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Skills for Life

New Alumni Network

We believe that connection, support, and opportunity are the necessary ingredients for youth success. Our programs are designed to create strong leaders across our communities, but that doesn’t stop after youth graduate SOS. We’re excited to share that we’re launching a new SOS Alumni Network, Continuing the Circle! The goal is to create a thriving community for our alumni to connect, collaborate, and engage with our current participants, SOS partners, and each other. 

As we launch, we’re kicking off a multi-part series that highlights the long-term success of SOS with first-hand experiences from several alums. SOS has played a major role in guiding our network of more than 70,000 alumni to where they are today. Our alumni continue to integrate the values and skills instilled from SOS—and they continue to inspire us with what they’re able to achieve as successful adults.

Part 3: Cara

Cara Sherpa knew a move to the United States was in her future. Growing up in Kathmandu, Nepal, her family planted the seed that her life in Nepal would be temporary. Motivated by the ideals of opportunity and prosperity, the family planned to relocate to the U.S.

When that day arrived, it was the summer before Cara entered 5th grade. Cara had a strong network of friends and family in Nepal and a deep love of her roots and Nepalese culture. It was tough to leave.

Cara didn’t know what to expect; she had never visited the United States. They stopped over in New York City, where the iconic Statue of Liberty welcomed Cara to her new home country. She felt excited and hopeful. 

Cara understood urban metropolises. As Nepal’s cultural and economic hub, Kathmandu (population 1.3 million) shares similarities with New York City. Cara was familiar with the 24-hour bustle of people on-the-go. The constant hum of activity. The energy of so many communities coming together. But her new home would be further west in Eagle County, CO—the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

“I’ve never had that much silence around me, ever,” reflects Cara with a laugh. “I was like, ‘What is this place? Where are all the people?’”

As she adjusted to the change of pace, it was certainly a different world than she was used to. 

Her mother worked days and her step-father worked nights. To ensure Cara wasn’t spending her time alone twiddling her thumbs at the house, her mother proactively enrolled her in myriad activities, gymnastics, swim lessons, book club, piano lessons, with her parents taking turns shuttling her around amid their own hectic work schedules.  

While just a sliver of the population of Kathmandu, Eagle County offered opportunities for discovery and growth. In particular, the opportunity to participate in SOS Outreach. Snowsports are a foundational part of the culture in Eagle County, and at SOS, we provide connection for youth to be welcomed as an integral part of this community—while enabling them to discover their strengths and grow into leaders in their own right.

“Initially, SOS was another activity that my parents put me in to keep me busy,” says Cara. “My mother has this mentality of if you’re not busy, you’re not doing anything. I think she put me in all these things so I would discover what I liked and what I didn’t like. Some things stuck. I do really love SOS.”

Cara spent 8 years in our progressive, curriculum-based programs, completing our introductory Learn to Ride/Ski program, our 4-year Mentor program, and taking on a leadership role as a Peer Mentor for the younger kids in their first years of SOS.  

Outdoor recreation in an encouraging environment is central to developing leaders, but that’s only part of the picture. At SOS, we encourage youth to look at their communities and determine what challenges need to be addressed, participate in team workshops to develop important life skills, and learn to incorporate our 6 core values­—courage, humility, compassion, discipline, wisdom, and integrity—in their daily lives. Through our multi-year curriculum—we empower kids to be informed and engaged members of their communities.

As a new member of her community, Cara was excited to give back. Our community service projects offered diverse opportunities for Cara to make a mark.

“I really enjoyed delivering the community food baskets to people’s homes,” says Cara. “I didn’t grocery shop; I didn’t really know how expensive it could be. So, having a person come to your house and deliver that made a huge difference. When you talk to people, they’re really grateful for what you’re providing, it’s something they can count on. You’re having a personal interaction of knocking on somebody’s door. It’s a really intimate experience. You’re at their home, giving them something really valuable, even if you don’t know them.”

As Cara progressed with SOS, it became a community where she could seek advice, guidance, and support. Cara shares she has a strong, independent spirit, but admits she struggles with indecision and determining what actions to take to reach her goals.  

