EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - As we all wait for the snow to fly, SOS Outreach is busy prepping another group of Eagle County youth for a great year on the hill. As SOS begins its 19th season, more youth than ever will be exposed to adventure sports while at the same time learning leadership skills and core values.
SOS will serve 630 students in Eagle County this year, 220 of those in the long-term programs SOS provides. Eagle also has 40 mentors, or "Sherpas" as SOS calls the adults who lead the kids through their journey. This is part of their national program that will serve over 5,200 youth this year through five offices at 35 ski resorts.
While most skiers and snowboarders are just looking for a good time, SOS kids are learning to define and practice values such as courage, discipline and integrity. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds, including failing grades, low-income households, single-parent families or English as a second language. Along with the opportunity to experience mountain sports, SOS mentors provide positive role models and encouragement these kids might not get 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 the core values into practice by giving back to their community through service projects across the county.
"I started with SOS to give back to my kids, but watching them develop over the years, I am seeing them turn into leaders," said SOS mentor James Blackwell.
SOS students have noted the deep impact the program has on their life.
"I now have a concrete idea of my short- and long-term goals and how I can achieve them," one student said. "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."
All of this positive change is made possible through the support of community members who step up to be mentors and through the generosity of mountain partnerships.
"Without the support we receive from the community and Vail Resorts this level of impact wouldn't happen," said program director Mikayla Curtis.
Every winter, the community comes together as kids meet their volunteer instructors and mentors on the slopes with passes donated by Vail Resorts and wearing gear sent in by corporations all over the country.
Founded in Avon in 1993, SOS Outreach is a national youth development nonprofit utilizing adventure sports to engage students who will benefit most from its leadership curriculum. The SOS program uses long-term mentorship relationships to encourage responsibility, self-confidence, service and leadership. The SOS core values are courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, and compassion.