Grace and Hope

 

by Kathy Platnick

Sierra Service Project Board of Directors President, from Rolling Hills United Methodist Church

 

Our theme today is Restore (Hope) based on Romans 15:13. In our morning reading we focused on grace as the hope of a brighter tomorrow in spite of the darkness of the day. It was an auspicious day for focusing on grace and hope.

We spent the morning mixing cement as we have finished all of the necessary rebar!  The walkway around the school is now complete and we have almost completed the crown. Next we will begin finishing the top coat on the floors and walls. Our resident Dr. Mike also performed minor surgery this morning to relieve a painful ingrown toenail.

This afternoon we visited El Triunfo, the village where Seeds of Learning will commence building a park next Monday. The kids there were just as loving and friendly as in Villa Japon. We walked through the village and paused at the community well built by World Vision. It was amazing to actually see firsthand the kind of well we have contributed to building in Africa.

We also explored a large local farm. The animals were a hit.

This evening, Julian Guevara (the Seeds of Learning leader for Managua area projects) shared his personal history of being born under dictatorship and over time realizing the need to work towards a better life. Julian talked about his work as a Sandinista in the Contra war. It is impossible to convey the emotions Julian evoked in each of us.

He described unspeakable acts, but he moves forward with such grace. He finished by serenading us with a song of hope through Christ from his time in the war. Today showed that grace is all around us. We just need to choose to see it.

 

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted on Rolling Hills United Methodist Church’s blog

“Searching For That Answer”

By Kayleigh Kirby

SSP Staff-in-Training from Asbury United Methodist Church

 

Lately
I’ve been thinking a great deal about religion.

It probably has quite a lot to do with the things that I’ve come to associate with summer. For the last two years, a week each summer was spent at a truly life-changing program which I’ve come to be really invested in — Sierra Service Project. I went with my youth group far from home and electronics, and spent time away from my comfort zone and away from my standard family, friends, lifestyle, diet…the list goes on. But the most amazing thing by far is the time spent reevaluating my faith, time spent away from the complacency in my journey which dominates my day-to-day experiences.

But the most amazing thing by far is the time spent reevaluating my faith, time spent away from the complacency in my journey which dominates my day-to-day experiences.

Here’s the thing: prior to SSP, I’d never have called myself religious. As it is, I’m not the most religiously-inclined person. Honestly, I’m a bit cynical, having come from a strange family situation, wherein faith played an odd part (a story for another time). I did the youth group more for the community and the friends I’d make than for the religious part. I attended church (a different church than the one where I went to youth group) every Sunday less out of choice and more out of what I felt was obligation. And when it got right down to it, the thing is that this jaded outlook on religion had more to do with my personal identity and conflict with Church teaching than religion as a failing.

See, even back in 10th, 11th grade, I believed that God exists, and is watching out for us amongst other things. However, I never found myself fully committed to the Church’s teachings about God, largely because by this time, my critical thinking skills had landed me in a conundrum: if God truly loved all They had made, then why in the world would They create something modeled after an ideal which They found sinful? This was something I puzzled over long and hard. (To simplify, I wanted to know why God would make gay people, LGBT+ people in general, if They found being LGBT+ people inherently sinful. It never made sense.)

I can’t say SSP helped answer that, but SSP opened me to searching for that answer, when I’d wholly given up on the Church. SSP renewed my faith. They made it worthwhile for me to want to find my answers, because they made me want to believe there was more to God, to faith, than what I’d been taught there was.

SSP opened me to searching for that answer, when I’d wholly given up on the Church.

Sierra Service Project is more than a summer youth program, it’s a safe environment in which young people are invited to contribute their authentic selves to the community they create that week. It is a place where we are asked to set aside our personal lives and egos, and to serve others in love, and with grace. It is a time in which, to quote them directly, youth are invited “into a closer relationship with God, and to experience the transformative power of serving people who have a culture and life experience different from their own.” And it is a place I found that helped me reconnect with my faith, because they reminded me that questions are the foundation of our faith.

