Menconi says goodbye to SOS Outreach group | VailDaily.com

Menconi says goodbye to SOS Outreach group

Arn Menconi and Ray Sforzo founded SOS Outreach in 1993. The organization's board announced that Menconi is stepping down.

EAGLE COUNTY — Arn Menconi will always stand in the SOS Outreach Circle of Love.

Menconi, SOS Outreach founder and leader for two decades, is leaving the organization, SOS announced. Seth Ehrlich, SOS vice president of operations, is the interim executive director.

Through those 20 years, 40,000 kids have stood in SOS Outreach's Circle of Love, and every one of them can recite the six core value: courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, compassion and humility.

They learn to snowboard and love the outdoors, which is good. They learn to live by those six core values, which is better. At-risk kids ride for five days with intense professional instruction. Each day begins and ends with a "circle of love" and revolves around one of their six core values.

"I leave with a heavy heart, but with the knowledge that the organization is in great hands, with a strong board and dedicated staff," Menconi said in a statement. "Most importantly I'm so grateful to the youth in SOS who have given me so many blessings."

Menconi refers to himself as a "social justice advocate" on his website, arnmenconi.com. Most recently, he was in Washington, D.C., lobbying members of congress against falling deeper into Middle East conflicts by drawing the U.S. into a conflict with ISIS. From there he traveled to New York City to join demonstrations encouraging measures to combat climate change. He posted several images, anecdotes and videos to his Facebook page.

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Start locally, grow globally

Menconi grew SOS Outreach from a local nonprofit to 31 resorts in 11 states. His tenure as executive director has provided programs for 40,000 youth and trained more than 2,000 adult mentors in community stewardship curriculum. The organization is on pace to serve 4,500 participants across 22,000 program days nationally this winter season.

In 2009, SOS merged with Meet the Wilderness, a 34-year-old summer-based nonprofit. SOS Outreach programs now include snowboarding, skiing, backpacking, camping, hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking. Kids are taught how to connect skills in nature and outdoor sports to life skills.

SOS Outreach has grown into a national youth development program that targets kids with poor grades, low attendance and behavioral issues — situations that typically lead to high school dropout. They enter the program needing charity, and they leave contributing to charity, Menconi said on his video blog.

"These kids, the last few years, have taught me that they have greater resolve, greater commitment and greater strength than I have," Menconi said. "I want to have the opportunity to go on to something new, bold and different."

In the beginning

Menconi grew up on the west side of Chicago and went to high school in New Lenox, an upper-middle-class suburb of southwest Chicago. He hit Vail in 1976 when, as a 16-year-old sophomore, he organized a week-long trip for his high school ski club. He calls the trip "transformational," and vowed to return.

Life happened, as it always does, and he found himself working for a financial company that specialized in selling bank-owned properties. In 1991, they were trying to unload condos in Beaver Creek, so he came out to handle things. He never left.

He was working in a ski shop and heard about Ray Sforzo launching Vail Resorts' snowboard school. Sforzo knew a zealot when he saw one. Snowboarding was new and not popular with most resorts, including Vail. To help soften the sport's image they started the Snowboard Outreach Society as a nonprofit to raise money for charity.

Somehow they got tied into the Mountain Dew Tour and it took off like it was launched off a superpipe.

"Arn Menconi is a unique person. His passionate commitment to SOS over the past 20 years has made SOS the amazing organization it is today," said Buie Seawell, SOS Outreach board president and University of Denver professor. "Arn has dedicated his career to making a positive difference in the lives of so many youth, and he triumphantly succeeded."

Menconi did a couple terms as an Eagle County commissioner, 2000-08, and suffered all the sling and arrows of outrageous fortune that go with politics, including a couple failed recall attempts.

"I have 20 years of perspective to learn that life is not a straight line. You fall down and you get back up," Menconi said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

About SOS Outreach

SOS Outreach works with 5,000 participants annually in more than 20,000 program days.

SOS Outreach operates at 31 winter resorts in 11 states.

Youth participants complete an average of 6,650 hours of community service across 250 individual projects each year.

SOS Outreach has a higher conversion rate than beginner ski and snowboard lessons. One in four program participants become lifetime snowsports enthusiasts — a key point in an industry that is struggling overall (RRC Associates).

SOS Outreach has brought more minorities into winter sports than any other charity.

Source: SOS Outreach