Eagle County’s SOS Outreach introduces mountain biking
July 21, 2010
VAIL, Colorado – Eleven-year-old Gabriel Hall was grateful to have the opportunity to ride on a big mountain Wednesday, even if his group did get rained out for the day.
Gabriel was one of 17 children in Vail with SOS Outreach, a local nonprofit that helps build character and self-esteem in under-privileged children through outdoor sports. This is the first summer for mountain biking in the SOS Outreach programs.
The children, mostly from the Denver area, came to Vail with KNUW Seeds, a Denver-area nonprofit with a mission similar to that of SOS Outreach.
All of the children but one had never been mountain-biking before Wednesday. Vail Resorts donated lift tickets and rental bikes to all 17 of the children.
Eric Myhren, executive director of KNUW Seeds, said the children had already gotten so much out of the experience before they even stepped foot on the gondola. He said just getting them out of the city and into the mountains is a memorable experience for them.
“It’s opening up their world a little bit,” Myhren said. “I hope it will become a lifelong passion for them.”
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Most of the children in Wednesday’s group have been to Vail with KNUW Seeds and SOS Outreach before for a ski and snowboard trip last winter. The repeated visits are part of the SOS Outreach mission to provide adult mentors for children and help them gain self-esteem.
“We really work on building self-esteem to have them go on to positive decision-making,” said Arn Menconi, SOS Outreach’s founder and executive director. “You’ve got to constantly do that relationship-building.”
The program takes children beyond the sport by teaching them leadership skills, too, Menconi said. Many children end up as mentors for younger children after participating in the program for several years.
“The positive adult mentoring with a long-term relationship is why they want to stay in it,” Menconi said.
SOS Outreach has found a niche in individualized sports, Menconi said. The individual sports allow the children to work on so many skills beyond just athletics, he said.
J Clark, outreach coordinator for KNUW Seeds, said the experience is a way for these children to get exposed to something new. They often don’t have chances to do fun extracurricular activities at home, he said.
“It’s important for children to have that outlet,” Clark said.
The children were taking advantage of the chance to enjoy the outdoors in Vail, and they seemed to grasp how special it was that they had been given the chance to have a little fun.
“I’m looking forward to having this opportunity to ride a big mountain and go down hills like this,” said Myya Bonner, 11. “I’m going to have fun.”
Myya’s sister, Myanla Bonner, 8, wasn’t the least bit scared about riding down a big mountain. She and her friends did, however, get a little spooked by the ride up the gondola.
The fear was minor, though, compared to the experience of being in Vail on a mountain bike.
“You get to try out new things,” Myanla said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.