Lean On Me: The Bond Between Mentor and Mentee

How SOS Outreach operates as the launchpad for mentorship.

Community and human connection are at the heart of our mission at SOS Outreach (SOS). When kids are taught to ski, snowboard, backpack, and climb in a safe and encouraging environment—they are also introduced to new positive and supportive relationships. 


The mentor/mentee relationship is often the most crucial component of our kids’ success. Many kids lack consistent, positive adult role models, and it can be tough to know who to turn to when the terrain gets steep. Now more than ever, these bonds are key in helping youth persevere. 


SOS doesn’t push kids to be talented skiers, snowboarders, or climbers (although many participants naturally develop these skills with practice and dedication). Instead, SOS focuses on building healthy habits, developing leadership skills, and empowering kids to pursue what they want to achieve in life.


Will, a mentor for our Summit County, CO programs, is proud of the strong bond his group has formed through SOS’s progressive, curriculum-driven program. Will creates a light-hearted environment for his mentee group—allowing kids to relax, open up, and be themselves.


“The most inspiring thing to me is how often they are willing to push themselves outside of their usual comfort zone because they understand that SOS is an environment that will accept them whether they succeed or fail,” shares Will. “Their willingness to forgo their own fears and help someone they know needs it is the most impressive trait of all.”


 Will jokes that their mutual love of films like Kung Fu Panda and Star Wars is what brings them together. Anthropomorphic martial arts and galactic battles aside—Will has seen his mentor group’s empathy and confidence blossom both on and off the hill.


Rudi, a 13-year-old participant, joined SOS for the opportunity to access snowboarding, a privilege many of his peers in Summit County enjoy. When the flakes start to fall, the community begins to buzz with excitement. The countdown is on for the lifts to start spinning at the resorts. Gear swaps and kick-off parties fill up calendars. Snowsports are deeply embedded in the mountain community’s identity, culture, and social life.


On the surface, SOS simply removes barriers and offers a sense of belonging for Rudi, but it also offers a set of critical skills and core values for him to confidently navigate life’s ups and downs. SOS works to equip youth with the tools to be problem solvers. There is an exchange of knowledge about yourself, about your environment, and about your interactions with others. It shapes the way young people understand themselves and understand the world.


“SOS helped me speak my thoughts more clearly,” says Rudi. “Before I joined SOS, I was afraid to speak up, I was afraid of how others would judge me. I’m much more comfortable and confident sharing what’s on my mind.”


Photo Credit: Tom Kelly

Rudi’s confidence has exploded through his years with SOS. He was always kind and supportive of his peers, but he is now stepping comfortably into a leadership role. 


“If you would have asked first-year Rudi whether or not he was ready to lead the Rebel Alliance down the whole mountain safely, he might have been in shock,” says Will with a smile. “Today, we all call him Rebel One. Rudi could lift the Titanic just with his attitude. Everyone that is close to him knows his ability to laugh and make jokes, and that skill is growing so that even people who don't personally know him can experience that same levity as well.”


For a long time, Rudi had a distinct fear of falling. He wanted to let go of that fear in order to take on new challenges. “So, one day we just fell,” says Will. “For half the day, we embraced the fall. And, he's never been the same after.”


Rudi has leaned on Will during tough times. If he’s having a rough day, he knows he can seek advice from Will.


 “Will is Rebel Two,” shares Rudi. “He pushes us to try new things, but never too far where we couldn’t achieve it. It’s been a really great experience having someone else to talk to and not just your regular friend group, or your teachers, or family.”


Will has explored some tough questions with his group like which jokes are acceptable to make, what qualifies as bullying, what friendship looks like, and how can you assert yourself without hurting others.


“Because each mentee is different when they are brought together something incredible happens,” shares Will. “The most powerful thing I have been able to do is inspire each of them to help one another out. I ask them, ‘How do you think you would solve this problem if I wasn’t here?’ Every year the responses get better.” 

 These relationships between mentor and mentee empower kids to discover their full potential. Mentors lead by example and inspire their mentees to explore what’s possible. In turn, kids discover their true self-worth. “They each have something special to bring to the table, and something unique that they need assistance with,” says Will. “There is no better teacher than a mountain. We are just the middle ground.”


 What’s particularly unique about the SOS program model is how it provides a pathway for participants to become mentors in their own right. After the introductory and Mentor programs, participants have the opportunity to come full circle as a “Peer Mentor” to guide the younger kids in their first years of SOS.


“I’m now a Peer Mentor this year,” says Rudi. “Being a Peer Mentor provides a sense of responsibility and I wanted to be on the other side of mentoring. I see myself in many of the younger kids, when I first entered the program. There are a few that are really shy to speak up and share their thoughts. Over time, I know they’ll be a little braver to speak up, just like I was.”


 While the consistent structure that school and extracurricular activities provide are operating differently due to the pandemic, it is now even more essential for youth to have supportive, positive relationships to help them overcome unexpected obstacles.  


 “As a mentor, it is our role to ensure that the students are staying calm and safe. Frankly, we are more important than ever just to give the kids a sense of normalcy and some humor in times that are not the easiest to have a laugh in. And above all—they deserve a laugh.”

Learn more about how you can impact young lives at sosoutreach.org.


Katie Onheiber is the Communications Manager for SOS Outreach. 

January is National Mentoring Month, and in celebration, we’re highlighting our youth development partner, SOS Outreach. A national nonprofit with programs in nine states, SOS Outreach connects underrepresented youth to outdoor experiences like snowboarding, skiing, backpacking, and climbing. With the outdoors as a launching pad, the organization fosters key social and emotional skills for kids to thrive—combining consistent adult mentorship, strong core values, and community engagement.