“I have never been listened to by anyone before coming to Kismet.”

“I didn't know what families did even though I had seen it on TV.”

“Being at Kismet gave me hope.”

“Being listened to made me feel powerful.”

Life without our People

COVID-19 is causing a disturbance in the family life of everyone around us. Kinship to many people and in many cultures expands beyond blood relations and reaches into our communities, schools and extended families. At this time, many of us are experiencing distancing from some of the most beloved members of our familial and social circles, which results in feelings of unease and loss. However, what worries me most is the lingering pain and potential trauma this could leave on our most vulnerable youth. What I want to highlight and discuss more poignantly is the loneliness factor. I am aware that there are many demographics who will experience this in unbearable ways, however, to relate to the mission of Kismet, I am going to focus on the experiences of school-aged children. Even more specifically, school-aged children who come from families that lack the typical resources that would be available to “middle-class families.”

To some people, this might feel like an extended vacation, but to a lot of children out there, the long term cancellation of school means that their only structure and sense of safety has been taken away. Not only do schools provide meals to feed insecure families (the National School Lunch Program is among the top three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs)[1], but they also provide a valuable social arena. A space that is essential for the emotional, social and intellectual development of youth.


Potential Consequences of COVID-19 on our Youth 

According to Education Week, there are 50.8 million students enrolled in public schools [2]. As far as I can tell, many are likely to experience a school closure to some extent. A main issue of inequity disproportionately experienced by low-income students is the increased chance of being left home alone, consequently resulting in social isolation [3]. At this time, it seems reasonable to speculate kids are likely to be at home with at least one parent/guardian, especially due to the mandated stay at home orders. However, what if home wasn’t a place of comfort, but rather a hub of stress and anxiety? Or, what if a child's parent is an essential worker and forced to leave them home alone all day? Or what if the source of love and compassion a child typically receives is from a grandparent, teacher, or best friend? And what happens if a child is unable to receive that love and compassion for months on end? Could the result be social isolation and loneliness? 

Research has shown there is a strong correlation between social isolation and loneliness in children. To follow that, the data also demonstrates that lonely children are more susceptible to mental disorders including depressive symptoms [4]. I am not here sharing this with you in doubt of the abilities families have to support their children. I am, however, speaking as an individual experiencing loneliness as a result of this situation, but also as an adult individual who has developed some resiliency to handle my emotions. Our younger ones may not have these skills or even a full understanding of what is going on or why they’re alienated from their peers and family members.


Why Kismet Matters: The Importance of Recovery 

It is my greatest wish that things settle as soon as possible so the connections that matter most can be reset. So our children can go back to school, parents back to work, friends, and families back together. I am eager for the Kismet season so that the gracious act of rock climbing and powerful bonds our students experience can help one another mend from whatever marks are left behind from this pandemic. Through rock climbing and community, Kismet brings forward the healing power of relationship, acceptance, non-judgment, and love. Even if we cannot run a typical climbing season, we will find some way to support our students and bring them together. 

“Kismet is something I look forward to all year and it keeps me going. It gives me motivation to push through my real life. Kismet has also allowed me to really feel that I belong somewhere.”

• 16-year-old Kismet Student, 2019 •

For the time being, all we can do is be kind to the ones around us, reach out to those close to us, and find a new normal in our daily routine. If you happen to find yourself with some extra resources, I am not the first to tell you there are heroic organizations all around, who could use your support. As response is the job of the organizations on the ground fighting this pandemic now, recovery will be the job of Kismet and organizations like it in the near future. We are the groups that will pick up from where the others will leave off and help the members of our society regain its strength. The battle of COVID-19 will not end right when the spread of disease halts, it will end years from now when those most affected by it are once again secure. 


Thank you for your time. I wish you all the best and hope this message finds you safe and healthy. 



Alyssa Riley

Executive Director

Kismet Rock Foundation



[1]Alisha Coleman-Jensen, et al. Household Food Security in the United States. United States Department of Agriculture, 19 September,

[2]“Map: Coronoavirus and School Closures.” Education Week. 16 April 2020

[3]“Map: Coronoavirus and School Closures.” Education Week. 16 April 2020

[4]No Isolation. (2017, January 12). Consequences of social isolation for children and adolescents,