Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at SOS Outreach

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For 27 years, SOS has helped build community for underrepresented youth. We incorporate the outdoors as our launching pad to empower youth—because we believe these spaces have the transformative power to foster connection with others and provide a classroom for long-term change. 

Since our founding in 1993, our work has been grounded in creating a more diverse, vibrant, and supportive community for marginalized youth. The power of this community has never proved as intensely critical as right now. The inequities exposed for kids struggling with economic, racial, social, and societal barriers have never been more amplified.

Unfortunately, for far too long, the slopes and trails where our programs operate perpetuate a culture of exclusivity. Society’s hierarchies of race, economic class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and body size don’t magically disappear in the mountains. While we strongly believe the outdoors are for everyone, the current reality shows us this simply isn’t the case. It only takes stepping outside to recognize the lack of true representation in these spaces.

 Across all our communities, youth face systemic barriers that restrict their ability to receive equal resources, access and opportunities as their peers. Our participants experience racism, poverty and lower than average income, housing inequality and insecurity, and generational barriers to education.

These deep, long-standing barriers limit who gets to play, and who doesn’t. This is reinforced within our communities, where our youth continue to hear that outdoor activities like skiing, backpacking, and climbing aren’t for them—because of the way they look or the amount of money their parents make.  

We are on a journey to change this. We want our slopes and trails to be spaces where every child has the opportunity to try a new sport, to connect with the outdoors, and to laugh, learn and grow with their peers. Regardless of whether kids come from a single-parent household, speak English as a second language, or have been told that these spaces aren’t for them because of factors completely out of their control—we believe these spaces are for them. They are for everyone. And we are working to shift this narrative.

We believe there is no place for racism in the outdoors, in our communities—anywhere. We stand with our youth no matter their race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexuality. We stand with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We are dedicated to eliminating the barriers that exist for them to participate in our programs and to foster an inclusive culture on the mountain and in our community. “Can’t” is not in our vocabulary.  

Individual recreation, including skiing, snowboarding and backpacking, have been significantly white sports with limited engagement from BIPOC youth. We’re working to change that. To date, we have introduced over 75,000 youth who have traditionally been excluded from the mountains. We remain dedicated to changing the face of mountain sports while developing the next generation of leaders in our communities.

Access is not enough. We are listening, learning, engaging, and growing—and we understand there is more work to be done. The outdoor industry has a problem, and we can be part of the solution. We are taking the next steps on our journey to develop a more inclusive organization and support the development of equitable communities across our regions.

SOS is committed to creating an inclusive community that welcomes and values our differences. The strength of our community is enhanced through its diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and voices.

We recognize that our staff and board members don’t represent the population we are engaging. To address this challenge, we are looking at our greatest opportunity—our participants. In the next 25 years, we envision an organization run by program graduates. We envision an outdoor industry thriving because it more closely reflects the population of our communities and of our participants. We envision mountain communities with leaders developed locally.

Our recent efforts include:
  • Identified team positions for program graduates as a first stage of increasing team diversity. We identified and engaged four previous participants across program sites for paid positions ranging from regional site manager to program coordinator and program assistant. These team members added voice and awareness to our organization as well as created training opportunities for them to gain new skills and experiences for future opportunities within and outside of the organization.
  • Added our first alumni member to our national governing board to provide a voice and perspective of our participants on the board. This is a first step in diversifying the voices and racial makeup of the board.
  • Created internship opportunities for program graduates in our national and regional offices to engage in organization development and programming while also providing new skills that contribute to their personal learning and career readiness.
  • Completed an organization assessment on staff experience that revealed team members do not feel all voices have equal capacity in the organization.
  • Signed the Outdoor CEO Pledge to affirm our commitment in advancing representation for people of color across the outdoor industry.

During the year ahead we are launching our most ambitious effort to date to foster a more inclusive world. We’re leveraging our resources to create additional opportunities for our SOS participants to grow, build relationships, and feel successful—well after they graduate from our programs. To continue to provide a dynamic community that’s so essential to thrive, we’ve launched a new SOS Alumni Network, Continuing the Circle, for our alumni to connect, collaborate, and engage with our current participants, SOS partners, and each other. 

This next year, we will:
  • Hire our first alumni member to a full-time position as coordinator of the alumni network. 
  • Engage alumni throughout the organization from leadership panel invitations to mentor program and team member recruitment. 
  • Complete an equity audit of our program and curriculum materials to review cultural relevance. 
  • Complete deep work on inclusivity to ensure all voices are heard and honored throughout the organization.
  • Continue changing the culture of the outdoors by training our volunteers and mentors to be allies to our youth and to people of color. To accomplish this, we have piloted a microaggression and identity training with partner organizations. 

We realize there are many steps to continue the journey we started in 1993. In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, we will live through the organization’s core values on this path. We will demonstrate courage to stand up for our participants, discipline to do the work needed, integrity to believe in the power of people to create change, wisdom to learn from our previous experiences and those ahead of us, compassion for our community, and humility to admit when we missed the mark and the work we still have to do.

We will place our participants and their families at the center of our work. Because inclusion matters—for our youth, for our communities, and for our collective future. That’s the only way we are able to truly reach our full potential.