A season of giving back for SOS | SummitDaily.com

A season of giving back for SOS

Special to the Daily

The Silverthorne Pavilion was standing-room-only as parents, relatives and well-wishers watched more than 110 Summit County students graduate from the SOS Outreach multiyear university program last week.

Theresa Bisio, SOS Outreach program director for Summit County, was emcee for the evening that began with a potluck dinner and slide show of highlights from the past season.

A theme throughout the night was how students embodied the five core values of the organization on-hill and off-hill.

“This year has been one of our best because of the hard work and dedication of the mentors involved in the program,” Bisio said, referring to both adult mentors, or “sherpas,” and students who graduated the program and returned to mentor younger students.

“Three junior sherpas are going away to college this year, with Stephanie McDowell and Rebecca Lohrenz going to Mesa State in Grand Junction, and Geordie Tousey, who will go to school in either Colorado or Maine,” Bisio said, adding that Tousey was wrapping up his ninth year with SOS Outreach. “They’ve each been great role models for all the students in our program, and we couldn’t be happier for them.”

This year, students in the university program participated in a number of community service projects, from Make a Difference Day to the Special Olympics to serving meals at the Elks Lodge and volunteering at the Swan Center. And by coming together for the greater good, both the students and others involved walked away with a sense of accomplishment.

“The partnership has been awesome for us because the U.S. Forest Service has been focusing on getting kids outdoors instead of playing video games or being on the computer,” said Scott Fussel, executive director of the Friends of Dillon Ranger District. “There’s been a real disconnection between kids and the outdoors, and by working with SOS, the kids come out and have a good time, and some have even come outside of SOS hours or expectations to help us out.”

Later in the graduation ceremony, Bisio introduced Jamin Santos, a sherpa who regaled the audience with a tale on how his elementary school students came up with the group name Cinnamon Roll Ninjas.

“Well, it was kind of fitting for the group because of what we had in common,” Santos explained. “They’re full of sugar, and they jump around … kind of like ninjas.”

After providing comic relief for a few minutes, Santos shifted gears and acknowledged the progress of his students, becoming a bit emotional toward the end of his speech.

“It’s been a tremendous pleasure working with them,” he said. “Each one is full of energy and endless potential.”

Another highlight of the ceremony was eighth-grader Patrick Brady becoming the first skier to graduate the four-year program.

Sherpa Michael Berger paid tribute to Brady’s dedication to the program.

“He came in with a definition of compassion that just floored me, and I’ll always remember,” Berger said. “He said sympathy is caring for others, but compassion is actually doing something about it.”

The audience was then treated to a short film by Brady on what the core values of courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom and compassion meant to him. He shot and edited the piece after school in the SOS Outreach office in Frisco.

Toward the end of the evening, Bisio thanked Summit County program coordinator Kaitlin Chandler for her contributions.

“Kaitlin will be leaving us in August, but she’s shown how passionate she is over the last two years,” she said. “The first year she came to us and volunteered as a full-time intern, and this year she returned as an Americorps VISTA and provided a huge boost for our programs overall and can’t thank her enough.”

Bisio then announced the beginning of summer outdoor sports programs in Summit County, with registration open to the public on May 23 at 4 p.m. at the SOS Outreach office in Frisco.

Students enrolled in summer programs will contribute to community projects like those with the Friends of Dillon Ranger District.

“We’re going to continue on with SOS in the future and are working to get kids on projects this summer,” said Fussel, who said they’ve planned one project each month that would likely include things like trail maintenance and the removal of dead wood from campsites.

“We’re really excited because this is the second full summer of projects like this and anytime you can get kids interested and involved in the environment is a great thing,” he said. “And through the projects they’re doing, they’re making it possible for people to continue to enjoy activities like camping and hiking for years to come.”

For more information on SOS Outreach, visit http://www.sosoutreach.org or call (970) 763-7168

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