SOS Outreach from the Ski Trail to the Dusty Trail
By Brennan Ruegg, Leadville Today Contributor
The SOS Outreach organization has brought back their Leadville Summer program, making positive long-term effects on the bodies and minds of Leadville youth. The mentoring and adventure sport program has a band of young stewards on the rise, kids from 8 to 12, who took to the woods this past week to explore, hike, bike, day-camp, and rock climb, learning to serve nature and the community.
SOS Outreach mentor Max Keleman leads the kids in a community service project along the Timberline Lake Trail. Photo: Brennan Ruegg.
Last Tuesday, July 28, the kids tackled their SOS Outreach service project in the Mount of the Holy Cross Wilderness. Lead by Max Keleman, who has been working several years for the national non-profit, out of Summit County, and Ellen Terry, Americorps VISTA member, the kids set out on the Timberline Lake Trail.
The project involved slimming down the trail from a two-rutted 4WD road to a narrow, unassuming footpath. Photo: Brennan Ruegg
As their community service task, they hauled fallen trees out of the woods and laid them down to slim the trail from a two-rutted 4WD road to a narrow, unassuming footpath. Steve Sunday, of the National Forest Service oversaw the project, teaching the children about the impact of their work, and the wildlife that would thank them if it could.
During their outdoors service, they also discovered animal habitats, weird things hanging from spider webs, and the remnants of old horse corrals. They learned about the snow-shoe hare, and his prey, the lynx, and how advantage and disadvantage works in the natural world.
During breaks, Max and Ellen got the kids talking about core values like compassion and humility. They laugh and hang like any group of friends on an outdoor trip.
Steve Sunday with the Forest Service guides the kids through the work along the trail. Photo: Brennan Ruegg
SOS Outreach started 21 years ago. This is the third summer the national non-profit have brought their work to Leadville, where they have connected with Leadville schools and Full Circle of Lake County to recruit youth into their mentoring program. In the winter, they take kids out onto the slopes with ski instructors for several days. They instill the values and experiences that make a healthy, mindful, and proactive life possible. If you see those kids out there, thank them, and think about how good they look for the future.
Leadville Today Contributor Brennan Ruegg has returned to the Arkansas Valley for the summer, where he is continually camping.
The Leadville kids got to enjoy a nice picnic lunch at Turquoise Lake when their work was done. Good Job! Photo: Brennan Ruegg
Youth Programs Come Alive During Summer Months
By Carrie Click, Contributor
On a recent summer day, Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Leadville was abuzz with activity, though most of the students at the campus weren’t yet old enough to attend college, at least in a traditional sense.
Alongside regular college fare such as faculty member Bob Gilgulin’s midday ethics class, dozens of pre-college youth were taking part in two of the college’s expanding programs for younger students. First Ascent and Upward Bound inspire high school students to consider attending college, though the programs achieve this in very different ways.
First Ascent builds leadership skills
On the campus’s lawn, 35 high school students were discovering how difficult it can be to communicate clearly – especially when blindfolded and unable to speak.
A hail storm sent First Ascent students and counselors inside during one afternoon. At far right, counselor Kristen Nestor helps facilitate a trust game called Werewolf. Besides offering students challenging outdoor activities such as climbing and river running, First Ascent offers leadership and communication training. Photo Kate Lapides
“It’s about trust and communication,” said George Hunsinger, a lead counselor and former First Ascent participant from Silverthorne who is now attending Colorado School of Mines. Groups of three students were tasked with guiding one of their team members, whose eyes were covered with a bandana. A second student used hand signals to prompt a third, with his back to the blindfolded student, to tell the sightless student where to go.
The game was one of many leadership-skills activities in which First Ascent high schoolers took part. Designed to instill confidence and leadership skills in youth, ultimately leading to higher education, this is a free program thanks to a partnership with the El Pomar Foundation. Now in its 21st year, the experience is offered for one week each summer to high school students living in Colorado Mountain College’s service area. This summer students came from high schools in Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties.
All of the program’s counselors participated in First Ascent during high school. Now these counselors immerse First Ascent students in activities that address problem solving, consensus building, conflict resolution and communication.
Besides participating in interactive outdoor games and attending workshops, the students climb nearby Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak; raft the Arkansas River; and rock climb at Camp Hale north of Leadville.
“Rafting, hiking, climbing,” said Dominique Pino from Rifle High School, who had never attended a camp before First Ascent. “This is real life! It’s important for us to build a strong team.”
Wyatt Barnes, the program’s facilitator, anticipates that students will be inspired to continue their education like he did after participating in the program in 2002.
Upward Bound high school students Yarestsi Gonzalez and Jose Velasco worked with robots made from Legos during an engineering class at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. The two were participating in the Upward Bound Summer Academy, a federally funded, six-week college preparatory program coordinated through Colorado Mountain College. Photo Kate Lapides
“This is the kind of stuff that impacts lives,” he said. “These kids all have the potential to go to college. Because of First Ascent, I went to college. We want to give experiences to these students so they’ll want to go to college, too.”
Participating in First Ascent has other residual perks, as well.
“Once the students attend First Ascent, they typically take on more leadership roles in their lives,” said Yesenia Arreola, Colorado Mountain College’s youth outreach coordinator. “We hear from parents that instantly, they see positive changes in their children.”
Upward Bound prepares students for college
As CMC faculty member Gilgulin led a discussion about ethical theories to a group of college students, down the hall 16 high school students from Eagle and Lake counties also attended classes.
Each summer Colorado Mountain College offers, free of charge, six weeks of the Upward Bound Summer Academy, a federally funded college preparatory program. It is designed for students who are at academic risk, who are from low-income households, and/or whose parents didn’t complete a bachelor’s degree. Sometimes, all factors are at play.
Students live in the campus’s residence hall and take four classes each day: language arts, science, engineering and French.
“The purpose of the academy is to expose students to the college environment, expand their knowledge, and build study and time management habits,” said Acacia Fike-Nelson, the Upward Bound coordinator at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville.
German Aguirre is 15 and is going into the 10th grade in Leadville this fall.
“My brother was in Upward Bound and he told me about it,” Aguirre said. “He said he enjoyed taking classes, prepping for college. Now my brother is going to school at CU in Denver. I like the college feeling.”
Ozi Valdez is also 15 and from Leadville. He will be a sophomore this fall, and said he appreciates the time he’s spending at Upward Bound, since it’s helped him realize he’d like to study for a career in healthcare. This is his second year of participating in the program.
“Before Upward Bound, I didn’t think about going to college, but now I know I’m going,” Valdez said. “I think this program helps you know yourself and what you really want to do.”