SOS Outreach providing skills for life
Cara Sherpa knew a move to the United States was in her future. Growing up in Kathmandu, her family planted the seed that her life in Nepal would be temporary. Motivated by the ideals of opportunity and prosperity, the family planned to relocate to the U.S.
When that day arrived, it was the summer before Sherpa entered fifth grade. She had a strong network of friends and family in Nepal and a deep love of her roots in Nepalese culture. It was tough to leave.
Sherpa didn’t know what to expect; she had never visited the United States. The family stopped over in New York City, where the iconic Statue of Liberty welcomed her to her new home country. She felt excited and hopeful.
Sherpa understood urban metropolises. As Nepal’s cultural and economic hub, Kathmandu (population 1.3 million) shares similarities with New York City. She was familiar with the 24-hour bustle of people on the go. The constant hum of activity. The energy of so many communities coming together. But her new home would be farther west, in Eagle County, Colorado — the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
“I’ve never had that much silence around me, ever,” Sherpa reflected with a laugh. “I was like, ‘What is this place? Where are all the people?’”
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As she adjusted to the change of pace, it was certainly a different world than she was used to.
Her mother worked days, and her stepfather worked nights. To ensure Sherpa wasn’t spending her time alone twiddling her thumbs at the house, her mother proactively enrolled her in myriad activities, such as gymnastics, swim lessons, book club and piano lessons, with her parents taking turns shuttling her around amid their own hectic work schedules.
While just a sliver of the population of Kathmandu, Eagle County offered opportunities for discovery and growth — in particular, the opportunity to participate in SOS Outreach. Snowsports are a foundational part of the culture in Eagle County, and SOS provides connection for youth to be welcomed as an integral part of this community —while enabling them to discover their strengths and grow into leaders in their own right.
“Initially, SOS was another activity that my parents put me in to keep me busy,” Sherpa said. “My mother has this mentality of, ‘If you’re not busy, you’re not doing anything.’ I think she put me in all these things so I would discover what I liked and what I didn’t like. Some things stuck. I do really love SOS.”
Sherpa spent 8 years in progressive, curriculum-based programs at SOS, completing the introductory Learn to Ride/Ski program, four-year Mentor program, and taking on a leadership role as a peer mentor for the younger kids in their first years of SOS.
Outdoor recreation in an encouraging environment is central to developing leaders, but that’s only part of the picture. SOS encourages youth to look at their communities and determine what challenges need to be addressed, participate in team workshops to develop important life skills, and learn to incorporate SOS’s six core values — courage, humility, compassion, discipline, wisdom and integrity — in their daily lives. Through a multiyear curriculum, SOS empowers kids to be informed and engaged members of their communities.
As a new member of her community, Sherpa was excited to give back.
“I really enjoyed delivering the community food baskets to people’s homes,” Sherpa said. “I didn’t grocery shop; I didn’t really know how expensive it could be. So, having a person come to your house and deliver — that made a huge difference. When you talk to people, they’re really grateful for what you’re providing — it’s something they can count on. You’re having a personal interaction of knocking on somebody’s door. It’s a really intimate experience. You’re at their home, giving them something really valuable, even if you don’t know them.”
As Sherpa progressed with SOS, it became a community where she could seek advice, guidance and support. Sherpa shares that she has a strong, independent spirit, but admits she struggles with indecision and determining what actions to take to reach her goals.
“Whenever I had something big going on, I felt like I could go to SOS for perspective,” Sherpa said. “SOS has always been a base of encouragement for me. I have tons of plans and I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what I really want to do. SOS has helped me compare and contrast choices, to carve a clearer path and come up with tangible ways to get where I want to go. They’ve helped me feel more confident in my decisions.”
When Sherpa was deciding whether or not to spend a year of high school in Japan, she asked her SOS community for input. When she was applying for scholarships and looking at colleges, she sought guidance from SOS.
