Director of Youth Ministries
As youth leaders and counselors, we are constantly offered opportunities to serve and help others – both in our own community and in the world around us. There are those who have always debated taking advantage of one of these opportunities, but never committed to following through. Especially with an amazing organization like Sierra Service Project, I’ve got to say it’s TOTALLY WORTH IT.
Here are five reasons why:
1 – The opportunity to connect with your own youth
There is nothing like sitting with your youth in a car for hours on end, letting them pick the music, and telling you stories they may not normally bring up at youth group. They open up and trust you after spending so much time together, and it’s an amazing thing. In addition, you get to see them do things they wouldn’t normally do at home! Who would have known our youth group’s fifteen-year-old girls would be comfortable using a circular saw to cut wood for a deck?!? You laugh together, sing together, work together, and sometimes cry together. Seeing them change over the course of the mission trip will give you, as a counselor, an appreciation for who your young people are becoming.
2 – The satisfaction of knowing you will help someone who really needs it
Sierra Service Project carefully goes through applications to select projects for individuals, homes, and communities that truly need love and care. Oftentimes, you will help people whose homes are falling apart, who don’t have money to fix it themselves. No longer do these families have to live with giant cracks in their roofs. You will help provide shelter and safety…literally. Not only will you help physically, but also emotionally. Some of these families have little to no money, and little to no love or company in their current lives. We eat together, laugh together, and show love by listening to their stories, engaging in meaningful conversations, and sharing open hearts. It’s a beautiful thing.
“Not only will you learn from the other volunteers serving alongside you, you’ll learn from the people you’re serving.”
3 – The chance to learn new things
Learning how to use power tools…discovering new music you may never have found on your own…hearing about amazing books to fill your soul…finding a new TV show to binge when you get home…the list goes on! There are whole new worlds out there, just waiting for you to discover them. With kids and adults coming from all walks of life, you may just find your new obsession! Not only will you learn from the other volunteers serving alongside you, you’ll learn from the people you’re serving. Getting to know the whole community will give you a window into the history of the area you’re working in. Through firsthand stories, you’ll learn what it’s like to grow up in certain areas you aren’t used to.
4 – The community of love that surrounds you
Every youth and counselor attends SSP for the common goal of serving others and building a community of love. As much as some youth may deny it, they go to build new relationships with others who have common interests: caring for those in need. The first day may start out a little awkward (thank God for ice-breaker games!), but by the end of the week youth, counselors, and staff will have created strong bonds you never expected. Giving hugs to these people you just met doesn’t seem as crazy on Thursday as it did on Monday. And if those hard conversations come up, and you need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to just listen with compassion, you’ll be amazed at how much support this new community gives. Within a week’s time, bonds are formed that would have seemed ludicrous a week before, but will stick with you for the rest of your life.
“You will see compassion and love in action in young people.”
5 – The memories and compassion you bring home
When you go to Sierra Service Project, something in you changes for the better. Your commitment to others grows stronger, and you feel the need to continue sharing the love you’ve received with those around you. Your sense of community is strengthened, and you realize how important these new people, and the others back home, are to your life. After a week of working on a stranger’s home, you’ll feel more compelled to do small favors for friends or family members, just out of the goodness of your heart. It will place in you the desire to make the world around you a happier and better place.
For anyone who has considered sending their youth to Sierra Service Project, do it. Try it out. It may sound exhausting, and it may be a long time to take time off from work and life at home – but you will come back changed. You will learn new skills. You will see compassion and love in action in young people. Most importantly, you will feel the love of God within you and in those around you. The memories you’ll make at SSP last a lifetime, and the compassion that fills you will never leave your heart.
Editor’s Note: Brandon has led his youth group on SSP trips for three years, not to mention serving four years as a youth volunteer himself. In the summer of 2017, he brought his youth to Chiloquin, OR during Week 2. Take a look at the photo album from their week on SSP’s Facebook, for a better window into what a trip with SSP is like!