Vail Valley’s SOS Outreach sees largest week of programs in 26-year history
Youth mentoring program is moving beyond mountains
EDWARDS — What started with a handful of kids and a great idea shared by Ray Sforzo and Arn Menconi hit a zenith earlier this month.
From Feb. 1 through 9, SOS Outreach put 2,005 ski and snowboarding youth on 19 mountains across nine states, the largest week of programs in its 26-year history.
“That’s a lot of happy faces,” said Rebecca Gould of SOS.
It’s a great way to start off the nonprofit’s second quarter-century, said Seth Ehrlich, SOS Outreach’s executive director.
“As we enter the next 25 years of programs and the major milestone in getting more than 2,000 kids around the country outside and on our mountains in a single week — we’re instilling a sense of confidence and purpose at the ultimate level,” Ehrlich said in a news release commemorating the achievement.
Sforzo and Menconi started what was originally called the Snowboard Outreach Society at Vail Mountain in 1993 with a small number of kids and some big ideas. Over the next two and a half decades, the ideas got bigger and so did the numbers — more than 70,000 participants so far.
The idea is to build social values and develop leadership skills in underserved and high-risk youth. Almost 70% of program participants, in grades 4-12, identify as an ethnic minority.
Erlich said SOS views mountain resorts as inclusive places where kids can discover their potential.
“We’re working to break down those micro barriers that exist among our families coming from a variety of neighborhoods and backgrounds,” Ehrilch said.
Moving to mountains
Part of the organization’s exponential growth follows expanding its embrace from mountain resorts to urban areas such as the George Crockett Academy, an inner-city charter school in Detroit, Michigan.
“The past four years of partnering with SOS have allowed our students in the urban area to have the opportunity to leave their communities to learn how to ski. This is monumental for our students,” said Thomas Goodley, Jr., the school leader for George Crockett Academy.
Around the Vail Valley, SOS participants staff the Loaves and Fishes community dinners at the Eagle River Presbyterian Church, work with Rocky Mountain Horse Rescue, learn to cook healthy meals and recognize signs that a friend is struggling … almost anything that helps them understand that they’re part of something larger.
“The biggest piece is a way to connect the kids to their communities. They see they can make a difference in their own backyard,” Gould said.
To learn more, visit http://www.sosoutreach.org.
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