SOS Outreach Opens Doors in New Zealand

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A nonprofit that began in Colorado's Vail Valley is poised to kick off programs in New Zealand. 

SOS Outreach executive director Arn Menconi confirmed the organization will begin its first year of programs outside North America.

"We were very fortunate to have an ideal opportunity presented to us by Ross Palmer and Dave Clegg," he said.  "They bring decades of experience, connections, and above all, the enthusiasm it takes to make this possible."

Palmer has roots in Vail, serving as public relations director at Vail Resorts from 1993 to 1995.  He's now CEO of Snow Sports New Zealand, the nation's governing body for winter sports, and says though they're oceans apart, there are a few parallels.

"The industry in New Zealand in many ways is where the industry in Vail was in the '70's," he said. "Nobody lives on the mountains for the most part, and people have to go through mountain access roads to get there.  In the last five years, there have been some major advances to improve access for skiing and snowboarding, but there's still a lot to be done."

Palmer said the program helps fill a void for New Zealand's youth, many of whom grow up surrounded by alcohol and eager to imitate images of U.S. culture they see on television.

"There's been a huge problem with gangs, and I'm ashamed that this part of U.S. culture has made its way to New Zealand, because it's all based on L.A. gangs," he said. "So there are portions of the population that could potentially benefit greatly from this.  It's also an opportunity for the industry to bring in new participants to the sport."

Palmer approached Dave Clegg of the Wellington Boys and Girls Institute, who, in addition to his two decades of experience at BGI, also worked with one of the original Outward Bound programs in Wales.

Clegg took groups of youth skiing and snowboarding the previous year, and laid the groundwork for an SOS program. 

"I'm very much looking forward to this because we have some fantastic mountains that our urban children in particular need to access.  That's a natural high they need to experience," he said. "What's important is that we don't lose what makes SOS work, and that we take the essential building blocks and integrate them to fit a completely different culture."

Clegg said the geography of New Zealand means kids in the program will often stay overnight on trips to the mountains. 

"The commute is significant for most participants, so that means we'll have kids 24 hours a day for a few days at a time, and that offers us the chance to add a lot of value to the program," he said.  "A lot of youth now lack that consistent role model.  Young people need role models not just for a day or two, but for years."