As SIA celebrates its 60th Anniversary, our thoughts turn to our many long-time partners who have worked over the years to make the world a better place, and to strengthen our industry in the process. SOS Outreach is a prime example of a non-profit that makes a tremendous difference in people’s lives, while also helping to build up the industry and spread the love of our sport.
SOS Outreach is a youth development nonprofit based in Avon, CO that works with underserved and at-risk youth. SOS founder Arn Menconi first brought the idea for his non-profit to the 1994 SIA Snow Show, and in celebration of SOS’s 20th Anniversary, he brought many of the kids involved in the program to the 2014 Snow Show to participate in the 5th Annual SOS Youth Summit. Awards were given to SIA Members who have supported SOS through the years. “I felt blessed with the opportunity to bring our kids to the Show, to help them understand the industry better, and to use it as a way for them to aspire to the lifestyle that we have all benefitted from.” Menconi said.
SOS winter programs are focused on snowboarding, but they use the process of learning the sport to work with kids to foster self-confidence, leadership skills, and positive decision making. SOS programs are unique in that they have a long-term aspect; kids who become involved can stay involved for many years, moving through the program and taking on greater responsibility and mentoring roles as they progress.
Menconi explains that this long-term focus is what makes SOS so effective in helping kids find a purpose, and also what contributes to the 24% conversion rate he sees in his program. “Not only are we introducing underserved youth to winter sports, but we are also creating lifelong enthusiasts. Our positive role modeling and character development curriculum leads to a very powerful outcome, and it grows the industry at the same time. This is a win-win for everyone, and I’d really like to see more companies getting involved in similar programs to work together and bring these underserved youth into the sport,” he said.
“When I started 20 years ago, the industry was booming,” he said. “Now it’s not. These kids need our help, and that’s our mission, but it also happens to help grow the industry by converting people from populations that are generally not targeted by snow sports marketing. We’re losing market size to new youth because of greater diversity. 50 percent of this new generation is a minority, and how to reach the kids who may not be the typical customer needs to be a question we all ask.”
In an interview with Vail-Beaver Creek magazine, SOS veteran Haley Nolasco summed up the incredible impact the SOS Program has had on her: “Without the resources and the opportunities that SOS provided me, I would probably be making bad choices. A lot of the friends I grew up with are in jail, or they’re on drugs in Denver. There were a lot of bad influences, and I probably would have been caught up in it.” Instead, Nolasco continues to mentor kids in the SOS programs, and attends Colorado Mountain College, where she is working toward a degree in social work, a calling she attributes to the fourteen years she’s spent with SOS.
Menconi said the past 20 years have been gratifying with the success rate he’s seen, and he appreciates the industry support along the way. “We wouldn’t be here without the support of David Ingemie and SIA, Seirus, Vail Resorts, K2 and Chaos. They believe in the work we’re doing.”