One of the purposes of this blog is to share lessons learned through the success stories of organizations within the NRF community. This post contains a paraphrased transcript of an interview that I was fortunate enough to have with Seth Ehrlich, the Executive Director of SOS Outreach, and will discuss some considerations when shifting from seasonal programming to year-round programming.
RZ: Give us a quick 60-second overview of what SOS Outreach does?
SE: SOS Outreach is a youth development program that uses individual recreation activities such as, skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, backpacking, and camping, as a hook for achieving long-term success. We hope to start working with children ages to 8-10 years old and continue with them through their high school graduation. In addition to participation in outdoor recreation activities, the program incorporates additional learning goals. Beyond the introductory program, for every one-day out participating in one of the outdoor recreation activities students spend one day participating in programs focused on service learning, leadership development, and personal development.
RZ: What program has NRF help fund in the past?
SE: The NRF has helped SOS Outreach expand into year-round programming. Previously, SOS Outreach programs were focused in the winter months and thus were only able to reach students seasonally. Our evaluation results demonstrated that outcomes were not as positive as if students were a part of the program year-round.
This has proven to be correct as SOS continues to gain more students and expand to new locations. With assistance from the National Recreation Foundation, SOS Outreach as added new year-round locations in Denver, CO., Leadville, CO., Steamboat Springs, CO., Lake Tahoe, CA., and Seattle, WA.
RZ: How has this program assisted your organizations development, reach or scope?
SE: SOS Outreach reaches 5,000 students annually. Students are recruited through around two hundred organizations, such as schools, boys and girls clubs, and community centers. Although students are only enrolled in SOS Outreach programming 25-30 days per year, SOS Outreach has provided schools and organizations with the SOS Outreach curriculum thereby continuing to have an impact when students are outside of SOS Outreach specific programs.
RZ: Keeping with the title of the blog, what lessons have you learned through the development, design, implementation and evaluation of this program?
SE: The main lesson learned was that it is hard to expand into new areas both geographically and programmatically. Summer programs are difficult to run because the support provided by schools during the school year is missing during the summer months. As a result, new concerns arise that previously were not issues, such as how students were going to get to the program.
Another lesson learned was that SOS Outreach needed to decide how prescriptive to be. In a year-long curriculum questions such as “when should students sign up or register by if there aren’t seasonal starting and finishing points” must be thoughtfully considered. Due to this change, planning and advertising timelines had to significantly shift earlier in order for SOS Outreach successfully to fill and run programs.
RZ: What is next for SOS outreach?
SE: SOS Outreach plans to continue to implement the year round curriculum it piloted. Additionally, SOS hopes to further develop the new location in Salt Lake City, Utah. The pilot program in Park City has gone very well this year and SOS Outreach seeks to significantly increase student numbers at that location over the next three years.
Contact Information – SOS Outreach
Physical Address: 450 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards, CO 81632
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 2020, Avon, CO 81620