Vail Valley Voices: The reward of giving |

Vail Valley Voices: The reward of giving

Arn Menconi
Vail, CO Colorado

In my early 20s, I volunteered at Amnesty International in Chicago. I once complimented the director on how much he gave to others, and he said, “I get more benefit out of it than they do.” I didn’t have enough life experience at the time to realize the depth of his statement. But now, 30 years later and after 17 years of working with kids and founding the youth charity SOS Outreach, I have been blessed and am grateful to others who have given so much to me.

I started SOS in Vail as a way to get kids on the chairlifts and snowboarding, but now it has become so much more – we do both summer and winter programs, and this year we’ll be reaching more than 5,200 underserved youth nationwide and in New Zealand through our leadership and character-building curriculum.

Yet, all those numbers and facts – the “adult stuff,” as the kids call it – don’t seem to matter as much in comparison to seeing kids’ smiling faces after linking turns for the first time, or seeing them excel in life and show wisdom beyond their years.

SOS participants, who may never have had the chance to experience the mountains, give back through service learning projects, peer mentoring and advocating for important causes. I am fortunate to be part of their journey and to witness these young people succeed.

Travis Tafoya, who learned how to snowboard through SOS and now on scholarship at Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, stood in front of more than 50 of his peers and adamantly told them how important service learning is to him personally. All participants are required to come to a service project, but Travis has gone above and beyond. This year alone, he has made and delivered Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets, and helped restore the Eagle River banks. It was refreshing to hear a young person encouraging all his friends to do more community service.

Many people give or volunteer during this time of year, but it is humbling to see school-aged kids regularly giving back to the community through SOS’s service projects. I never dreamt that what started with a few snowboard instructors giving back would lead to youth doing the same at 45 ski resorts across 13 states.

All SOS ride days begin and end with discussion of the SOS core values: Courage, discipline, wisdom, integrity and compassion. The “Circle of Love” gives students the opportunity to reflect on the core values and share how they use each value in their own lives. It’s enlightening to hear their discussions on what the words mean to them. It’s even better to see them put it in action.

Third year SOS participant Isabella Delgado, 11, said one of her favorite parts of the program was doing service projects. She was one of almost 70 kids that made and delivered Christmas food baskets to local families in need a couple weeks ago. “I know some people want to do good things just to get awards and stuff. Integrity means you’ll do the right thing no matter what and who’s watching,” she said.

I can now honestly say along with Amnesty director that giving can make as much a mark on the giver as the recipient. I have been rewarded beyond measure by the youth we work with, and I am grateful to be able to share this experience with other colleagues and volunteers.

Arn Menconi is founder and executive director of SOS Outreach. E-mail him at

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