SOS Outreach, a nonprofit for at-risk youth, offers summer programming | SummitDaily.com

SOS Outreach, a nonprofit for at-risk youth, offers summer programming

Jessica Smith
jsmith@summitdaily.com

This summer, more than 125 youth in Summit County and in Leadville will participate in outdoor and adventure programming provided by SOS Outreach. The nonprofit organization offers at-risk youth ages 8 to 18 a chance to try outdoor sports and activities while teaching leadership and character values. Participants are encouraged to try new things, grow their self-confidence and discuss the organization's six core principles — courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, compassion and humility.

"We encourage that curiosity and excitement in always trying new things," said Max Kelemen, youth programs director for the Summit County chapter.

WINTER-TO-SUMMER TRANSITION

SOS Outreach got its start in 1993 in Eagle County with founder Arn Menconi, who sought to connect youth in need with snowboarding to help them out and put the sport in a positive light. Originally called the Snowboard Outreach Society, the nonprofit grew throughout the years, expanding its reach to hundreds of youth throughout the state, eventually spreading beyond Colorado's borders.

The group adopted the name SOS Outreach in 2007, and, in 2009, it merged with Meet the Wilderness — combining the SOS winter programs with new summer options.

Summer programs were available but limited in Summit County up until two years ago, Kelemen said, when more options were added. Now, there is a range of activities offered to SOS Outreach participants during the sunny summer months.

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The Learn to Ride program is a five-day course in skiing or snowboarding that also introduces participants to the core tenets of SOS Outreach. After children have graduated from Learn to Ride, they can participate in one- or two-day Adventure Programs or join longer, multi-year programs such as the Academy and University programs.

Summer programming takes on a different format than it does in winter. In winter, groups of four to six participants meet throughout the season, usually about once a week or so. In summer, the time is much more condensed. Younger participants do the Backyard Adventure program, which consists of five consecutive days of a variety of activities — from gardening to stand-up paddleboarding. Older participants go on multi-day overnight camping and backpacking trips, depending on what level they have reached in the SOS Outreach programming.

"It's a much more condensed program," said Joe Lohman, program coordinator for Summit County's SOS Outreach, on the difference between summer and winter. "It's a little bit more immersive — where we have them for full days and we really are getting to talk with them throughout the days — … and really get some in-depth discussion on those words (the core values) we discussed in winter."

BUILDING SELF-CONFIDENCE

New this year among Summit's summer programs is stand-up paddleboarding, an opportunity made available through a partnership with Stand Up Paddle Colorado and KODI Rafting.

The paddleboarding took over for mountain biking. While many kids enjoyed the mountain biking, it proved a bit too intimidating for others, Kelemen said, so SUP was a good alternative that anyone could participate in. SOS Outreach may offer a bonus mountain-biking program later in the summer for those who still want to do it, he added.

Other summer camp activities include gardening in a community plot donated by the High Country Conservation Center and assisting Friends of the Dillon Ranger District in trail-maintenance projects. These options emphasize the community service aspect of SOS Outreach, which grows into individual service projects planned by participants who are in the advanced programs.

"You see them really light up when they find the opportunity to be able to help other people and experience how grateful those people are in return," Lohman said.

Building participants' confidence and self-worth is another goal of SOS Outreach.

"They don't have a lot of self-confidence or necessarily the most positive self-image, and it's really great seeing them through the four days (that) I'm seeing them in the day program, to see them blossom and becoming a more gregarious and outgoing kid," he said.

He remembered one girl in particular in a past program who was quiet and shy when she arrived but began speaking up and participating more throughout. One of Lohman's favorite activities is called Chicken Tower, where the kids work together in groups to build the tallest tower that will support a rubber chicken on top.

"It's really interesting to see the natural roles develop within a group," he said, from the leader who organizes everyone's efforts to the one who makes sure everyone's voice is heard. "It's just really great to see that leadership come out in the kids."

PREVENTION BEFORE INTERVENTION

The younger participants are when they join SOS Outreach, the better, Kelemen said. SOS Outreach works with local schools to identify at-risk children who may benefit from the programs. The "at-risk" definition includes factors such as low-income, single-parent families, a history of court visits or family conflict, learning disabilities, bullying and social issues in school and more.

"We're more of a prevention program than intervention program," Kelemen said. They hope to connect with kids early on, "so we can help equip them with some decision-making tools and social skills that they may not get in school."

Enrollment in SOS Outreach requires a selection process, which Kelemen and his colleagues are happy to discuss with anyone who would like to learn more. SOS Outreach is also often looking for volunteers to mentor participants in both summer and winter programs, depending on availability. Anyone interested in learning more about SOS Outreach enrollment or volunteering should contact Max Kelemen at (970) 926-9292 ext. 107 or at mkelemen@sosoutreach.org.

SOS Outreach

If you are interested in volunteering with the program, or would like to learn more about requirements for a child joining, contact Max Kelemen at (970) 926-9292 ext. 107 or at mkelemen@sosoutreach.org.