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New Horizons: SOs Grads Head to College

It’s the time of year that parents love and kids dread… back to school season.

However for plenty of new SOS alumni, like Isabella, September marks the opening of a new chapter – starting college. “I’m super excited,” says Isabella Guerrero, a former North Lake Tahoe SOS participant, “I’m definitely nervous to be far from home, but I’m really looking forward to meeting new people and experiencing new things.”

For over 9 years, Isabella has been a part of the North Lake Tahoe SOS program. Like most, she started out in SOS’s Learn to Ride program as a 4th grader who had never skied or snowboarded before. “I remember being really excited, but also being super nervous to start SOS, “ says Isabella, “but as soon as I started snowboarding, I never looked back.”

Isabella (in the blue) in her first year of SOS

As Isabella grew older, she progressed through the SOS program, first becoming a Junior Mentor and eventually being hired on with SOS as a paid Program Assistant. “I loved being a Junior Mentor. I had a sweet group of kids and being able to be a role model for them was so cool,” says Isabella. Although it was hard to leave her group of kids, Isabella leapt at the opportunity to take on more responsibility and become a Program Assistant. “It was such a valuable experience. I was able to help Heather [North Lake Program Manager] run all aspects of a ride day and I was able to connect with mentors and mountain staff in a way that I hadn’t before.” Though she didn’t know it yet, the relationships that Isabella formed with the North Lake mentors would serve as a huge resource on her college journey.

Isabella giving advice to a younger SOS participant

“The whole college application process was a little overwhelming and figuring out the financial side of things was definitely the most complicated part,” says Isabella. Initially, the process seemed daunting, but Isabella was resolute in her goal of applying to schools. “At first I didn’t feel like I had anyone to go to ask about the college application process, but one thing that SOS has taught me is to ask for help when I need it,” says Isabella, “it can take courage, but courage is something we learn about from day one.”

Isabella started asking for advice and without hesitation, the North Lake mentors were eager to help. “It was really cool to see how much our mentors appreciated [Isabella’s] work throughout the season and supported her in her college process.” says North Lake Program Manager, Heather Schwartz, “Amy wrote one of her scholarship recommendation letters and one of our new mentors, Kim, has a lot of knowledge on how to navigate financial aid and had assisted Isabella with her forms and scholarship searches. It was so cool to watch them come together in support of one of our participants and an absolutely remarkable young adult.”

Isabella next to Program Manager and Program Coordinator, Heather and Gary

“I was so grateful for all the support I received through SOS,” says Isabella, “it made the whole process way easier to navigate.” Isabella made headway on her applications and found that her experiences from SOS translated naturally to the prompts on her applications. “Whether it was about my volunteering and community experiences, or work experience, or lessons learned, I was able to draw from my time in SOS and write about it.”

After months of hard work, Isabella began receiving college acceptance letters and shortly thereafter, committed to attending Cal State Fullerton in Los Angeles. She plans to pursue a business degree with an emphasis in marketing. “SOS helped me realize early on that I’m a people person and so pursuing business feels like a natural path.” says Isabella, “I want to work with and hopefully one day lead a team.”

Isabella repping her new school: Cal State Fullerton

Like many SOS program graduates, Isabella says moving on to this next chapter is bittersweet, “I loved my time in SOS and I’ve learned so much from being in the program. I really hope to come back to mentor one day, but I also can’t wait to start school.” she says. And while mentors and program staff hope that Isabella will come back to mentor the next generation of SOS youth, they know that Isabella will be successful at whatever she pursues.

“To me, SOS is about gearing young people up for life,” says Heather Schwartz, “it’s about helping them uncover their potential and feel confident to pursue their passions. Isabella is a testament to that. Everything she did, she initiated on her own and I am so incredibly proud of her. I have full faith that she will do amazing in college and pursue whatever comes next with vigor and determination.”