Volunteers critical to snowboard program | VailDaily.com

Volunteers critical to snowboard program

David L'Heureux

EAGLE COUNTY – Lift tickets and equipment for Snowboard Outreach Society students are provided by Vail Resorts, which also contributes instructor time and financial support. The youth programs wouldn’t happen without them, and the many other sponsors who have donated to the Snowboard Outreach Society, said founder Arn Menconi, an Eagle County Commissioner. “Vail Resorts is our guardian angel,” Menconi said. “The other important channel is the kindness of all our volunteers.”The organization – better known as SOS – only has a few paid staff positions. All the rest of the help, amounting to about 150 people by Menconi’s count, is volunteer.The mentors for the University and Learn to Ride programs are called “sherpas,” and they serve as guides for the students. All of the SOS volunteers say the rewards of their involvement far outweigh the sacrifice of the time.Paul Steiner, who teaches eighth-grade science at Gypsum Creek Middle School, has been an SOS volunteer for 10 years. The family atmosphere keeps him coming back, he said.”All day long I see kids that are now in the University Program that I taught in Learn to Ride,” said Steiner. “There is a lot of smiling and laughter. But the best thing is to see someone get the hang of riding for the first time. The look on their faces is amazing.”Steiner adds that everyone in the whole organization cares about everyone else. The people he sees volunteer for SOS are out there because they want to be, and because they want to give something back to the community, he said. Empowering kids and helping to teach them self-confidence is what led University of Colorado student Michelle Hartell to get involved with SOS, she said. “I think a lot of these kids struggle with self-esteem,” said Hartell, who is majoring in education. “They are all so much better than they give themselves credit for.”Kids involved with the University Program begin to branch out in other areas of their life, Hartell said. Seeing kids grow and mature into the best people they can be is what she finds most rewarding, she said. “I have seen my kids get involved in other sports at school, and become better participants in the classroom” she said. “When you see a kid set goals and achieve them, the feeling is similar to seeing someone snowboard for the first time.”Menconi says it “blows him away” when he thinks of how far SOS has come, and where it may go in the future.”This just started out as a few people saying ‘Hey, let’s get kids out on the mountain,'” said Menconi. “Now, to stand in a circle of kids and hear them define what the core values mean to them puts me in a state of disbelief.”SOS program coordinate Jodi Link, who grew up in a low-income family in Minturn, said she finally found her niche when she started working with SOS. The bottom line is still the same to her: All kids in this valley deserve a chance to ride, she said.”It was weird being the poor girl in a valley with so much money,” said Link. “That is what made me reach out to SOS. We want every kid here to know that they have the opportunity to ski and snowboard.”It killed me inside to think there were kids here who don’t get a chance to get out on the mountain,” she said. Vail, Colorado

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