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Expanding Mentorship on the Midwest Slopes

This season, 560 local youth, ages 8 to 18, will have the opportunity to participate in SOS Outreach’s outdoor-based Mentor Program thanks to $176,828 of generous support through the Youth Connection to Winter Sports grant from the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust. This grant intends to deepen the impact that youth development nonprofit, SOS Outreach, has through its multi-year curriculum across Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis.  

Last year, with funding from the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust, SOS introduced its Mentor Program to Chicago and Detroit participants. This year, SOS will more than double the number of mentor participants in its respective communities and additionally launch the Mentor Program in Minneapolis for the first time. With over $500,000 worth of valued in-kind product support from Vail Resorts’ Epic Promise, SOS runs programs at Wilmot, Mt. Brighton, and Afton Alps.

The SOS Mentor Program matches participants with a peer group and a trusted adult mentor. In addition to season-long on-snow activities, the curriculum over five years requires increased youth participation in skill development and community service commitments. The target life skills are communication, responsibility, cooperation, coping with adversity, engagement, empathy, assertion, and self-control.

Although the Mentor Program is relatively new in the Midwest, SOS Outreach has been running programs for 30 years, and with the support of Vail Resorts, has expanded to operate in 10 states, 15 communities, and at 24 mountain resorts. The Mentor Program is being implemented in this region after many years of perfecting and refining the program in other communities. 

Katz Amsterdam Foundation’s Executive Director, Beth Ganz shares that SOS’ multi-year curriculum and intentional programming is a major reason to support SOS’ Mentor Program year over year.

“The long-term impact of the SOS Mentor Program has deeply impressed us,” says Ganz. “SOS is not only helping youth develop a love for snowsports, they are bridging opportunities for young people and making a tangible impact through this program.” 

As a high school teacher and volunteer mentor, Jessica Madden shared that the implementation of the Mentor Program has brought significant positive impacts to her students.

“The expansion of the Mentor Program included more thorough training for SOS volunteers and more support for participants to develop character-building skills,” said Madden. “As one of our students said, ‘we are like a second family.’ Students approach me nearly on a daily basis either wishing it were winter again or asking me to save them a spot for next year. The impact of this program is immense in terms of student engagement, as well as creating excitement and opportunities that would be next to impossible for most of our students.”

The Mentor Program was verified through the completion of the National Quality Mentoring System (NQMS) assessment performed by MENTOR Colorado, whereby SOS received the highest rating: a gold badge. This designation reflects the effectiveness of SOS programs in excelling in the six core areas of effective mentoring practice: recruitment, screening, training, matching and initiation, monitoring and support, and closure. 

SOS Executive Director, Seth Ehrlich, says the ability to increase the number of youth in the Mentor Program is more critical than ever. 

“Young people in our communities are facing the greatest inequity and mental health challenges we’ve ever seen,” says Ehrlich, “we know that providing positive mentorship at an early age and growing that relationship year over year is critical to kids’ well-being and to their development. We are grateful that the Katz Amsterdam Foundation continues to invest in our youth in major ways.”