Memphis Rox

Climbers pay as they can when they visit Memphis Rox. 

Just across from the historic Stax Museum of American Soul on McLemore Avenue, Memphis Rox has enacted a system to make rock climbing, healthy food and a safe place for children available and accessible regardless of a person's financial status.

Memphis Rox, founded by Hollywood film director Tom Shadyac, is the first business of its magnitude using the "pay what you can" method according to Zack Rogers, the director of administration at Memphis Rox.

"We ask those who can pay to pay, but we never shut out anyone," Rogers said. "That's what I think makes it special; people normally without access can do it."

Rogers grew up in California and said that his childhood was eventful and fun. He noticed children in the Stax-area neighborhood did not have those opportunities and Memphis Rox is a chance to change that. Over 70% of Memphis Rox employees come from within the neighborhood. Memphis Rox not only cultivates interest in rock climbing, but also helps develop young people's work skills.

"Everyone here does different things," Rogers said. "We have employed many children from the Soulsville High School, many of them did not know you could work for a climbing gym. Some of our photographers have gone on to get contracts from North Face and companies like that."

Volunteer opportunities make it possible for young people who want a membership to the facility to work for it, instead of getting declined. With the facility in an impoverished area, the opportunities for work without financial burden are unique for a business.

Multiple rock climbing facilities are available in Memphis, none of which are built on the same model or with the same vision of Memphis Rox. The nonprofit organization employs the community to serve the community, all while finding the best fit for individuals involved.

"Youth get involved, and they learn," Rogers said. "We find what talents each person has to empower the community. It's a team effort by everybody."

In what was described as a food desert by Daniel Arnold, a training and development coordinator at Memphis Rox, the juice bar within the facility is the only healthy food option. There are no grocery stores or restaurants in the neighborhood.

The juice bar, named Juice Almighty, is named after "Bruce Almighty," a film directed by Tom Shadyac. The bar is one of a few projects taking place in the community to keep its citizens healthy.

"We handed out 17,000 meals at no cost in the neighborhood because there are no healthy options outside of the juice bar," Arnold said. "Structure and a safe environment for youth are what we want, but we also want them engaged and secure."

A major influence in the creation of Memphis Rox was Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. He founded the largest gang intervention organization in Los Angeles and has multiple businesses, including restaurants and gyms operating on the pay-what-you-can system.

Boyle will be visiting Memphis Rox to give a speech to the public February 27 at 5:30 p.m. It will be free to attend.

The impact of the company reaches beyond the streets of Memphis with the Summit Program. Children who commit to the training required by the program are allowed to climb several mountains free of charge.

"The official launch of the program was last year, and we are seven months into training. We have five to go," said Arnold. "We will take a group to climb the summit of Mount Baker, planting a Memphis Rox flag at the top."

Mount Baker is just the first stop for those involved with the Summit Program. Historic mountaintops in Washington, Ecuador and Argentina are set to be conquered in the four-year plan.

Community engagement is the number one priority at Memphis Rox, according to both Arnold and Rogers. Programs range from after-school programs to mental health study sessions, but would not be possible without Shadiack, whose father helped in the founding of St. Jude.

"Tom is a huge philanthropist, very unique with a big heart," said Rogers. "People liked the idea if it was in a different location, but we are all glad he stood his ground and put it on McLemore."

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