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Major Grant Allows SOS Outreach to Expand Midwest Mentor Program for Underserved Youth


September 21, 2022

The ski slopes and classrooms across Chicago and Detroit area communities will beam brighter this winter season when nearly 450 kids, ages 8 to 18, will participate in the SOS Outreach Mentor Program, after the national youth development non-profit was awarded a $138,696 grant from the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust and additional $500,000 of in-kind product support from Vail Resorts dedicated to Midwest programming.

The significant grant is allowing SOS Outreach (SOS), in conjunction with Vail Resorts’ Epic for Everyone Youth Access Program, to expand its programming and the number of youth it will serve by 45% percent with increased investments in staffing, gear and transportation to the slopes at Wilmot, Mt. Brighton and Afton Alps. 

In its 29th year, SOS has transformed the lives of more than 80,000 underserved youth with a unique combination of outdoor adventure, adult mentorship and leadership development over a nine-year program, grades 4-12. The Mentor Program serves participants in their second through fifth years.

SOS Executive Director, Seth Ehrlich, says the ability to increase the number of Chicago and Detroit youth seeking outdoor adventures and mentor opportunities is more critical than ever. 

“As great partners, Vail Resorts and the Katz Amsterdam Foundation and Charitable Trust continue to invest in our youth in major ways, believing passionately as we do that access to the outdoors and community mentors at early ages are fundamental to kids’ well-being and to their leadership development,” says Ehrlich. 

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 four 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.

“SOS has continued to develop and improve the effectiveness of the SOS Mentor Program since its inception at Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado,” says Vail Resorts Epic for Everyone Program Manager and SOS Alum, Travis Tafoya. “We are excited to support their expansion to the Midwest supporting urban-based youth in Chicago and Detroit Having a longstanding partnership with SOS and other youth development nonprofits allows Vail Resorts to create more inclusive sport-building leaders and life-long snowsport enthusiasts.”

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. 

Deriya Clemmons, Chicago participant, has just started fifth grade and her second year with the SOS, transitioning into the Mentor Program this year. She shares “Last year was fun and I love getting an opportunity again…this year, I want to go on the big hill by myself because SOS taught me to believe in myself and I don’t have to be scared.”

SOS serves more than 3,000 youth each year across 15 locations in nine states. SOS has programs at 11 Vail Resort mountains, including Wilmot, Mt. Brighton, and Afton Alps in the Midwest.




SOS Outreach is a national youth empowerment non-profit organization that cultivates a deep sense of belonging in kids and teenagers, unlimiting their future potential and impact on our world. Our programs extends from the Cascades and the Sierras to the Rockies and the Midwestern hills, serving more than 3,000 youth each year across 15 locations in 9 states—while offering year-round programming at several of our sites. Our lifechanging approach champions a curriculum that combines the support of caring adults, the thrill of outdoor adventure, and the grounding of value-based leadership skills kids and teenagers need to become their best, unlimited selves. To learn more, visit: