Vail’s SOS University sets 238 grads on the path for success |

Vail’s SOS University sets 238 grads on the path for success

SOS Outreach has reached more than 65,000 kids over its 25 years

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BEAVER CREEK — Finishing SOS University is more like a continuation than graduation. At least the SOS Outreach staff and mentors hope their graduates continue toward the lives they’ve learned to live.

SOS University is a four-year program, just like a university. It’s a leadership program focused on service, adventure sports, and a continuous year of positive adult mentorship. Last week, 238 Eagle County kids graduated SOS University.

At graduation they celebrate all they’ve accomplished over the last four years, said SOS Outreach’s Kristina Chesney.

Alexis Perez, for example, is a senior at Battle Mountain High School and an SOS Outreach junior mentor. She spoke during last week’s SOS University graduation.

Perez has been with SOS Outreach for 10 years, starting as a learn-to-ride student. She transitioned to the SOS University program and says her junior mentors changed her life.

“We had various mentors come and go, however, it was my junior mentors who inspired me to want to keep moving forward with the program,” Perez said in her graduation speech.

She paid it forward, as many do, and became a junior mentor.

“I was fortunate enough to have had such amazing groups during my time as a junior mentor,” Perez said.

Sure, they learned to ride, but more importantly many became junior mentors themselves. She had some wisdom for those new junior mentors, as well as those graduating SOS University with her.

“The leadership skills that you will learn will help you all throughout the rest of your high school career, and hopefully your life as well,” Perez said.

She advised her fellow graduates to keep working hard in school, in life and in SOS Outreach.

“You may not realize it now, but SOS will open many doors and provide plenty of opportunities for your future,” Perez said.

Leadership program

SOS University is foremost a leadership training program. In the first couple years students do stuff like Salvation Army bell ringing and packing holiday boxes, Chesney said. As they get older, they do things like animal rescues and procure winter clothing through things like coat drives.

“They make sure everyone in their community has enough layers,” Chesney said.

For their final year, students set up a leadership panel and invite recognized community leaders to speak. This year’s panel included Beaver Creek ski patroller Drew Dodd, Eagle Valley High School guidance counselor Nick Hoeger and Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek.

There are a few students who drop out along the way, but SOS Outreach SOS and University are packed with success stories. Over 25 years, with more than 13,000 volunteers and 8,000 mentors and more than 60,000 kids — and counting — they have lots of stories.

Chesney recalled Travis, who went through the program in Eagle County. Now he’s running the program in Chicago.

“A handful of kids have gone through the program and returned as mentors,” Chesney said.

Perez is taking the lessons of SOS Outreach — courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, compassion, and humility — to the University of Colorado Boulder where she’ll be a freshman this fall.

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