Riding snow to make a difference | VailDaily.com

Riding snow to make a difference

Deanna Wittmer

Forty-five Eagle County fifth- through ninth-graders, their adult mentors, or “Sherpas,” and parents attended a season-opening orientation, as well as participated in the annual Eagle River Cleanup.

SOS, based in Avon, uses outdoor experiences, community-service projects and adult mentors to assist at-risk youth. SOS Founder and Executive Director Arn Menconi commends the kids for wanting to help others by doing community service.

“Why would we want to help other people,” he says, “when it’s so much easier to just take care of ourselves?”

Menconi says he has a lot of respect for the SOS participants’ discipline and courage.

“You are leading the Sherpas and SOS into the future,” Menconi adds.

Chad Fleischer, two-time Olympian, a U.S. Ski Team member with numerous top-10 finishes in the World Cup – and an Eagle Valley local – speaks to SOS participants about his experiences.

“You cannot be successful as an athlete or as an individual without goals,” he says. “One simple dream, one goal, is all it takes.”

Menconi says Fleischer is an example of discipline and determination. Just weeks before the Olympics, the 30-year-old crashed, injuring his knee and rendering him unable to compete.

Fleischer, who once dreamed of becoming the first person to be both a professional snowboarder and skier, says Eagle County kids should have the opportunity to take advantage of their close proximity to ski areas.

“There’s no reason every child in this valley shouldn’t learn to ski or snowboard,” he says.

SOS University is a follow-up to the SOS Learn to Ride program, in which kids spend five days with an adult mentor learning to snowboard and discussing SOS’ core values – courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom and compassion.

Following Learn to Ride, SOS participants can spend up to four years participating in SOS University. As they progress, they spend an increasing amount of time completing community outreach programs and internships.

“It’s not about serving ourselves,” Fleischer says. “It’s about serving each other and enjoying it.”

SOS has become one of the largest youth outreach organizations in Eagle County. The nonprofit’s Eagle County University program includes 55 students this year, while Summit County’s program will have 20 students. The national University program, in its inaugural year, includes 20 students from Denver, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington.

Now in its ninth year, SOS hopes to soon expand its programs to include efforts to find scholarships for kids who want to attend college or other schools after high school graduation. SOS currently has Learn to Ride programs at 17 ski resorts in the U.S.

For more information, call Mike Gehard, community outreach coordinator, at 845-7040, e-mail mike@sosoutreach.org, or visit http://www.sosoutreach.org.

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