SOS Outreach: Helping Underserved Youth Gear Up for Life
Outdoor experiences have a profound impact on us. Physically, mentally and emotionally—these places help us live healthier and happier lives. We want to connect as many people as possible to the outdoors. It’s one of the reasons why we partner with groups like SOS Outreach that help underserved youth grow in an encouraging, values-focused environment. While we provide financial support and product donations to SOS, we also volunteer during outdoor adventures and speak at events, enabling our staff to have a direct impact on the kids in the program.
This is how we met Seth Bretta. Seth recently shared his story of pushing through incredible challenges to be the confident young adult that he is today in front of an audience of more than 100 people for SOS Outreach’s 25th birthday celebration. His story had us (and the entire room) in tears. It reaffirms how important organizations like SOS are in building bright futures for kids through the power of the outdoors.
We hope Seth’s story inspires you to get more involved in groups like SOS.
Growing up is anything but easy. Be an individual, but fit in. Set goals, but within limits.
There is a complex social structure. There are expectations from teachers and demands from parents. And there is that looming “what’s next?” question. “What do I want to do with my life?”
For young adults, navigating life’s twists and turns can be daunting—made even more tumultuous when you don’t have the support system needed to thrive.
SOS Outreach, a nation-wide nonprofit, uses a unique combination of outdoor adventure experiences, positive adult mentorship, and leadership development opportunities to enable youth to reach their full potential. SOS sets them up to identify where they want to go and how they can get there.
Seth Bretta faced many of these challenges.
Seth entered 5th grade as a new student at a public school, having previously attended only charter schools. He didn’t know anyone. There were no friends waiting for him at the lunch table or in the hallway after class. Each day felt more miserable than the last.
“It was a hard year,” shares Seth. “Emotionally, I was not ok. I was getting bullied at this new school and it sucked.”
Seth had been in the SOS program for a couple of years, but feeling more and more isolated at school, he wanted to give up.
“I wanted to quit SOS,” says Seth. “All my SOS friends were at different schools and I didn’t get to see them at all. I was just getting tormented. I was nearly done with it.”
At the last SOS program day of the season snowboarding on the mountain, one of Seth’s mentors gifted him his first sketchbook. Seth was elated. Up until that point, he was just doodling in notebooks and on scraps of paper.
“It was an actual professional sketchbook,” says Seth. “At that moment, I realized how much I was benefitting from SOS. I was being encouraged to pursue my passion, I hadn’t felt that encouraged before. That was the push I needed for things to start going in an uphill direction.”
Ehrlich likes to refer to them as “chairlift moments”—where mentees and mentors are able to have these deeper conversations, where support and positive attention are provided.
“My mentor worked in digital design and was super influential in helping me see that art was something I could really put myself towards,” says Seth. “They were huge in inspiring me. But also, they were huge in keeping me on my feet. Literally, when I'm snowboarding or skiing.”
While snowboarding, skiing, rock climbing and backpacking are aspects of the curriculum, the program is infinitely more than just learning how to do an S turn or how to tie a figure 8 knot.
Mentorship is key, and the outdoors aids that connection. Along the way participants practice core values, join in leadership workshops, and complete service learning projects in their communities.
The SOS curriculum requires increased commitment each year, helping kids grow over time into healthy, confident, engaged young adults. It’s centered around giving back: to your community and to the next generation of participants.
“That’s the neat part,” shares Seth. “It’s definitely an experience of being led and then becoming that leader.”
Seth is a few months shy of 18. When he was struggling through the dramatic highs and lows of adolescence and maneuvering through his teenage years, he wasn’t Seth. He was Sarah. SOS has taught him to be unafraid, to be unabashedly who he is.
“It’s incredible how Seth worked to a point of being comfortable with who he is and advocating for what he needs to be successful,” says Ehrlich. “What he’s worked through, it’s not normal for a lot of the kids who have similar life experiences to Seth. We've had the unique chance to provide Seth with opportunities where he can take that leadership role, develop that voice and share that voice so effectively.”
Now, Seth is the one mentoring SOS 5th graders. While he teaches SOS core values like discipline, wisdom and compassion, the younger students are also teaching him.
“Even if it’s not socially hip or cool, they’ve taught me that if it’s something I enjoy, who cares what others think,” says Seth. “That was a big revelation for me. I used to be very self-conscious all the time. But now I feel if these 5th graders don’t care, why should I?”
Seth enrolled in SOS with the simple goal of learning how to snowboard. Nearly 10 years later, he leaves with the confidence to go out in the world and follow his dreams.
After high school, Seth plans to attend Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs and pursue a degree in forestry. His experiences in nature with SOS—whether rafting through Dinosaur National Monument or rock climbing in White River National Forest—helped spark his interest in a career that gets him outside. He has his sights set on working for the National Park Service.
Seth has overcome incredible obstacles, but he’s not an exception in the SOS program. He’s one of thousands of young adults who have found their voice. He is part of a network of movement makers, who showcase the power of what’s possible when given a platform to shine.
“I’m so proud about Seth’s confidence and capacity to be him,” says Ehrlich. “It’s not something a lot of people are comfortable talking about publicly, regardless of age. To really share that. He’s figured his way and figured who he is and what that looks like. He inspires me every single day.”
To learn more, donate or volunteer with SOS Outreach visit sosoutreach.org.