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equity & inclusivity in the outdoors

Breaking down barriers for our youth

FINDING COMMUNITY WITH SOS

When Ricky, a recent graduate of our Mentor program in South Lake Tahoe, was diagnosed with ADHD in early elementary school, he already knew he had trouble focusing. It was challenging for him to follow traditional methods and processes learning new skills. Ricky describes what ADHD is like for him.

“You have the most random questions about the most random things at the most random times,” explains Ricky. “You can’t sit still for 5 minutes. You zone people out without trying to. You don’t hear anybody for a good 10 minutes, then you really have to try to focus on their words and their mouth in order to understand and comprehend it. And on top of that, you can’t get anything done unless there’s pressure on you. And if it’s the wrong pressure, you don’t do it at all.” 

Ricky moved from Sacramento to Tahoe in middle school and joined SOS to learn how to snowboard shortly thereafter. He was leery of adult figures who he felt didn’t understand his ADHD and looked down on him because of it. But at SOS, his mentors showed him that he could achieve whatever he put his mind to with some creative tactics.  

“My mentor helped me understand without having to have me sit still,” says Ricky. He explains that he’s able to focus better if he has something in his hands to fiddle with while he listens and absorbs information.

“He’d give me a detached zipper; so I’d zip it up and zip it down,” shares Ricky. “He’d be like, ‘Ok, we’re going here, here, and there.’ I’d be like, ‘Cool,’ give him the zipper back, strap up and we’d go. It took me a little while to get used to understanding that not all adults hated my ADHD.”

Ricky’s first SOS mentor taught him the basics of snowboarding, getting him acquainted with the slopes and comfortable on a snowboard. He helped foster a connection with the outdoors. Ricky’s next mentor focused on human connection. He noticed Ricky was reluctant to interact with his peers. He emphasized that SOS is just as much about human connection as it is about snowboarding and encouraged Ricky to take down the protective walls he had built around himself. 

“The human connection part was definitely the hardest for me,” shares Ricky. “I didn’t want to be made fun of because I couldn’t sit still on a chairlift. My brain would wander and think, ‘What are they saying about me?’ ‘Was my joke funny or not?’ My brain would ask a million questions within this small amount of time and you try to answer as many of them as you can. But you can’t, your brain is going so fast. It’s going a million miles an hour with the brakes of a tricycle. It almost never stops.” 

We know connection is essential to build resilience in youth. The connections Ricky developed through SOS surprised him. He bonded with a fellow participant who had family members with ADHD. He became closer with his younger siblings on the hill who were also participating in SOS. He connected with his mentors. He felt less isolated. And snowboarding came naturally to him, like an extension of his legs.

“Snowboarding, because of my ADHD, has helped me open up and vouch for myself in ways that I’ve never done before,” admits Ricky. “It’s also taught me not only how to work with other people, but also how to communicate on what I want to do and what I want. All of my life I’ve been more of a pushover than anything, and snowboarding has helped me come out of my shell and vouch for myself.”

Using the mountains as our classroom, we provide critical life skills for our youth to thrive. While our work starts in the outdoors, it extends far beyond the slopes or the trails. 

Our progressive curriculum provides a sense of belonging and purpose with peers, adults, and community. Youth learn goal setting, self-advocacy, empathy, coping with adversity, and assertion. They develop leadership skills by applying our core values—courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, compassion, and humility—to guide ethical decision-making and they learn social responsibility through local community service projects. 

“SOS has helped me stay level-headed,” says Ricky. “It’s helped me keep my cool in tough situations, dealing with rude customers at work or staying composed after a minor car accident. I’ve been able to better manage stressful situations.”

PREPARING YOUTH FOR WHAT’S NEXT

This summer, we’re expanding our programming to offer a career development pipeline for five young adults in Denver in collaboration with our corporate partners. This 8-week program introduces youth to important job-readiness skills. Our curriculum includes mock job interviews, resume writing, in-person and online networking and, of course, outdoor activities like paddle boarding and hiking. 

We know that talent is equally distributed but, unfortunately, opportunity is not. SOS is uniquely positioned to provide a solution to bridge this gap. We’re able to leverage our vast network of supporters who are committed to providing meaningful opportunities for our youth. 

Working directly with our participants, our key partners are providing increased and intentional support that builds continued skill development and prepares our participants for valuable career opportunities. Our participants are matched with Smartwool, evo, Oberalp, Backcountry Access, and Epic Mountain Gear for on-the-ground insight into what it’s like to work in the outdoor industry. These companies are committed to growing the social capital of our youth. 

“I decided to pursue this opportunity mainly because I had never done an internship or anything like this before so I thought it would be a good experience,” shares Jazmin, who will be a junior at Global Leadership Academy in Denver, part of the Mapleton School District we partner closely with. “I also thought it would teach us how to be in the corporate world which a lot of us are going to be entering soon after high school. I thought that would be a good head start going into this. We were also going to be paid so that was a really good opportunity.” 

Jazmin was drawn to the career development pipeline program because of her passion for the outdoors. Working with leaders in the outdoor industry inspired her. And the mix of outdoor activities in the program curriculum allowed her to stay active throughout the summer.

EXPANDING THE CIRCLE THROUGH OPPORTUNITY

Like each of the five participants, Jazmin brings unique skills, perspectives, and life experiences to the career development pipeline program. 

“I bring perseverance—and I’ve seen the world differently than some people,” shares Jazmin. “In the program, we’ve talked about people’s cultural differences and their points of view. How things are different depending on your race and your culture and where you’re from. I bring a sense of diversity.”  

Jazmin’s parents are from Mexico and she’s a first-generation U.S. citizen. Being bilingual, she often helps translate for some of her family who only speak Spanish.

“I’ve always liked being in SOS,” says Jazmin. “It’s given me opportunities, and taught me core values, like courage. This [career development] experience is building on that foundation. It’s taken a lot of courage to join. Especially since I didn’t know who was going to be a part of this. I have a tendency to be shy if I don’t know people.”

Jazmin will be working with Oberalp who own a suite of outdoor brands like Salewa and Dynafit—developing skills in customer service and event planning. 

“I thought the corporate world would be more serious,” Jazmin admits. “The outdoor industry, people are really laid back. You have dogs in the office which is a really nice bonus. I’ve liked learning new things and understanding what the norms are.”

The synergistic approach of the career development pipeline provides a scalable and impactful model that also supports our partners’ goals of diversifying their employment pool. This more equitable and inclusive representation within the outdoor industry is crucial. And our youth inevitably leave the program with more self-confidence, greater support, and a larger network.

The strength of our community is enhanced through its diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and voices. Ricky, Jazmin, and all of our SOS participants reinforce the transformative power of the outdoors. Our curriculum-based programs enable youth to overcome challenges and discover their true potential. That kind of empowerment is something every youth deserves to access.  

HELP CHANGE THE FACE OF THE OUTDOORS

Join us and become part of the solution. Your donation helps ensure every child has the opportunity to try a new sport, to connect with the outdoors, to develop lifelong skills, and to laugh, learn, and grow with their peers. Visit sosoutreach.org/give or email us at sos@sosoutreach.org to make an impact.