Building Faith. Strengthening Communities. Serving Others.
From Cynicism to Hope
“For many of us, this year has been one filled with anxiety and sorrow. We’ve been witness to natural disasters, acts of incredible violence, and war. Our nation’s politics have become more uncertain and acrimonious than ever. For many of us, this reality has been all too present in our hearts and minds this year.
The Sierra Service Project represents an alternative and equally valid reality, one grounded in love and hope. You will find the stories in this year’s Annual Newsletter to be a welcome antidote to despair and cynicism. This year, we are highlighting the experiences of young people at SSP. Those experiences are full of joy, laughter, accomplishment, growth, compassion, and optimism. Young people come away from SSP filled with the knowledge that they can be a positive force for good in a messed-up world. And thank God they do, right?
Our faith teaches us that there will always be sunshine in the morning. As you read these moving stories, we know you will agree!”
Megan Walsh and Rick Eaton
Catie Parker: My First SSP Experience
Youth from Camarillo United Methodist Church in Camarillo, CA
“Looking back, I can see how this moment started me on a path of confidence that is hinted at in my daily life. SSP showed confidence in my abilities to safely and calmly approach circular saws and work with ladder buddies. They empowered me with the knowledge that others trusted me and believed I was capable of using these tools. I was 12, and yet I was shown that I was powerful, valuable, and most definitely welcomed at SSP. Personal confidence must stem from somewhere, and for me, it was rooted in the moment I was shown that I was capable of handling a big responsibility at a young age.”
Austin Jones: Growing Up At SSP
Youth from St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Santa Maria, CA
“Something that has always been with me through SSP, especially this last year, is the knowledge that although service is great, I’ve always got much more out of it than that. It’s not just about building ramps, or painting, or whatever your work is – it’s about finding something deeper, something you can take with you and use in life.
Going into my Staff in Training (SIT) experience felt like I was making the transition from a kid to an adult. I drove six hundred miles alone to meet people I didn’t even know to work with a community in need. I had no idea what to expect, and it was very intimidating.When I arrived in Chiloquin, it was like greeting an old friend. I had been there before as a volunteer two years prior. It felt so familiar yet so different. You could see the amount of improvement over the two years, and I was thrilled I could be a part of that again.”
Kathy Erion: Miracles in Chiloquin
Community liaison from Chiloquin, OR
“Every summer, Chiloquin, Oregon witnesses miracles. Houses have paint for the first time in years. Fences, down and leaning for decades, are standing straight and tall. Elderly and disabled people can get wheelchairs out of their houses because SSP has constructed a ramp. The little miracles have piled up for five years now, and with those miracles, hope has come.
Chiloquin is one of the poorest cities in one of the poorest counties in Oregon. Everywhere you look there is incredible beauty — if you look up. If you look straight ahead, poverty and abandoned houses are everywhere. The population is over 50% Native American, and those folks are the ones a little better off. Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant. Acceptance of the status quo is a norm. But SSP is making a difference.”
Kisi Appak: Tsaile, Arizona
Individual Youth from San Diego, CA
“We were all at different stages in our spiritual journey, but the ability to come together through love, compassion, and service was amplified specifically in my week at Tsaile. In turn, I became more confident in my faith, and was able to better bridge the gap between the community I was a part of at SSP and the communities I am a part of at home. I felt truly empowered in my ability to recreate this loving network of people, and make a difference as a youth.”
Emma Harvey: SSP, A Destination & A Starting Point
Youth from Faith Episcopal Church in Cameron Park, CA
“I went into the week questioning my relationships and my place in the world, hoping for clarity. Our Spiritual Life Coordinator emphasized how to take what we had learned and carry it with us beyond the week. I left Smith River kinder and wiser, prepared to continue loving people. Teens go to SSP to help make the world a better place, and come away with a new understanding of life, God, and themselves. SSP taught me to seek beauty, love myself, be compassionate, give people the benefit of the doubt, trust God, help others whenever I can, put myself out there, and be brave.”
Support SSP Through Employer Matching
Did you know that many companies make financial contributions to the charities their employees support? Employer giving programs are great ways to increase your support for SSP!
Katie Keemahill is a former SSP staffer who is starting her career as an American Sign Language interpreter in Austin, TX. Katie is also a 12xSSP donor – every month, she makes an automatic $20 donation to SSP. Because Katie also works part-time for Starbucks, every month we receive an additional $20 check from them matching her donation!
