SOS participants clean up over 510 pounds of trash at Tahoe
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The youth development nonprofit, SOS Outreach, has just wrapped up its winter season of programming. Using the mountains as a classroom and snow sports as the catalyst, SOS introduces youth to core values, develops leadership skills, cultivates community, builds resilience and promotes service.
Serving communities both in North and South Lake Tahoe since 2010, SOS engaged over 560 young people around the lake this season. For the youth who participate, learning to ski or snowboard is the hook that gets them interested, but most end up staying in the program because of the community that’s built out on the slopes.
“What I like about SOS,” said North Lake Program Manager, Heather Schwartz, “is that all our programs start with learning to ski or ride. However it’s through these experiences that kids learn tangible skills they can use for the rest of their lives. Gaining mountain access is ultimately an important first step, but through that mountain access, our programs so much more”.
Thanks in large part to SOS’s partnership with Vail Resorts and Epic Promise, young people around the lake are able to get access to the incredible mountains in their own backyard. The majority of SOS participants in North Lake ski or ride at Northstar, while all the participants in South Lake go to Heavenly and Kirkwood. This partnership is an invaluable piece to SOS programs as it single handedly provides mountain access to youth who may not be able to participate in snow sports otherwise.
“There’s no doubt that getting out on the mountain is a highlight for our kids,” says South Lake Program Manager, Morgan Edwards, “that said, when the kids aren’t out shredding, we’re engaging them through leadership workshops, career panels, and participating in community service events. What’s awesome is that when you ask them at the end of the season what their favorite moment was, most of them actually talk a lot about how they love getting involved and helping their community”.
This season alone, SOS participants volunteered with Tahoe Food Hub, the Sugar Pine Foundation, the Pet Network, the Kings Beach Snowfest Parade, the Lake Tahoe Marathon, and the Truckee Watershed Council. But by far their favorite service activity was participating in Keep Tahoe Blue’s “Blue Crew.”
Collectively, North and South Lake youth cleaned up over 510 pounds of trash around the lake over the course of 8 different sessions. They found all sorts of trash from pieces of plastic, to broken sleds, to old shoes, and even rusted car motors and metal barrels.
“If we didn’t do it, maybe nobody would,” says North Lake SOS participant, Diana.
Participating in the Blue Crew days was not only fun for youth as they found odd pieces of trash, but it also reminded them that they have a stake in the well-being of their community.
“At SOS, we vehemently believe that stronger youth leads to stronger communities,” says Executive Director, Seth Ehrlich, “that’s why part of our curriculum focuses on community involvement and service. It’s important for young people to know that they can play an integral role in their community and that they can feel empowered to step up as leaders to make a difference”.
This sentiment is one that rings true for many of the young people who volunteer during the season, “SOS has helped me have a more positive outlook on the place I live as well as appreciate helping the community” writes one South Lake participant in a post-activity reflection. “SOS taught me how to show compassion towards people and places” wrote another participant.
Ultimately, while skiing and snowboarding will always be an integral part of SOS programs, it’s the service projects and relationships that are built that keep young people returning to SOS year after year.
“It’s pretty incredible that something as simple as learning to ski or ride soon transpires into something so much larger and more meaningful than that,” says Schwartz, “the compassion that these young people have for their community and for each other is just so inspiring. I am so proud of everything that our Tahoe participants have accomplished this season!”.
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