The Service Academy

By Lewis Pierce

Employment Specialist Intern, Lutheran Social Services of Northern California

The Service Academy is a job readiness program collaboration between the Sierra Service Project and Lutheran Social Services of Northern California (LSS), in which young adult clients of LSS serve homeowners in Rancho Cordova under the instruction of the SSP Program Manager. LSS provides housing programs to young adults aged 18 to 24 in the Sacramento area; many of these individuals are former foster youth. The collaboration is in the first 12 week phase, and we have already witnessed amazing results.

In addition to housing, LSS provides case management and supportive services to its young adult clients. Learning skills necessary for new social and work situations is of high priority, and to that end, LSS aims towards providing workshops and training for clients. However, discussion alone on communication and workplace environment cannot fully prepare anyone for being employed. When I think back to my own first job cleaning tables, I had so little idea of how to carry and conduct myself that I was far from what could be considered a solid and reliable worker.

Experience matters so much in today’s workplace, and the Service Academy provides this in a very unique way for its participants. It allows young adults to do meaningful work in a friendly environment where they can figure out how to work as a team, follow instructions from a leader, and practice techniques to maintain an appropriate working environment. It allows them to form connections and practice networking with their peers and supervisors, learn what it means to cheerfully serve others, and give their time and talents to an appreciative community. It can even give some young adults a much-needed sense of value and self-worth; a priceless boon to anyone.

“It allows young adults to do meaningful work in a friendly environment where they can figure out how to work as a team, follow instructions from a leader, and practice techniques to maintain an appropriate working environment.”

I have been working at LSS for about two months now as an Employment Specialist Intern, and can say with certainty that what the Service Academy offers could be beneficial for every person I’ve met, in some capacity or another. I’ve seen youth wipe dirt from their hands at the end of an exhausting day, and recognize in their faces simultaneously that they have just put in their best effort, and that the following week will herald even greater strength and determination. I’ve seen them laughing alongside a homeowner as they together survey the current progress, gratitude emanating from one and pride from the other. A few times the homeowner even helped stain fence boards, sharing her time, humor, and wisdom with our volunteers in a mutually enjoyable experience. SSP and the Service Academy has benefited LSS in many important ways during our short sojourn together, for which we are very thankful, and hope that we may continue to return the favor in the future.


Editor’s note: Lewis’ young adult LSS group serves on a weekly basis through SSP’s Rancho Cordova program. Anyone is welcome to serve throughout the school year, either regularly or on a one-time basis! Contact Laura Sieling, the Program Manager, for more information.

True Generosity

by Heidi S. Schoonover

Twenty years ago, I was like all 16 year-olds and thought I had the world figured out. But I thought I was special because I acknowledged that even though I had the ideas and goals of the world figured out, I knew I didn’t have the methods to achieve those goals. Then I lost a close friend to suicide and things really got turned around, but there were still a few things I thought I understood. I thought I knew what the words ‘selfless’ and ‘generous’ meant. I thought that while a 6-day mission trip might affect me, it wouldn’t affect me so much to say it changed my life twenty years later.

“I thought I knew what the words ‘selfless’ and ‘generous’ meant.”

My first SSP trip was to Big Pine, and I had no idea what to expect. There were only four of us from our church that year, and we all kind of went into it blind together. When we got out to site and the process of things was explained, we stuck pretty close to each other since we were such a small group. We were pretty intimidated by the fact that we would be split into separate work teams. But as that first night moved along, we started to learn the names of other campers and soon the names of the adults who would oversee our teams. I found the anxiety being replaced with excitement and curiosity. I liked the idea of doing something for someone else and getting to use power tools to do it.

“I found the anxiety being replaced with excitement and curiosity.”

On the way to our work site, we were told we would be building a small addition to a home. No other details were given about the homeowner or need for the addition. When we got there, we were met by a wheelchair-bound woman in her forties with some of the kindest, most gentle eyes I’ve ever seen. There were no wheelchair ramps to be seen, so I assumed any work we were doing had to do with making her house accessible for her. It wasn’t until lunch of the second day that we learned any different.

“In that homeowner, I saw what true generosity and selflessness was.”

Every day, the homeowner cooked a full meal for us, then spent time talking and sharing with us. She had not asked for the addition to her home for herself or even wheelchair accessible needs. She had experienced an abusive relationship and had nowhere to go for a very long time. So she requested an addition that was large enough for bunk beds and dressers so she could provide temporary housing for people leaving abusive relationships. There were clearly things she could have requested that would have been more beneficial to her personally, but that thought never crossed her mind. In that homeowner, I saw what true generosity and selflessness was. I’ve never forgotten that woman’s devotion to her community over herself, and think about it often. It’s changed, I hope, the way I make decisions and how I fit into my community.


Editor’s Note: Heidi attended SSP in 1996 with Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, and is living proof an SSP experience can impact someone’s life for years to come! Consider participating in a transformational summer trip for your youth group in July or August of 2017 at one of our five locations.

Making Friends While Serving San Diego Communities

By Adam Kleinschmidt

I had the privilege of being a part of Sierra Service Project (SSP) with Castro Valley United Methodist Church’s youth group. For seven days, I worked with members from five different churches from California and Arizona. I made a lot of new friends through this experience.

We were assigned work groups on the first day, which was a great opportunity to meet others. I met work team leaders who also served as youth directors from other churches. Throughout the week, we would have group-time and song-time, which was fun.


My work team was assigned at Wesley United Methodist Church in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. It was a poorer area of the city where we learned a lot. Pastor Toan Le, who serves as the associate pastor, told us a brief history of the church. The church is huge and has services for four different languages: English, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Spanish. They serve food to the homeless three times a week and provide showers in the facility. Our job was to paint all the outside doors and redo a portion of the parking lot. We worked at Wesley on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday.


On Wednesday, we got to go to the border of the US and Mexico. Some youth visited the Mexico side in Tijuana, while the rest of us stayed in the US. At Friendship Park, families meet their deported family members on the weekends. At the park, the fence has holes so small that people can barely touch pinkies. We made a circle touching pinkies around the border.

We made a circle touching pinkies around the border.

Later on, we went to the San Ysidro Community Center, another poor area of San Diego. We met and played with some of the younger kids. It was nice to see how much they made of everything they had.

The community center was very run down and hot, but the kids still appreciated the time we spent with them even though it wasn’t much. Then we all met up at Mission Bay and had a barbecue.


On Thursday, we helped clean up the San Diego Canyonlands, a nonprofit that protects and restores the natural habitats in San Diego County’s canyons and creeks. In the evening, we drove to Sunset Cliffs. We sat at the edge and listened to stories about compassion from the staff. The sunset was awesome to see. On Friday we helped serve the homeless at Wesley UMC.

On Saturday we had to pack up and leave. It was sad because it was probably the last time I’d see some of them ever. I made sure to get all of my new friends’ Instagrams and Snapchats before I left to keep in touch.

It was really fun participating in the Sierra Service Project in San Diego. I’m definitely going back next year.

It was really fun participating in the Sierra Service Project in San Diego. I’m definitely going back next year. Thank you to Hope UMC, First UMC of San Diego, and First UMC of Torrence.


Editor’s Note: Adam Kleinschmidt is a youth from South Hayward United Methodist Church in The California-Nevada Conference, and attended SSP alongside the Castro Valley United Methodist Church youth group. He served in San Diego during the 2016 summer. Learn more about SSP’s summer programs and all of our summer locations

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