SOS Outreach begins 17th season helping youth
special to the daily
SUMMIT COUNTY – With the snow flying and the lifts running, young skiers and snowboarders are eager to hit the slopes with SOS Outreach as the nonprofit begins its 17th season.
The Colorado-based youth organization plans to bring about 5,000 youth outdoors this year, with many of those kids learning to snowboard and ski through the charity’s multi-week programs. The first Summit County programs begins Dec. 4 at Keystone and Breckenridge.
What will separate those kids from the many others who come to enjoy the mountains is that many first-time SOS Outreach participants have never experienced a powder day or even ridden a chairlift.
SOS founder and Executive Director Arn Menconi said the nonprofit’s programs allow “underserved” youth to learn life skills and experience adventure sports. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds, including kids from low-income homes, with a single parent, or from families that deal with drugs and alcohol.
“We try to build self-esteem in the kids. We try to shower them with love and encouragement. It’s not just about snowboarding – it’s also about getting them excited about life,” Menconi said.
Many SOS youth not only learn a new sport, but stay with the organization year after year. Some, like 16-year-old Karen Parra, have gone through SOS programs and now are returning as youth mentors.
“I had always wanted to try snowboarding, but truly I didn’t have the resources,” said Parra, who is in her sixth year of the program. “I was invited to join and was extremely pleased with the experience that came through it. SOS is not just about boarding, it’s about helping the community and learning about leadership.”
Others involved in the program have echoed that SOS influence goes far beyond learning turns. Nell Campbell, a Silverthorne parent whose son is in his sixth year with SOS, said her son was able to learn valuable leadership and developmental skills through the program, despite a brain injury that had left him with behavioral and learning difficulties.
“In a non-academic environment, he has the opportunity to learn and thrive outside of a rigid classroom environment, and can display the personal qualities that have been noted by many,” Campbell said. “In his involvement with SOS, he has shown he is able to act as a wise voice within a group, often as a leader, and shows great empathy with younger or less-experienced members of a team.”
SOS Outreach programs are supported start to finish by supporters that range from local individuals to international corporations. Throughout November, participants rummaged through bins of gloves, coats, base layers and hats donated by various snow sports companies in preparation to get on the hill. Many were outfitted with skis and snowboards through participating rental shops.
Then, the kids will meet with volunteer instructors and mentors on the slopes, with ski passes provided by partnering resorts, such as Keystone and Breckenridge.
“All this would not be possible without the help and support of Vail Resorts Echo,” Menconi said, referring to Vail Resort’s charitable giving program. “The Echo program gives 2,200 kids 9,000 days of skiing or snowboarding.”
For more information on SOS Outreach and its programs, go to http://www.sosoutreach.org or call (970) 926-9292.
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