SOS kids caring for Vail Valley community |

SOS kids caring for Vail Valley community

Nathan Rodriguez
Vail Daily community correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyStudents (from left) Cristine Malagon, Taylor Keep, and Kate Madrana plant a tree alongside the Vail Valley's Piney River earlier this year as part of a service project for SOS Outreach.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –This weekend, SOS Outreach will wrap up its 16th season providing winter sports programs for Vail Valley youth.

This weekend, 200 students will enjoy their final “ride day” of the season. In addition to making a few turns, participants will gather in the morning and afternoon to discuss what “compassion” means to them. Program director Michelle Hartel said the focus this season was to identify meaningful service projects for the program’s “university students.”

Since its inception, the organization has tried to cultivate a sense of belonging and purpose in participants, and over the past several years students in SOS Outreach have been giving back to the community at an increasing rate.

“It seems fitting that on the final ride day we’ll be discussing compassion,” Hartel said. “It’s our largest university program that we’ve had for Eagle County yet, and all year they’ve pitched in on local projects, from river restoration efforts to trail cleanups and helping out at the Birds of Prey. Next weekend they’ll clear bike paths.”

Hartel said the 200 students in the university program put in a total of 5,345 hours of service this year.

Tsu Wolin-Brown, executive director of the Vail Valley Salvation Army, said it was nice to see SOS Outreach students preparing Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets again.

“It’s been wonderful having the kids help us over the years with the food baskets and it’s great to get them involved at an early age,” she said, adding that program participants have helped for well over a decade.

“It’s ideal to get them into the service arena while they’re young, but it’s also special because some of the kids in the past have benefited from those baskets, and it’s a great opportunity for them to give back,” Wolin-Brown said.

Hartel said it was not uncommon for participants to go from receiving services to providing them as they advanced through the multi-year program, and cited a number of participants who graduated and opted to return as junior mentors.

“The service projects are certainly one way students give back, but of the 200 kids out this weekend, more than two dozen are junior sherpas, who provide a vital link between students and mentors because they’ve been through it themselves and can relate,” she said.

Hartel said she looked forward to summer programs starting over the next few weeks, and she expected to see a number of familiar faces in rock climbing and backpacking programs. Graduation for Eagle County University students in SOS Outreach will be held on May 2 at the old Battle Mountain High School.

For more information, visit or call 970-926-9292.

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