Vail Valley-based SOS Outreach turns 17 |

Vail Valley-based SOS Outreach turns 17

Melanie Wong
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
A volunteer helps a first time SOS participant learn to snowboard on Vail Mountain. Hundreds of Eagle County youth have already hit the slopes with the outdoor nonprofit this winter.

VAIL, Colorado – It was a snowy Sunday morning in Vail, and a group of middle-school children were among the crowd of eager skiers and riders streaming into Lionshead Village.

However, the group from Minturn Middle School, unlike many others in the crowd, didn’t have the latest skis or snowboards, and some were equipped with borrowed jackets and gloves. A day at Vail with youth nonprofit SOS Outreach was a treat for many of the kids, despite the fact that many of them live minutes from the lifts.

Dec. 21 marked the 17th season for the Avon-based charity, which works to build character and confidence in underserved youth through outdoor sports. The Minturn Middle School students were among more than 500 Eagle County youth who will participate in SOS programs this winter. The group will ride a total of five times throughout the season as part of the introductory Learn to Ride program.

Supported by donations from the Vail Resorts Echo program, businesses and individuals, the participants are provided with gear, instruction and lift passes. However, the real benefit is the character value and leadership training the youth receive from consistent adult mentors. Off the mountain, participants do service projects, including last weekend, when more than 70 SOS kids made and delivered Christmas food baskets.

“It’s not just about snowboarding,” said 12-year-old Luis Juarez, one of the Minturn Middle School participants. “I’ve matured a lot throughout the SOS program and learned a lot about myself. I’m taking responsibility for myself and my actions a lot more, and I’ve had a lot of fun riding.”

Avon resident Isabella Delgado, 11, has big aspirations – the bespectacled, smiling sixth grader wants to be an actress and a “famous snowboarder.”

SOS’s programs have given the third-year participant a chance to learn the sport, something the family could not have afforded otherwise, said Isabella’s mom, Aliria Bello.

“SOS is a place that you can improve your snowboarding and also become someone in life,” said Isabella, who is part of the multi-year University program. “My Sherpa (adult mentor) has helped me a lot. Also, we get to give back by doing service projects like writing letters to the troops.”

Bello, a single mother who immigrated to the country from Venezuela, said she’s seen SOS have a positive impact on her daughter. Isabella not only excels on the mountain, but at school and in other activities. She loves participating in service projects, and she takes the programs’ core values – courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom and compassion – to heart, Bello said.

“She lives by the core values,” she said. “She comes home and talks about them. She’s a leader at school, and a positive one. She loves giving back because she knows she’s being given.”

More than 2,400 Colorado youth like Isabella will be a part of SOS programs this winter, whether as part of a one-day ride experience, or as part of multi-week or multi-year programs. December and January will be the busiest months for the charity, with multiple groups on mountains all over Colorado nearly every weekend. Nationwide, SOS programs are in 14 states and 43 resort mountains.

The programs offer a chance for participants to experience the outdoors and take advantage of the mountains right in their backyard. For some of the kids, the programs are a rare chance to be in a positive, healthy and safe environment with supportive adult mentors, said Michelle Hartel, SOS programs manager.

“The kids don’t need an instructor – many of them already know how to snowboard,” she said. “They need somebody to be there for them.”

For more information about SOS Outreach and its programs, go to

Melanie Wong is development manager for SOS Outreach.

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