SOS Outreach receives $45,000 grant to expand its career development pipeline
The program connects students with professional opportunities, inspiring them to aim big in their careers
For over three decades, the nonprofit SOS Outreach has been dedicated to increasing opportunities for underserved youth through outdoor recreation. And in March, the organization received a $45,000 state grant to grow its Career Development Pipeline program, its latest effort to extend its impact.
SOS started the pipeline program three years ago — kicking off in Denver and expanding into other communities over the years, including Eagle County in 2022 — as the organization aimed to increase the impact it was having on the kids it serves. While at the time it had a fully developed program for fourth through 12th graders, they saw an opportunity to serve kids beyond high school, said Seth Ehrlich, SOS’ executive director.
“The greatest opportunity for the organization is to connect the skills that kids are developing through SOS to careers where they can apply those skills directly,” Ehrlich said.
The seven-week program takes place in the summer and is two-fold. The first two weeks are spent in a classroom, learning and developing professional skills.
“This is where our kids are picking up a lot of the skills that they’re not developing at school or at home, with a lot of parents who don’t have the experience to help them through resume writing, how to interview, what to wear on the first day, how to present yourself on social media,” Ehrlich said.
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This “two-week intensive” prepares kids for the second part of the program and serves as a way to “step them up so that the skills and the strengths that they have really shine through, because too many of our kids are judged for not having had the experience, and we’re helping them to bridge that experience gap.”
Following this classroom portion, the students interview for positions and are then matched — in a similar process to medical school matching, Ehrlich said — to a local employer where they will partake in a five-week apprenticeship.
From there, students work at least 30 hours a week in a paid position. The employers range from VF Corporation (Smartwool, The North Face and EVO) in Denver and include Vail Resorts retail stores and Christy Sports in Eagle County.
“Our only requirement is that the organization where they’re placed at provides a manager or above level engagement with our kids on a weekly basis so that they’re building their social capital, and that really helps them for people to write letters of reference in the future and otherwise,” Ehrlich said.
Most of the students that participate in the program are between their junior year or newly graduated seniors in high school. An age range that Ehrlich described as the “cusp years” where kids are exploring their options after high school.
“The overall goal of the program is really to support our kids in reaching their full potential,” Ehrlich said, adding that it also aims “to support the kids in SOS who have developed these amazing skills through the program, through their community engagement, (and) to be able to then apply those skills so that they can see that the sky is literally the limit for them.”
With that, Ehrlich added the hope is that “wherever they want to go, they can walk into that door confidently and apply for that position, apply for that college degree or graduate program or trade school or vocational program and know that they have the skills and capacity to do it.”
So far, in the three years that SOS has run the program, it has seen students continue employment at their placement site — including half of last year’s participants — as well as develop career aspirations.
“The other powerful thing has been kids here getting into jobs that they never thought were for them — working in the ski industry, helping to design skis or coordinating athlete visits for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team or managing stores — they have been very appreciative and very excited for the experience that’s been provided through this,” Ehrlich said.
More kids, more impact
With the recent grant award — which was from the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s Outdoor Recreation Grant — SOS will be able to serve more kids in more locations, including participation in Summit County for the first time this summer.
SOS Outreach was one of nine organizations from across the state to receive this round of funding from the state. The grant is part of a larger effort to provide professional development for Colorado students and workers pursuing careers in outdoor recreation.
Building a more diverse pipeline to outdoor recreation, particularly for the underserved student population that SOS Outreach serves, is incredibly valuable not only for the students but for the industry as a whole.
“The outdoors is just such an equalizer,” Ehrlich said. “If you share a passion for being out on the run or being out on a trail, you’re able to connect with people of all different demographics, income brackets or otherwise.”
In this vein, the career development program takes SOS students who “have identified their place within the outdoor industry” and shows them they can pursue any career — from human resources to graphic design and marketing — through their passion and sense of belonging in the outdoors,” he added.
This, Ehrlich said, “is a really powerful thing, that they can pursue their passion into their career” and also gives them “opportunities to keep growing and keep developing skills and their leadership capacities.”
As for the future of the program, SOS’ goal aligns with the goal for all of its programming: “more kids and more years,” Ehrlich said.
Local Eagle County students that are interested in participating in this year’s Career Development Pipeline program can reach out to the SOS Outreach Eagle County office. More information can be found at SOSOutreach.org.
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