Their enthusiasm was honestly infectious.

Every moment of my week from last summer is crystal clear in my memory. You see, last summer, my youth group went in Week 1 as opposed to Week 5, and we went to Stockton (not far from home). And as week 1 falls over the week of the 4th of July…you can imagine a lot of kids’ families don’t want them gone on a holiday. So my youth group went to Stockton with considerably less than the people we’d expected to have due to last-minute changes in plans, and there were 2 other, equally small youth groups present, making it a tiny community. Additionally, the staff there was full of energy, and so ready to make the week a fantastic one. Their enthusiasm was honestly infectious.

But then my group was assigned, and we were going to be working at Boggs Tract Community Farm in Stockton which helps provide food to low-income houses and educates the community about responsible farming. I had a group which included one person I’d been grouped with the year before, Parker, as well as a few others I’d never met, but was thrilled to get the opportunity to know. And we worked in the farm, and had a nice shady spot to eat lunch in (which is honestly a real luxury during SSP), and we met so many members of the community, which really allowed us to see our impact and see the way our service was helping long-term.

The answers I got from them, honestly, helped me start really looking for my own answers.

We also had the best staff I’d met of any summer youth program I’ve been in, so enthusiastic about helping us connect and grow in faith, and taking something from the week. The community that we created that week would have been impossible without them. It was so easy in a smaller group to really connect with all of the staff, to ask them about their lives and what college would be like, to ask them about why they chose SSP, and talk to them about their faith. The answers I got from them, honestly, helped me start really looking for my own answers. And by the time we had our closing ceremony on Friday, I knew that while I’d come to SSP in a not-necessarily-bad place, I was definitely leaving in a very good place…

I think the best gift SSP has given me is the ability to honestly keep searching for my own answers.

Which leads me to this past year…wherein I found a few of my answers, and kept some of the best pieces of SSP close to my heart. I’ve spent more time writing and meditating since my trip to SSP, and overall have found myself in a better place in my faith and life thanks to them. Being able to love and serve others, and to experience the joys of meeting new people and pouring out your heart to them, or traveling to swim in the Delta of all places, or just getting to find out that you’re not alone in your faith journey…that made me a happier person, a more rounded person, and a person content in my faith. Overall, though, I think the best gift SSP has given me is the ability to honestly keep searching for my own answers, and the ability to keep an eye out for opportunities to serve others, often in unexpected ways. So thank you to Sierra Service Project, and everyone involved in making it the life-changing experience it is.

 

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted on Kayleigh’s Medium. Kayleigh will be a Staff-in-Training (SIT) in Stockton this summer. If you or a youth you know is graduated from High School and at least 18, submit an application and references soon to be considered for the SIT program.

Staff Training: Electrifying

Staff Training: Electrifying

 

By: Larry Butler

SSP Board Member from Dayspring United Methodist Church

 

What happens when you combine 41 SSP summer staff, the full time office staff and dozens of volunteers? You get charged up. I spent three days at staff training and it was electrifying!

(…) more than half a dozen guitars and the entire staff belting out the songs.

I had the opportunity to spend time with these energetic and dedicated young adults working with them in the kitchen, assisting with construction training and joining them at meals and spiritual program presentations. My favorite experience was song time with more than half a dozen guitars and the entire staff belting out the songs.

My experience at staff training, once again, gives me the confidence that the SSP staff  has the energy, the talent and the tools to provide a life-changing experience for the nearly 1800 youth and adult counselors that will be serving at SSP sites this summer.

I feel very blessed to be a part of SSP and to have been able to spend time with and get to see our incredible staff in action.

Editor’s note: View photos of staff training. Outside of volunteering, making a financial gift is one of the easiest ways to support SSP’s ministry! Consider joining Larry and over 100 other individuals in becoming a 12xSSP monthly recurring donor today.

