If you were to you ask Google “Who is considered at-risk youth,” you’ll find this answer: “An at-risk youth is one who is less likely to transition into adulthood successfully. Success is frequently defined as the ability to avoid crime, achieve academic success and become financially independent.”
National, as well as local figures, reveal that 20 percent of young adults drop out of school and another 20 percent are in the “bubble,” or “on the edge.” And Eagle County is not immune to these figures.
Fortunately, however, SOS Outreach, a national youth development nonprofit has filled the niche to help many youngsters find their way: It utilizes outdoor experiential learning to inspire positive decision making for healthy and successful lives. Last winter, 521 Eagle County youngsters participated in SOS programs, with 528 attending summer programs. The SOS curriculum encourages responsibility, self-confidence, service and leadership skills by instilling six core values: courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, compassion and humility.
The organization was founded in 1993 by Eagle County local, Arn Menconi, as the Snowboard Outreach Society to improve the negative societal perception of the snowboard culture that existed in the 1980s and ’90s. The organization serves at-risk youth between the ages of eight and 16 annually, using year round outdoor sports to engage underserved students in long term mentor-based relationships.
Over the years, the organization has expanded and, this year, SOS is anticipating serving nearly 3,600 youth across the United States. Eagle County will account for 560 participants and 360 will be served in Summit County. Last year, the organization had 22,618 programs days —winter and summer—in six states. Recently, SOS received a $250,000 contribution from Vail Resorts CEO, Rob Katz and his wife, Elana Amsterdam.
“This gift is truly transformational, not only for the organization, but more importantly, the youth we have the honor to work with,” says Seth Erlich, executive director of SOS. “This significant contribution fuels our ability to inspire our community’s youth and enable them to realize their full potential both on the snow and in their lives.” With this gift, SOS will expand or launch programs for underserved youth across metropolitan areas including winter opportunities in Salt Lake City, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis and Reno, as well as summer programs for Denver youth.
This past summer, more than 1,300 youth participated in SOS programs including over 300 multi-night expedition in the backcountry. Outings across regions included sailing, skateboarding, backpacking, stand up paddleboarding and mountain biking. This was the first time many of the participants had experienced these activities. Along the way, they are mentored by adult volunteers who help them practice SOS’s core values.
Since its founding SOS outlined a curriculum progression that includes a one- or two-day program in which a new adventure sport is introduced followed by a five day program that introduces one of the core values daily, as well as an introduction to a new sport. SOS’s University is a four-year leadership program that focuses on service, sports and mentorship. In fact, for students in Eagle and Summit Counties, University is now a year round experience offering students a continuous year of positive adult mentorship and adventure sports. Finally, Masters/Jr. Sherpa is a peer mentorship program that offers intensive leadership training and the opportunity to teach younger students.
Over the years, SOS has inspired positive decision-making for thousands of kids who have gone on to live healthy, successful lives and its mission continues. The organization currently operates at eight Vail Resorts mountains and two Intrawest mountains.