Ryan Bishop was an adventurous kid who was happiest outdoors, immersed in the natural world he loved: exploring the woods, fishing, wakeboarding, rock climbing, biking and sitting with friends by campfires. He was a big kid, whose passion, caring and charisma were as large as his 6-foot-5-inch frame.
When Ryan went to college in Utah, he threw himself into the sport of rock climbing and organized countless outdoors trips — bringing friends together to share new experiences.
Ryan died in a canoeing accident in Utah in 2011. He had saved a friend’s life during the tragedy, but lost his own. He was just 21. His family and friends did their best to navigate their overwhelming grief.
Ryan’s family — his parents, Chris and Jeannie; brother, Christopher, and sister-in-law, Sara — wanted Ryan to be remembered. They decided, even as they mourned, to memorialize him by helping other kids have the types of outdoor adventures and opportunities that Ryan thrived on.
They created the Ryan E. Bishop Outdoor Leadership Fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Friends and family jumped in to support it. More than 100 people have contributed to the fund with multiyear gifts.
Foundation staff worked to identify organizations that would align with the Bishops’ wishes for Ryan’s fund.
Since 2011, Ryan’s fund has been providing substantial support to the Kismet Rock Foundation, a North Conway nonprofit that gives kids in need the chance to attend a comprehensive technical rock climbing program for a week each summer for four years.
Kismet, said Christopher, “is an incredible program which helps at-risk kids in a way that few other programs are able to, and it aligns with Ryan’s whole persona and outlook.”
Kids spend their days scaling rock faces — and learning their own strength. Groups of eight or nine come each week, and live together, family-style, in a home supervised by Kismet staff. For some of the 65 kids who participate each summer, Kismet provides the most consistent family environment they ever experience.
“Kismet is an incredible program which helps at-risk kids in a way that few other programs are able to, and it aligns with Ryan’s whole persona and outlook.”Tweet This
– Christopher Bishop, Ryan’s brother
Kids are selected from seven schools in high-need districts — from Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, to Berlin and Manchester, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine. The kids are recommended by guidance counselors, apply for the program and are interviewed by staff before being accepted. The number of applicants far outnumbers the available spaces.
Thanks to generous grants and donations, the program is completely free for all participants. (Kismet has also received support from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund and other funds at the Foundation.)
Young people’s lives are shaped — often profoundly — by the experience, connections and consistency of Kismet.
Andy has learned to apply the lessons of rock climbing to school and life.
One day last summer, Kismet teens were geared up and climbing the 500-vertical-foot Cathedral Ledge. Onlookers gathered at the top, cheering as each climber topped onto the ledge.
Andy, 15, of Manchester came over the top wearing a huge smile.
Andy has lived through what he describes as “a lot of bumps in the road.” His mother, a food-service worker originally from Honduras, was recently deported.
“They taught me, in rock climbing, to focus,” Andy said. He practiced the art of moving his feet from one foothold to another quickly enough to keep from slipping. And then he applied that principle in school. He started turning assignments in on time. His grades improved, and he even became president of the student council and earned a school trip to Washington, D.C.
His mentors at Kismet, he said, “mentally prepared me” for all of that. He has aspirations to be a chef, and is already enrolled in a culinary arts program.
Makaya, 16, of Berlin, has moved around a lot. Before Kismet, she said, she used to feel clumsy and lack confidence. She had to push herself way (way) outside her comfort zone to climb rock walls. But she did. Now she walks through the world with a new confidence and sure-footedness.
“I learned how strong I was,” Mayaka said. “And now I push myself to do things. Now, when an opportunity comes up, even when I am not sure, I do it. I take harder classes. And I choose harder books to read.” She has discovered that she loves Shakespeare, has earned high honors and is dreaming of going to the University of California.
Kismet Rock is the kind of program where Ryan Bishop would have loved to be a counselor.
The fund in his name gives life-changing opportunity to kids in need. It is hard to imagine a more appropriate memorial.
“I love the fact,” said Chris Bishop, “that Ryan will always be remembered.”