Welcome to our series, #WHYoming.
We are highlighting people from around our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?
For this week’s #WHYoming, I had a chance to talk with Brittany Wells Gray, Sweetwater Area Program Director and Statewide Donor Relations for Climb Wyoming. In short, Climb Wyoming aims to help low-income single mothers to discover self-sufficiency through career training and placement. Brittany is proud of her work, and anyone who has worked with her would attest to her passion and dedication.
Brittany grew up a couple hours away in Rawlins. As a Wyoming native, and a University of Wyoming alumni, it was important to her to be able to establish a career in the state she loves so much. After working in Laramie for a bit, she eventually found herself in Green River after meeting her husband. Sweetwater County is now her home and she loves it here. And Sweetwater County is lucky to have her.
Brittany, what is your role at Climb Wyoming?
I have a dual role as the Sweetwater Area Program Director and Statewide Donor Relations. As the Program Director, I oversee the program and work with an innovative team to identify workforce needs, develop industry trainings, increase awareness about our services, but best of all, I get to work with the most inspiring and amazing women.
In my role as Statewide Donor Relations, I engage new and current donors working to ensure long-term sustainability for Climb and the families we serve. I am so grateful to all our supporters. Your generosity has a huge impact and you are helping change lives for generations to come. Thank you!
How did you get involved in working at Climb?
I was working as the Communications Director on a congressional campaign in Casper. Once the campaign ended, I was determined to move back to Sweetwater County. I searched for positions that would be a good fit and came across an opening for Climb Wyoming in Rock Springs. Thanks to the support of my contacts, I decided to apply, and the rest is history.
What does Climb do?
Our mission is to help low-income single mothers to discover self-sufficiency through career training and placement.
Single mothers and their children experience the highest rates of poverty among families in Wyoming. Climb has evolved over the past 35 years into one of the nation’s most successful models for moving families out of poverty.
In Sweetwater County, we host two trainings per year. Programming takes place over a three-month period with groups of 10-12 women at a time. The basis of Climb’s programming is career training and job placement, but there is more to permanent life change than getting a job. Climb accomplishes long-term self-sufficiency through life skill training and mental health counseling through group and individual sessions.
After just three months, Climb graduates start new careers and begin to discover new lives. After two years, they continue an upward trend, earning self-sufficient wages and benefits that allow them to transition off public assistance and provide financial stability for their children.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
Supporting others as they make meaningful changes has been a driving force in my life. I genuinely love helping others succeed. The women who come to Climb have unimaginable dedication, determination, and courage to make meaningful changes in their lives. It’s an honor to be a small part of their journey.
I was told that you were a member of the University of Wyoming spirit squad. Can you tell me about this experience?
Cheerleading has been an important part of my life. I learned how to encourage others no matter the odds, deal with high pressure situations, take criticism, lift others up (literally and figuratively), but most importantly to dream big. I cheered four years at Rawlins High School. We won multiple state championships and a regional championship title. Many of us were recruited to be part of the first cheerleading squad representing Wyoming at the “Down Under Bowl” in Australia. It was largest American Football Championship Tournament held outside the United States. (Sidenote – I got the chance to cheer again with some of the people who on the team from different areas in the state when I joined the UW Spirit Squad).
For the Rawlins team, my best friend and teammate, Whitney Merrell, and I mixed our own music and choreographed all the routines. (This was before YouTube was mainstream, so it was quite a feat.) My senior year, I was fortunate enough to be named captain and receive all-star cheerleading honors.
Our biggest accomplishment was we were the first team from Wyoming to compete and win a Cheerleaders of America (COA) National Cheerleading Championship. And now the Green River High School Cheerleading Team is going for the big time and will be the first to compete at the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) National High School Cheerleading Championships (NHSCC). Best of luck! We are all so proud of you!
I attribute our success to Annie Mann’s leadership as a coach and how she believed in each of us. I tried to model what I learned from her when I started coaching.
After high school, Whitney and I made the University of Wyoming Spirit Squad. We got the opportunity to be the first squad from UW to compete at UCA College Nationals. Unfortunately, I had a back injury during my first year. I was no longer able to cheer so I threw myself into coaching.
I started coaching the Rawlins team in the summers and eventually coached the Laramie High School squad. Many of the students I coached made the UW Spirit Squad and it was wonderful to see their talent blossom and dedication grow into something they could be extremely proud of.
Everything came full circle at one of the state competitions. My high school coach, Annie, best friend and teammate, Whitney, and I were all coaching different high school teams. It was a great experience!
How did you end up in Green River?
Being a Wyoming native, I knew I eventually wanted to settle somewhere in the state. I was working as a broadcasting director and on-air personality at a radio station in Laramie and I moved to Green River when I met my husband. I accepted the position as the Public Relations Specialist for the Sweetwater County Library System. I immediately fell in love with the area.
What do you appreciate most about our community?
The people are the strength of this community. People in Sweetwater County are extremely caring and generous. When there is crisis or a need, this community links arms and joins together to make incredible things happen.
What are some of your hobbies?
Some of my favorite things include traveling, spending time at the lake, and socializing with friends and family.
I’m also really passionate about music. I enjoy playing guitar, writing songs, singing, and dancing. One of the highlights of my life was meeting the artist who inspired my love of music – Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20.
If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?
An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.
Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?
My favorite places are the Flaming Gorge and the Green River. Our summers in Wyoming are beautiful, so I enjoy being on the water and soaking up the sun. I love spending time boating and trying new activities like surfing (emphasis on the “try” part). My family and friends also love to paddle board the Green River. It is absolutely gorgeous!
Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?
Sandra Bullock because I admire her. She is known for having a generous heart, strong work ethic, and down to earth personality. She is also hysterical and unapologetically herself. Fun facts – Sandra Bullock plays piano and was also a high school cheerleader.
What would you sing at karaoke?
Majority of people who know me could answer this question for you, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. It is my favorite song to sing because it immediately puts people in a good mood, and everyone starts smiling. The song resonates with me because I’m just a “small town girl” trying to share some words of encouragement.
How would your friends describe you?
I think my friends would describe me as a passionate-charismatic person who cares deeply for others and someone who loves a good laugh.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
In 2019, I was deeply honored when the University of Wyoming Alumni Association named me the first recipient of the Rising Alumni Award in recognition of my career and volunteering achievements.
My proudest accomplishment is hands down my family. I’m so grateful for all of their love and support!
What is something unique about you?
I was the first female Pistol Pete mascot for the University of Wyoming. Currently, I serve on the Board of Directors for the UW Alumni Association representing Sweetwater, Lincoln, and Uinta counties. GO POKES!
Why do you choose to live in Wyoming?
Wyoming is a beautiful place to live, and I really value our strong social ties. If you travel anywhere and see someone wearing brown and gold, you can make an instance connection or even get reacquainted with a long-lost relative (which literally happened to me two years ago). As former Wyoming US Senator, Alan Simpson said, “Wyoming is a small town with long streets.” I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I truly feel blessed to live in WyHOMEing.