“Whenever I had something big going on, I felt like I could go to SOS for perspective,” shares Cara. “SOS has always been a base of encouragement for me. I have tons of plans and I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what I really want to do. SOS has helped me compare and contrast choices, to carve a clearer path and come up with tangible ways to get where I want to go. They’ve helped me feel more confident in my decisions.”

When Cara was deciding whether or not to spend a year of high school in Japan, she asked her SOS community for input. When she was applying for scholarships and looking at colleges, she sought guidance from SOS.  

“I wanted to make sure I was making the right decisions,” says Cara. “We talked about scholarships and finances because I didn’t have other people I could go to, that I felt comfortable talking to about that. For me, there was this clear expectation: I was going to college. Wherever it was, I was going. I didn’t have a solid idea of which college to go to, which ones were a good fit for me. I needed to talk to somebody, because my mom hadn’t gone to university in this country. She didn’t know what was involved with the process. At SOS, I had a community I could seek advice from. They provided insight.”  

Cara decided to attend Denver University. Her love of travel and exploration inspired her to major in International Studies with a minor in Economics. She spent time in Morocco, Japan, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda—where she thrived in an environment of flexibility and change.

SOS encouraged Cara to look at multiple opportunities with an open mind and heart. To not take an idea at face value, but rather, to dig a little deeper to discover whether it resonates. You never know what doors will open in the process.

“We talked about where I want to be 5 or 10 years from now,” says Cara. “I think SOS has been one of the pillars of support where people have encouraged me and given me opportunities to examine, connect with and expand upon. It helped when I wrestled with other people’s expectations of me versus what I really wanted to do. Because at the end of the day, you’re not living with other people, you’re living with yourself.”

Earlier this year at SOS, we started exploring additional ways to leverage our resources to create continued opportunities for current participants and alumni to grow, build relationships, and feel successful. An integrated, holistic alumni network was a valuable next step for us—and Cara, having personal experience in our programs for so many years, was the perfect fit to lead this effort.  

Cara received her bachelor’s degree this spring and joined our SOS team as an intern this summer. She will continue to play a key role over the next year as an AmeriCorps member focused on growing and deepening our new alumni network, Continuing the Circle.

“I decided to return to SOS, because I felt that I would be able to grow and learn working on the alumni network,” shares Cara. “It’s also exciting to work for an organization that’s been a part of my life for 12 years now. I’ve always been on the receiving end of the organization, so I thought it would be cool to see how SOS makes things possible for participants in our 15 different locations around the country.”

Cara is helping connect alumni with meaningful personal and professional resources. She’s been interviewing our SOS partners and board members to develop a video series where these influential leaders share their career paths and provide thoughtful advice. All resources will be streamlined for alumni to find opportunities and people to connect with.

“This is close to the heart for me, especially for current participants and alumni who may not have those built-in support systems at home,” says Cara. “It’s that piece of connection. This will provide connection to people who do have that first-hand experience of a college or career you’re interested in exploring.”

When our current participants are about to take the next step in their lives, connecting with SOS alumni can provide helpful support. Like Cara, our participants are thinking about what they would like to do after high school. They may be the first members of their family to attend college or to embark on a career they previously discredited as out of reach. The alumni network provides the space for them to explore uncharted paths. It’s a continuation of mentorship for both our current participants and alumni. 

“I’m excited about the impact the alumni circle can have,” shares Cara. “Actually going through the program and being able to voice my opinion from an alumni perspective is really empowering. I think I’m one of the examples of what can happen if you stay connected with SOS. You get access to their network and everything that it offers. To have access to people who are CEOs of their companies, that’s priceless. These people are involved in so many fields, not just the outdoor industry. Having that connection and receiving that advice—you’re setting yourself up for success.”

Alumni will be able to take advantage of SOS’ large network of partners for advice, internships, and potential employment opportunities. From outdoor brands to mountain resorts to youth agencies and community nonprofits, we’ve developed unique, substantial, long-term partnerships with companies and foundations who are dedicated to diversifying their teams and seeing our current and past participants succeed.

“For alumni, like me, it’s always great to widen your circle. To share your story. To give back to an organization that was part of your life for so many years. To form new friendships. You may inspire someone to pursue their dreams, and in doing so, you may be inspired to pursue yours.”

Learn more about our alumni network that Cara is helping to build and how you can continue the circle as a current participant, alumni, or SOS supporter.