PARK CITY, Utah. —Despite the pandemic’s challenges, national youth development nonprofit SOS Outreach is continuing to get local children outside this winter. Thanks to partnerships with local foundations, companies, and Park City Mountain, about 350 participants in the program are benefitting from its supportive outdoor experiences, adult mentorship, leadership skills, and opportunities for underrepresented youth.
“We have been incredibly grateful and fortunate to have the full support from Epic promise and Vail resorts,” Abbey Eddy, SOS Outreach Park City program manager, said. “They have honored our program to remain at the same size as last year and running, which was a surprise. We’ve been really lucky that they see the importance of programs like SOS Outreach. They remain dedicated to increasing access to their mountains and prioritizing our local youth this year.”
Founded in Vail, CO 27 years ago, SOS Outreach now serves 15 communities at 22 mountain resorts.
In 2015, SOS Outreach began serving Park City and surrounding areas. Since then it has reached more than 800 local youths in Summit and Wasatch county from fourth to twelfth grades.
The mission of SOS Outreach is to build character through mentoring outdoors, Eddy said. With that mission, it seeks to accomplish several goals.
“One [goal] is to break down barriers and increase access to the mountains in specifically skiing and snowboarding for underrepresented and underserved youth. We do that by not only making it affordable but also creating an inclusive, intentional space when they get to the mountain,” Eddy said.
The global pandemic has made such programs more important than ever as children face immense hardships from family jobs lost, resources reduced, school structures upended, and normalcy turned upside down. According to the executive director of SOS Outreach, Seth Ehrlich, the nonprofit is witnessing a record-breaking 700% increase in the number of families applying for financial assistance in Park City for the 20/21 season.
Children who have enjoyed SOS Outreach’s offerings sing its praises.
“I can’t control what’s going on in the world, but I can work on myself during this time and have control over my choices,” 18-year-old Gracie Burnam, a recent Park City program graduate, said. “My mentor has been a really good person to go to when I need to talk to someone. I’m grateful for that connection SOS has provided. Knowing people are there for me makes me feel less stressed.”
The program starts with its Learn-to-Ride workshop, a five-week ski or snowboard school at Park City Mountain. Day one is often the first time the kids have ever put on skis or snowboards. Once children complete that, they can join the mentorship phase, in which three to five kids are with one adult and commit to skiing together about once a month. The mentorship includes off-hill service projects and development workshops to transfer skills naturally learned outside the mountain into their everyday lives.
SOS Outreach hopes to continue growth in Summit and Wasatch County, Eddy said. This past summer, it partnered with the National Ability Center and Elevated Mountain Guides for a climbing program.
SOS Outreach has great success recruiting mentors in this philanthropic-focused community, Eddy said. But it is always looking for more support. Mentors are recruited each fall, but Eddy said the programs also could use one-time volunteers to provide support throughout the season.
To learn more and learn how to get involved, visit SOS Outreach.