“I wanted to make sure I was making the right decisions,” Sherpa said. “We talked about scholarships and finances, because I didn’t have other people I could go to that I felt comfortable talking to about that. For me, there was this clear expectation: I was going to college. Wherever it was, I was going. I didn’t have a solid idea of which college to go to, which ones were a good fit for me. I needed to talk to somebody, because my mom hadn’t gone to university in this country. She didn’t know what was involved with the process. At SOS, I had a community I could seek advice from. They provided insight.”
Sherpa decided to attend Denver University. Her love of travel and exploration inspired her to major in international studies with a minor in economics. She spent time in Morocco, Japan, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, where she thrived in an environment of flexibility and change.
SOS encouraged Sherpa to look at opportunities with an open mind and heart. To not take an idea at face value, but rather, to dig a little deeper to discover whether it resonates. You never know what doors will open in the process.
“We talked about where I want to be 5 or 10 years from now,” Sherpa said. “I think SOS has been one of the pillars of support where people have encouraged me and given me opportunities to examine, connect with and expand upon. It helped when I wrestled with other people’s expectations of me versus what I really wanted to do. Because at the end of the day, you’re not living with other people — you’re living with yourself.”
Just last year, SOS began exploring additional ways to leverage their resources to create continued opportunities for current participants and alumni to grow, build relationships, and feel successful. An integrated, holistic alumni network was a valuable next step —and Sherpa, having personal experience in SOS programs for so many years, was the perfect fit to lead this effort.
Sherpa received her bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2020 and joined the SOS team as an intern over the summer. She continues to play a key role over the next year as an AmeriCorps member focused on growing and deepening SOS’s new alumni network, Continuing the Circle.
“I decided to return to SOS, because I felt that I would be able to grow and learn working on the alumni network,” Sherpa said. “It’s also exciting to work for an organization that’s been a part of my life for 12 years now. I’ve always been on the receiving end of the organization, so I thought it would be cool to see how SOS makes things possible for participants in our 15 different locations around the country.”
Sherpa is helping connect alumni with meaningful personal and professional resources. Recently, she interviewed SOS partners and board members to develop a video series where these influential leaders shared their career paths and provided thoughtful advice. All resources have been streamlined for alumni to find opportunities and people to connect with.
“This is close to the heart for me, especially for current participants and alumni who may not have those built-in support systems at home,” Sherpa said. “It’s that piece of connection. This will provide connection to people who do have that firsthand experience of a college or career you’re interested in exploring.”
When current SOS participants are about to take the next step in their lives, connecting with SOS alumni can provide helpful support. They may be the first members of their family to attend college or to embark on a career they previously discredited as out of reach. The alumni network provides the space for them to explore uncharted paths. It’s a continuation of mentorship for both current participants and alumni.
“I’m excited about the impact the alumni circle can have,” Sherpa said. “Actually going through the program and being able to voice my opinion from an alumni perspective is really empowering. I think I’m one of the examples of what can happen if you stay connected with SOS. You get access to their network and everything that it offers. To have access to people who are CEOs of their companies, that’s priceless. These people are involved in so many fields, not just the outdoor industry. Having that connection and receiving that advice — you’re setting yourself up for success.”
SOS alumni will be able to take advantage of the large network of partners for advice, internships and potential employment opportunities. From outdoor brands to mountain resorts to youth agencies and community nonprofits, SOS Outreach has developed unique, substantial, long-term partnerships with companies and foundations who are dedicated to diversifying their teams and seeing SOS’s current and past participants succeed.
“For alumni, like me, it’s always great to widen your circle. To share your story. To give back to an organization that was part of your life for so many years. To form new friendships,” Sherpa said. “You may inspire someone to pursue their dreams, and in doing so, you may be inspired to pursue yours.”
For 28 years now, SOS Outreach has been bridging opportunities for youth in Eagle County. This 2021-22 season, SOS will be engaging over 450 youth countywide. This Colorado Gives Day, a donation to SOS Outreach will ensure that SOS can continue providing impactful experiences to those who need it most.
To donate, visit ColoradoGives.org/sosoutreach.