Outdoor experiences have a profound impact on us, physically, mentally, and emotionally — being outside helps us live healthier and happier lives. Yet for many young people, these experiences are outside of reach. Combine the healing power of nature with the transformative power of a mentor and that’s exactly where the magic happens for SOS Outreach youth participants. Founded with Vail Resorts in 1993, SOS changes lives, building character and leadership skills in underserved youth through mentoring outdoors. Over 25 years, more than 65,000 young people have engaged in SOS’ progressive adventure-based programs, benefitting from the long-term support and encouragement that helps level the playing field and give youth a better chance at success.
While snowboarding, skiing, rock climbing, and backpacking are aspects of the curriculum, the program is more than just learning how to do an S turn or how to tie a figure 8 knot. SOS uses outdoor activities to engage youth in a mentor-driven, curriculum-based process that builds positive social values, develops leadership skills, and enhances resiliency in underserved, at-risk and high-risk youth populations. Working with youth starting in the fourth grade, the SOS curriculum follows students through their senior year of high school, requiring increased commitment each year, helping kids grow over time into healthy, confident, engaged young adults. Mentorship is key, and the outdoors aids in building that connection. Alongside their mentors, participants practice core values, join in leadership workshops, and complete service learning projects in their communities. It’s centered around giving back: to your community and to the next generation of participants.
Growing evidence across the positive youth development field has highlighted resiliency as a predictor of youth success. Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. Resilient people don’t dwell on failure, but rather acknowledge the situation, learn from their mistakes, and move forward. SOS has taken this charge seriously and has identified how the organization fosters and enhances resiliency. Exposure to a new activity allows participants to bond through a shared experience, and youth develop a sense of competency that serves as a catalyst for further bonding with peers and adults. Ultimately, youth are inspired with a sense of confidence, connection to their community, and the presence of a caring adult; all critical to improving resiliency and mental health outcomes for at-risk youth.
As a former participant, Zeiri developed the character to determine her future and the leadership skills necessary to thrive. “As a kid, I was searching for something that would help me go in a positive direction,” she shared. “I found SOS and became obsessed with snowboarding. I progressed through the SOS programs, gaining new friends, mentors, outdoor skills, and leadership abilities along the way. I enjoyed workshops more than ride days…the workshops are where I learned leadership skills.” Now a sophomore at Colorado Mountain College, studying pre-med on a full scholarship, Zeiri said the 9 years she spent with SOS were central to her success. “SOS not only gave me leadership skills, but taught me how to build relationships in the community,” she said. “And above all, SOS taught me how to always strive to better yourself and those around you. SOS changed my life, and I hope to pay it forward and one day be able to give students the type of life-changing opportunities that were given to me through SOS.”
To learn more about SOS Outreach or get involved, visit sosoutreach.org
All photos courtesy of Joe Kusumoto.
Celebrating 25 years of youth programs, SOS Outreach is headquartered in Eagle County, Colorado, with fourteen additional program sites across Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington. SOS youth come from different backgrounds yet share one passion: a love for the outdoors. SOS partners with a variety of school districts and youth-serving agencies who are instrumental in recruiting youth who they believe will benefit most from participating in SOS programs. Participants represent a variety of risk-factors including low-income families, ESL families, and academic and social difficulties. For more information, visit www.sosoutreach.org or contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.