Eagle County’s SOS Outreach wraps up winter season | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s SOS Outreach wraps up winter season

Melanie Wong
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

Special to the DailySOS Development Director Seth Ehrlich presents awards to five student who were voted by their mentors as exemplifying the "five core values" of courage, discipline, wisdom, integrity and compassion. The students were recognized during SOS' annual graduation ceremony in Eagle County, where 160 youth successfully finished a year of snowboarding, skiing, leadership training and community involvement with the nonprofit's four-year University program.

EDWARDS, Colorado – A cheer went up in the Battle Mountain High School auditorium Sunday afternoon as nearly 160 local youth celebrated the end of a winter season with outdoor nonprofit SOS Outreach.

The students, who ranged from elementary-aged kids to high school seniors, spent the winter season snowboarding and skiing with their peers and adult mentors, or Sherpas, not only honing their skills on the slopes, but learning about leadership, character values and getting involved in the community. The students were recognized for their work on Sunday with their families watching, and were invited back the following season for another year in the program.

“Today we’re going to celebrate the simple vision of spreading the love so that the next generation might do the same,” SOS Outreach Executive Director Arn Menconi told the students and audience. “As an adult, when I hear your definitions of wisdom or courage, or when I hear about the service projects you do, when you take those values and put them into action, you make me a better person.”

This winter has been one of the most successful seasons for the youth charity, which aims to positively influence underserved youth through outdoor sports and adult mentoring. One mentor, Avon resident Jodi Link, said she has worked with her group of seven students for three years, and has seen them not only become friends, but has seen the older kids become mentors for the younger ones.

“I’ve seen great leadership, especially from the older kids in their group,” she said. “They’re great at taking charge when I need their help, and I’ve seen a lot of compassion from the younger kids, helping people on the hill. I’ve just seen a huge growth in these kids.”

Nick Tafoya, 17, a junior at Eagle Valley High School, graduated from SOS’ University program, a four-year leadership and snowsports curriculum, on Sunday. He hopes to return to the program as a junior mentor, or Junior Sherpa, next season.

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“Through SOS, I’ve learned a lot of respect for other people’s situations, and I’ve learned to be an important part of the community,” he said. “I know a lot of people don’t have the amazing opportunities that I get. SOS has given me many of those opportunities, so now I’m ready to start giving back and helping out.”

As the students progress in the program, they are expected to put their skills in to practice, creating and executing advocacy projects on problems in their community. This winter, the students worked on projects dealing with mental health and environmental awareness. One group advocated for youth suicide prevention group, raising $100 for suicide awareness organization Speak Up, Reach Out. Another student organized a compost club at Berry Creek Middle School, and others raised awareness for recycling.

“It’s inspiring to see how students turn their passion into action,” said Sherpa and SOS staff member Lauren Krauss.

SOS’s programs are made possible by community volunteers, industry support, individual donors and the Vail Resorts Echo Program.

“We’ve supported SOS since its beginning in 1993, and have supported it ever since,” said Nicky DeFord, Vail Resorts’ senior manager of charitable giving. “We continue to be behind that because we believe the leaders (these students) are becoming is going to help us become a more healthy community.”

Melanie Wong is development manager for SOS Outreach.