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From Mentee to Mentor – Gaby Hernandez’s SOS Journey

Gaby Hernandez, 35, is forever grateful for her first SOS mentor who taught her snowboarding, connected her to the community, and motivated her to become a mentor herself later in life. At age 12, Gaby moved to the Vail Valley from Mexico City and was encouraged by her school to sign-up for SOS Outreach. 

Gabby Hernandez

“It was a big shock coming from a city to a small ski town and seeing snow for the first time. I was excited to try snowboarding but scared at the same time. I did not speak English and was very fortunate to have a mentor who spoke Spanish. Having someone there who spoke my language to help me learn snowboarding and simultaneously learn English made a huge difference. I don’t think I would have stuck with snowboarding if I also had to work through the language barrier. He was like an angel to me.”

Fast forward four years and Gaby completed the mentor program which meant an end to her SOS days. But, Gaby and her peers were not willing to accept that and brought forward the idea of becoming junior mentors so they could keep coming back and help with younger participants. SOS loved this idea, it gave teens a chance to practice their leadership skills and meant more support for younger participants. It was a win-win. The junior mentor program was developed.

Gaby and her peers were then in charge of delivering the SOS curriculum alongside adult mentors. And who better to act as a role model to the younger participants than someone who had recently gone through the program? The mentors loved having an extra set of hands and it was helpful for the younger kids to have someone closer in age to them that knew the program so they could relate more. 

“Being a teen was a tough time for me but having support from mentors and peers is what got me through it. All of us became really close friends, more like family. We went to the same schools and kept in touch throughout the year, it wasn’t like we were just part of the same program and learned how to snowboard together. We truly became friends and wanted to come back. It wasn’t about snowboarding at that point, we felt good doing community service and living by the core values. When we brought up staying involved, the response was ‘we’ll figure it out’ which was super cool.”

When Gaby was old enough, she became a mentor to her own small group of girls and was paired with her own junior mentor. “It was very special. I had the same group for four years and really bonded with them. I got to see them grow up, graduate middle school and then high school, go to their quinceañeras and I still see them around. Being there for them, not just in the snowboarding portion but helping them with their lives and giving them advice was so special to me. They’re successful young professionals now who still snowboard. It’s like you may not realize it at the time, like the impact you’re having, but then you kind of, you get older yourself and you realize it or you keep in touch and you realize it.”

Gabby and friends featured in the Denver Post

Gaby shared that she recently ran into one of her mentees who was thrilled to share that she still reads the book Gaby gave her, Pretty Good for a Girl. The book was about a pioneer female snowboarder and the challenges she faced competing in a male-dominated industry. Having completely forgotten about the book, Gaby teared up that it had made such an impact on her.

“I remember at the time that the book was helping me and I thought it would inspire them. I couldn’t believe she still reads it. I did not know I had such an impact. Kind of like my mentors who had an impact on my life and didn’t realize it at the time. You don’t have to do something huge, sometimes it’s the small things that make a difference. ”

Snowboarding and connecting with people has become a passion for Gaby. She pursued a career in hospitality management which allows her to travel places to snowboard and interact with people on a daily basis. People open up to her about their planned vacations and trying snowboarding for the first time and she shares all the great memories she had since she first learned.

“Unfortunately, I do not have the time to be a mentor now but If I did, I would go back in a heartbeat and help out because it made such a difference in my life and gave me the community that I am a part of now. Learning the core values made me more empathetic towards everybody, there’s so much behind the curtain per se. Every now and then I think about it and I’m like ‘Huh, this is funny. I still do my core values without thinking about it.”