“I wish I could donate more to SSP each month! Thankfully, my employer offers 100% donation matching for employees’ charitable gifts. I take full advantage of that to get SSP all I can!” – Katie Keemahill
To encourage the volunteer work of their employees, Exxon Mobil will donate up to $2,000 annually to any charity that an employee, retiree, or family member volunteers for. Todd Froom is an Exxon Mobil retiree from the LA area. Over the past four years, SSP has received $8,000 from Exxon Mobil as a result of Todd and his children’s volunteer service.
“At my very first SSP experience, I was so blown away and fulfilled by the success of the program, I knew this was an organization I wanted to support.” – Todd Froom
To increase the impact of your giving, find out if your employer will match your donations or give because of your volunteer service.
San Manuel Increases Support to SSP
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, located in Highland, California, increased its financial support of our work with a $20,000 grant this year. This grant was used to underwrite the cost of the home repairs our volunteers do in tribal communities, particularly on the Navajo Nation. We were able to increase our materials budget, add an additional construction coordinator, and purchase new tools – all because of the Tribe’s generosity.
Sierra Service Project has had a relationship with San Manuel that goes back a decade. Located just east of the City of San Bernardino in Southern California, most tribal members were impoverished as recently as 25 years ago. Today, San Manuel supports numerous causes and community organizations throughout the Inland Empire.
We are proud that San Manuel embraces Sierra Service Project as a partner and supports the work of our volunteers.
Extreme Makeover: SSP Edition
Armed with a $7,000 grant from Wells Fargo Bank and support from the City of Rancho Cordova, an energetic team of volunteers from Wells Fargo joined SSP staff members in May to transform Angela de Cruz’s home.
Mrs. De Cruz is an elderly widow with a prosthetic leg due to the effects of diabetes. She lives alone, but has many caring family members nearby. Her daughter contacted SSP to see if we could address some of her mother’s critical needs: a wheelchair ramp to allow her to safely come and go from her mobile home, a fix for the leaking roof, and new paint.
We reached out to Wells Fargo Bank, which provided the $7,000 needed for building materials, as well as a team of volunteers who were able to do most of the work. It took two intense days, but the result was indeed a transformation! A sun-reflective, waterproof coating was applied to her roof, a large, aluminum wheelchair ramp was assembled and installed, and her home received a fresh coat of beautiful paint!
Christine Strong: 8 Insights from a Staff-In-Training
Youth from Point Pleasant United Methodist Church in Elk Grove, CA
“Because I value serving others, building an unmatched community, growing deeply, and expanding my understanding of the world, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to do all these things as a Staff-in-Training. To SSP’s wonderful supporters, I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done to ensure this program continues to grow, allowing me and countless other youth and adults to have life-changing experiences. Sierra Service Project wouldn’t be the same without your devoted and generous support, and I am so grateful for your participation in this highly impactful ministry.”
Maggie Guekguezian: A Nontraditional Perspective
Summer Staff and student at University of the Pacific
“In staffing for SSP, I found the best qualities of serving as a young adult volunteer translated to my experience on staff. From our ten-day staff training to the last days of work this summer, I found an emphasis on empathy, cross-boundary understanding, mindfulness, and the value of small actions and details. This provided a framework for the staff to bond with each other and respond to the needs of youth, young adult volunteers, adult counselors, and the communities that we lived and worked in. Furthermore, this allowed me to fall in love with the long hours and hard work of each day of the summer SSP experience. The impact staffing had on my life equipped me with the tools I needed to impact the lives of others.”
SSP Staff Development with Wesley Theological Seminary
On November 10th, ten of SSP’s summer staff members traveled to Washington, D.C. for the first session of the new SSP Leadership Academy. In partnership with Wesley Theological Seminary, academy fellows will spend three weekends at Wesley during the school year, developing greater leadership skills and exploring how their faith will shape their adult lives.
This program is funded by a grant from the United Methodist Church’s Young Clergy Initiative. The curriculum was developed and the weekends will be run by two Wesley professors. Participants will take advantage of being in our nation’s capital by meeting with leaders and activists of faith.
“We view Sierra Service Project as an organization doing really important work with young people and we are grateful to be partnering with them on this.” – Beth Ludlum, Wesley’s Director of Strategic Initiatives
- Summer: Join us for a week at one of our five summer locations! Youth groups, individuals, or intergenerational groups can serve.
- Year-Round: Weekends of Service are available for youth groups in Portland, Sacramento, and San Diego. We can create a customized Alternative Break for your group – youth, college, and intergenerational groups welcome.
- Rancho Cordova: Free Days of Service in the Sacramento region!
Grow in Leadership
- Staff-in-Training: A week-long chance to assist and shadow summer staff.
- Summer Staff: Ten weeks over the summer of hard work, service, and fun that will change your life.