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SOS graduates largest Vail Valley class

Nathan Rodriguez
Community correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
SOS Outreach/Special to the Vail DailyVail Valley sherpa Mallory Sullivan prepares for a ride day at Beaver Creek with Year 3 University students Mariah, Austin, Kelsey, Travis and Nick.
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VAIL VALLEY –Parents, teachers and friends filled the auditorium of the old Battle Mountain High School to watch the largest SOS Outreach University graduation in the Vail Valley’s history last weekend.

In all, 175 students graduated the multi-year snowboarding program, and while a few on-hill tales were told, the majority of students and mentors spent the afternoon talking about the core values of courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom and compassion.

“The turnout among parents and relatives was tremendous, and really gave participants a sense they’d accomplished something this season,” said Dan Ben-Horin, SOS Outreach program manager. “These kids gave more than 5,000 hours of their time to help on community projects in Eagle County, and it’s great for them to get a day of recognition.”



Speakers for the commencement ceremony included Eagle County Schools Superintendent Sandra Smyser and Kristen Kenney-Williams of Vail Resorts. Smyser lauded the contributions of the students and noted that she’d also had formative experiences performing community.

“When I was a little girl, my mom would go to the hospital to volunteer,” she said. “She would help bathe the elderly and give them someone to talk to, and I would go with her, and experiences like that are things you’ll always take with you.”



For younger participants, Smyser helped break-down her current position in the district.

“Okay, so as students, each of you know that your boss is the teacher. Well teachers have bosses, and they’re called principals,” she said. “Well my job is to be the boss of all the teachers here in Eagle County.”

Kristin Kenney-Williams talked about what the program has meant for Vail Resorts.



“As a mom, my kids have learned about the importance of fulfilling their community service projects,” she said, highlighting the off-hill components of the multi-year program.

“I know how much fun you guys have on the mountain, but everyone at Vail – from the instructors who get to work with you guys, all the way up to (CEO) Rob Katz – love that we’ve been able to support the program through the years,” she said.

The ceremony heralded the final gathering of SOS Outreach for the winter season, with some students graduating their final year, others returning next season as junior mentors, and still others moving on to the next phase in the multi-year program.

SOS Outreach executive director Arn Menconi said the largest graduating class in county history would not have been possible without the support of Americorps VISTA members working out of the Avon office.

“We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had Ben Hall, Kelly Billingsley and Mallory Sullivan working for us this season,” he said. “They each have put in countless evenings and weekends and have been an unbelievable resource for us this season. We’ll certainly miss their dedication and wish them nothing but the best moving forward.”

Ben-Horin said he expected to see many students return for outdoor sports programs this summer, particularly over the next couple months.

“The service projects will continue,” he said. “We’ve got a large one on Saturday with 100 kids planting trees and willows along the Eagle River in Edwards, and we’ll work with the Eagle River Watershed Council on that again.”

SOS Outreach outdoor programs are open to the general public, and there is open enrollment for the wilderness trips and the rock climbing club. For more information, visit http://www.sosoutreach.org, or contact Michelle Hartel at michelle@sosoutreach.org.

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