SOS participants clean up over 510 pounds of trash in Tahoe
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The nonprofit youth development organization, SOS Outreach, has just wrapped up its winter season of programming. Using the mountain as a classroom and snow sports as a catalyst, SOS introduces youth to core values, develops leadership skills, cultivates community, builds resilience and promotes service.
Serving communities north and south of Lake Tahoe since 2010, SOS has engaged more than 560 youth around the lake this season. For the young people who participate, learning to ski or snowboard is the hook they’re interested in, but most end up staying in the program because of the community that’s been built on the slopes.
“What I love about SOS,” said North Lake Program Manager Heather Schwartz, “is that all of our programs start with learning to ski or ride a bike. However, it is through these experiences that children learn real life skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. Access to the mountain is ultimately an important first step, but thanks to this access to the mountain, our programs go much further”.
Thanks in large part to SOS’s partnership with Vail Resorts and Epic Promise, youngsters around the lake can access the incredible mountains from their own backyard. The majority of SOS participants in North Lake ski or bike to Northstar, while all of the participants in South Lake go to Heavenly and Kirkwood. This partnership is invaluable to SOS programs, as it alone provides access to the mountains for young people who might not otherwise be able to participate in snow sports.
“There’s no doubt that getting out on the mountain is a highlight for our kids,” says South Lake program manager Morgan Edwards, “that said, when the kids aren’t shredding, we engage them in through leadership workshops, career panels, and participating in community service events. What’s great is that when you ask them at the end of the season what their favorite moment was, most of them actually talk a lot about their love of getting involved and helping their community.
This season alone, SOS participants have volunteered with the Tahoe Food Hub, Sugar Pine Foundation, Pet Network, Kings Beach Snowfest Parade, Lake Tahoe Marathon and Truckee Watershed Council. But by far their favorite service activity was participating in the “Blue Crew” of Keep Tahoe Blue.
Collectively, the youth from North and South Lake cleaned up over 510 pounds of litter around the lake in 8 different sessions. They found all kinds of trash, bits of plastic, broken sleds, old shoes, and even rusty car engines and metal barrels.
“If we didn’t, maybe no one would,” says North Lake SOS participant Diana.
Participating in Blue Crew Days was not only fun for the youngsters as they found strange waste, but it also reminded them that they have a stake in the well-being of their community.
“At SOS, we strongly believe that stronger youth lead to stronger communities,” says Executive Director Seth Ehrlich, “which is why part of our program focuses on community engagement and service. It is important that young people know that they can play a vital role in their community and that they can feel empowered to become leaders to make a difference”.
This feeling is true for many young people who volunteer during the season, “SOS has helped me to have a more positive view of where I live and enjoy helping the community”, writes a participant from South Lake in a post. – activity reflection. “SOS taught me to be compassionate towards people and places,” wrote another participant.
Ultimately, while skiing and snowboarding are still an integral part of SOS programs, it is the service projects and relationships that are built that keep young people coming back to SOS year after year.
“It’s pretty amazing that something as simple as learning to ski or learning to ride a bike soon turns into something so much bigger and more meaningful than that,” says Schwartz, “the compassion these young people have for their community and for each other is so inspiring. I’m so proud of all that our Tahoe participants have accomplished this season!”