Youth Board Service

Youth Board Service

By Axie Acosta

Youth Board Member from Glendale First United Methodist Church

 

I initially applied to be a youth representative for the Sierra Service Project Board of Directors to extend my contact with the organization. Coming home from Smith River last summer, I had experienced yet another week of love, gratitude, and service; I only wanted to prolong these experiences. I knew that becoming a part of the Board would not necessarily be the same as being a volunteer, but my heart was so invested in the organization that I was open to the ultimately new experience.

Not only did they welcome me with open arms, but they treated me equally, regardless of my age.

I had many expectations for my responsibilities on the board: listen, listen, and listen. Knowing that I would have absolutely no experience whatsoever being on a Board of Directors, I was very much okay with that. But I was very surprised during the first meeting, as SSP never ceases to surprise. Amongst meeting the central staff and the board of directors, I received overflowing hospitality and love. Not only did they welcome me with open arms, but they treated me equally, regardless of my age. The adult members included Annika, Kayley, and me in conversations and decisions throughout our entire experience. Their inclusion throughout the year only signified that the SSP’s mission was rooted within their Board of Directors.

Youth Board Members

Annika Lile, Axie Acosta, and Kayley Adams are the 2015 Youth Board Members.

Though it was awesome to see how the engine runs throughout the year, my favorite part of being on the Board has been meeting the passionate and loving people. I was blessed enough to be on the Board with two other youth representatives who partnered with me to create ideas as well as brought lots of laughter throughout our meetings. I was surrounded by the central staff who worked day in and day out to ensure that youth volunteers would have the best possible experience during Weekends of Service and the summer. I learned from the Board who were so fired up with their passion for SSP and the service it does to the community. I was so in awe of the love, joy, and service these people held in their hearts and how much they embodied SSP’s mission. They were creative, passionate, loving, funny, serving, and filled with the Holy Spirit and I am so blessed to have gotten to know them.

It revealed to me that SSP did not only affect its volunteers during the summer, but it affected them in the long run. It affects their passions and their families.

Being a part of the Sierra Service Project Board of Directors has been one of the most humbling, eye-opening, and fulfilling experiences I’ve had. This year was filled with so much joy, service, and laughter. It revealed to me that SSP did not only affect its volunteers during the summer, but it affected them in the long run. It affects their passions and their families. My time as a youth representative only justified the passion I have for SSP and my hope is for it to continue to inspire other youth and adults throughout the years.

 

Editor’s Note: Every year three positions on our Board of Directors are held by youth. We encourage you or an outstanding youth that you know to apply! Deadline is August 25.

12

Send Me SSP News Monthly

Join Our Email List

News Archives

Instagram

  • We are so thankful we #gettogive with Yuba City UMC volunteers in Rancho Cordova! Join the #SSParty and serve locally.
  • "The moment I truly grew as a leader was the first day I took the time to paint alongside volunteers." We're thrilled to highlight Siani Beck, Site Director in Chiloquin for #SSP2k18 and Leadership Academy fellow, in the #mySSPstory series! #SSPstaff apps for next summer are open, link in bio to apply. Read Siani's story on the SSP website.
  • Shoutout to sunny San Diego! How many of you have served at this site? Only 1/4 of all San Diego volunteer spots are still available for #SSP2k18. We have plenty of space Weeks 1 and 6; visit our website to sign up.

Follow Me!

Twitter Feed

@ImpactFoundry We can't wait to join the #nonprofit community in #Sacramento! Thank you for orchestrating a great d… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…2 months ago
#SSPchiloquin youth led games w/ kids during summer lunch program in Chiloquin Park w/ @OregonStateExt; 400 meals provided! #BuildTogether3 months ago
Thank you @ImpactFoundry for spreading the word about #ArtNursery and the community Ground Breaking Day w/… twitter.com/i/web/status/8…7 months ago

Follow SSP on Social Media