SoulGrow Flag Set on Kilimanjaro

‘There are walls you have to break through’
London Rosiere equated climbing Kilimanjaro with running a marathon — something she has done 16 times. London Rosiere

Some 50 years ago, David Wilt, who had been a children’s librarian in Philadelphia before moving here with Chuck Hitchcock, said what this place needed was “a school without walls,” one that would connect youngsters here with the many artists, writers, musicians, and professionals who were their neighbors.

For the past three years, London Rosiere (pronounced Roszhay), a live-wire native of New Orleans who lost her house to Hurricane Katrina, while not having founded a school such as Wilt envisioned, has breathed life into the school-without-walls idea by offering free Camp SoulGrow workshops pretty much the year round here, largely in Montauk, though she is about to open a center in Hampton Bays and, with the help of her late mother’s family, another in Sogamoso, Colombia.

“Everyone can learn something from someone else,” she said during a recent conversation at The Star, which came about because she had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in early January. 

“School is great,” Rosiere said, “but kids can close their minds when they feel pressure. Our workshops — we do them every day in the summer — eliminate the pressure and give them the power to figure out their purpose. . . . You can change lives this way, by connecting kids with their communities and with themselves, and ultimately with the larger world. Learning this way inspires confidence.”

Rosiere did not come to climb the world’s highest free-standing mountain unprepared. She has done 16 marathons, beginning with Maui in 2008, when she was 23.

“Just as with marathons,” she said, “I went through periods while ascending [the 19,341-foot] Mount Kilimanjaro when I’d look out of my tent in the morning and wonder why I was doing this. You go through all sorts of emotions. When the sun goes down, you’re freezing. I slept in all my gear. It’s important to drink a lot of water, to keep hydrated.” 

“On waking up, you know how much you have yet to do and how far away the summit is, but you also realize how far you’ve come. It’s like that Diana Ross song. You’ve come far, don’t throw it way . . . if we hold on together. . . . That’s true with everything. Each day, the summit got closer.” 

“I planted Camp SoulGrow’s flag on the top, on January 6th at 1:25 p.m. We’d begun the climb on New Year’s Eve. It was very emotional, like the end of a marathon. And you think, ‘Wow! I did it!’ And you can do it, whatever it is, if you put one foot in front of the other. . . . When kids try something new and realize they can do it, like surfing, for instance, or leaping into the surf, as some of them did on New Year’s Day, their confidence soars.”

“I can’t wait to show the kids” — Camp SoulGrow’s 315 free workshops to date have served more than 547 children — “the photos of their flag.”

Rosiere worked in the fashion industry in New York City for a number of years, doing what the world had told her to do, she said, but the work wasn’t fulfilling. She knew she could do more, that she could give more. Ultimately, after volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya and becoming a personal trainer, she came out following her mother’s untimely death, in April 2014, to Montauk, and found some solace, some of what she had known in New Orleans. 

“There were front yards and backyards and trees . . . it was a beautiful place. . . . I found a rental, and because I wanted to make the most of my time — to push myself, athletically, creatively, and mentally — I started Camp SoulGrow that July. That was who I was. I had been listening to the world, not to myself. I had so much to offer. Rather than charge fees, I asked for donations, whatever parents could give, because that way I knew I could have a lot of children, from every socioeconomic level.”

Technology, she said, was “not allowed. I want the kids to do hands-on things, and to realize how much better the future can be if you grow up with self-esteem and opportunity . . . which should be available to everyone regardless of where they’re from. . . . You want to give them all the tools they’ll need and the connections they’ll need outside the classroom so that when they’re faced with hardships they’ll know who they are and will be strong.”

Life, she said, was “like a marathon — it’s a long-distance race. At mile 23, you’re ready to stop, but you keep going and finish. There are walls you have to break through, and after that wall there will be another. You must persevere, you must be patient, you must be brave, you must have gratitude.” 

“It’s amazing how far you can go by putting one foot in front of the other.”

“I went through periods while ascending Mount Kilimanjaro when I’d look out of my tent in the morning and wonder why I was doing this.” London Rosiere