December 3, 2012–Vail, Co–SOS Outreach is busy prepping another group of underserved youth for a great year on the ski hill. SOS, an outdoor youth development program currently held in thirty-five ski resorts in North America, begins its 19th season this year–and more children and teens than ever are expected to be exposed to adventure sports, at the same time learning leadership skills and core values. SOS Outreach additionally holds a variety of outdoor leadership programs–at no or low cost for underserved youth–throughout the year.
This ski season SOS will serve 630 students in Eagle County, Colorado, 220 of those in the long-term programs SOS provides. The Eagle County program has forty mentors or ‘Sherpas,’ adults who lead kids through a challenging journey, serving as the model for all of the national programs involving more than 5,200 youth via five offices and thirty-five ski resorts.
While most skiers and snowboarders initially enter the program for fun, SOS participants learn to define and practice values such as courage, discipline, and integrity. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds, including those with failing grades, low-income households, single-parent families or English as a second language students. Along with the opportunity to experience mountain sports, SOS mentors provide positive role models and encouragement to kids that might not receive this encouragment anywhere else.
Through leadership workshops, community service projects, core value training, mentorship, and ride days, the SOS curriculum builds self-esteem and life skills. SOS participants have already started putting those core values into practice by giving back to their community through service projects across the county.
Long-term SOS mentor James Blackwell stated, “I started with SOS to give back to my kids, but watching them develop over the years, I am seeing them turn into leaders.”
SOS students have noted the deep impact the program has on their life. One student explained “I now have a concrete idea of my short and long-term goals and how I can achieve them. SOS has given me a family outside of my home and valuable support group that I can rely on. I’ve also learned to push myself to limits I never dared approach before. This perseverance is evident not only in my snowboarding but in my academics and personal life as well. SOS has inspired me to be a great leader in my community to seek leadership opportunities and to take ownership of my actions.”
The positive changes are made possible through the support of community members who step up to be mentors and through the generosity of mountain partnerships.
Program director Mikayla Curtis explains that “Without the support we receive from the community and Vail Resorts, this level of impact wouldn’t happen.” Ski passes are donated by Vail Resorts and gear is provided at no cost by corporations all over the country.