By Veronica Russell
SSP Director of Volunteers & Outreach
Former Youth Volunteer, Pt. Pleasant UMC
It was the summer of 2007. As a sophomore in high school, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Sierra Service Project’s rural site in Pendleton, Oregon. I was young for my grade, and intimidated I didn’t know many people. We had already been driving for two days by the time we pulled into the dusty parking lot. I was just barely starting to get comfortable with the wacky folks that comprised of PPUMC‘s youth group. At first, I clung to my close friends like buoys in the ocean.
Loads of loud, friendly teenagers were getting settled into the gym where we would stay. Confident college-age staff were walking around to meet everyone, and I was stuck like glue to my youth leader’s side. I wasn’t sure what my place in the cacophony would be. I remember at one point, someone asked me to take off my “cool jacket.” However, after a few hours and some icebreaker games, I saw a community start to unfold – one where I could be myself and be welcomed without hesitation.
“I saw a community start to unfold – one where I could be myself and be welcomed without hesitation.”
I was put on a team installing a new roof for a disabled homeowner. My Construction Coordinator saw my initial hesitation with using tools, and guided me patiently through each step. We learned how to put down tar paper, install shingles, and safely climb up to and down from the roof. I took such pride in my role as a “Hydration Specialist,” making sure everyone on our work team was well hydrated and taking the appropriate water breaks. Our homeowner ate lunch with us most days, and I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment I felt in the work we had done for her and her community.
On Wednesday, we all took a break from our projects to rest and rejuvenate at the river. I remember sitting with my friend Heidi, swapping life stories and questions about God. Later that day, we played Ultimate Frisbee as a large group, and laughed until our sides were sore. There was something about being in nature, and hearing our Spiritual Life Coordinator talk about our role as stewards of Creation, that resonated strongly within me.
“I started to see myself as someone who mattered. I was starting to see through God’s eyes.”
By the end of the week, I was walking away with stronger friendships, new skills, and confidence in my abilities. What’s more, I started to see myself as someone who mattered. I was starting to see through God’s eyes. After that, SSP became a regular part of my summer: first as a high school volunteer, then as a staff-in-training and later on summer staff, and now in adulthood as a full-time employee.
SSP has been instrumental in my personal, spiritual, and professional growth over the last eleven years. It was a catalyst for me to become involved in larger social justice issues as a teen, grow in my faith in a loving God, and feel empowered to make a real difference in the world.
I’m grateful for everything SSP has given me. I do what I do because I want to share this opportunity with other young people who will be the leaders of tomorrow! Join me in serving communities in the western United States by volunteering at SSP this summer.
Editor’s Note: Veronica attended as a youth for three years before serving as a staff-in-training in 2009 and on summer staff in 2011. She has been working in the SSP office since 2014, and is eager to connect with new groups or individual volunteers. Contact her to learn more about how you can get involved with SSP this summer!