We give the Mountain pulpit to Seth Ehrlich, Executive Director of SOS Outreach
In inner city Pittsburgh, growing up an outdoor enthusiast wasn’t the norm. My passion for the outdoors came courtesy of my father, who skied in Wisconsin during grad school. He’d drive 30 minutes to tiny Boyce Park to get my sister and me on the slopes. As we got hooked, we started tackling longer drives to larger resorts. We did a lot of night skiing in frigid temps on bulletproof snow. We loved it.
During that time, steel mills across Pittsburgh were closing down. The entire region felt the impacts of the economic downturn. Inspired to share his passion, my father organized East Allegheny High School’s ski club, introducing hundreds to winter sports.
I was lucky to have my father and the community he helped build. Others—from low income and immigrant families, as well as those with academic and social difficulties—don’t have the same advantages. These are the kids SOS Outreach now serves. SOS Outreach began in 1993 as the Snowboard Outreach Society, with the goal of introducing inner city Denver youth to snowboarding. In 1995, a pilot group of 15 city kids were brought to the Colorado Rockies to try the sport for the first time. Today, 49,281 at-risk youth between the ages of eight and 18 have attended SOS Outreach programs, and the curriculum has expanded to include summer adventure sports, as well as youth development, leadership training, and adult mentorship curriculums.
Headquartered in Eagle County, Colorado, with eight additional program sites across Colorado, Utah, California, Oregon, and Washington, SOS participants might learn to rock climb, embark on their first backpacking trip into the wilderness, or bag a 14,000-foot peak. Our kids build confidence, acquire healthy habits, learn how to take advantage of community resources back home, and often show dramatic academic improvement when they return to school. For those who lack the financial means, transportation, or positive adult role models, SOS not only offers financial aid, but also an entire support system.
Getting kids outside might seem like an old idea to you, and it is. But despite an array of national outreach programs designed to do exactly that, low income and minority youth continually rank as the least represented demographic outdoors. With our focus on low-cost participation, SOS is helping to reverse that statistic. It’s a common maxim in the world of outdoor adventure that “where we live affects how we live.” In the communities that SOS works with, that’s no longer true. SOS fights for every child’s right to play.