By Catie Parker
My first experience with SSP was through the middle school summer program. SSP had been an experience I had heard about from older youth at church, but I had never gotten to attend because I was too young. So naturally, when I heard about the middle school program, I was determined to go. As an incoming 7th grader, I was anxious for a week of new experiences in the hot Susanville sun with people I had never met. These fears seemed to me almost too powerful to overcome, being someone who had never faced a challenge before.
Upon arrival in Susanville, it became clear I had stumbled into the greatest and most influential week of my life. Never before had I, a 12-year-old, been treated like I was a responsible and independent person. I was not only taught how to use power tools, but I was trusted with these power tools. I remember standing there during safety training and having a drill placed in my hand by a staffer, with the knowledge that she trusted me to safely use that tool to better someone else’s life.
I was 12, and yet I was shown that I was powerful, valuable, and most definitely welcomed at SSP.
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.
The staffers continuously reinforced the idea that I was a valuable member in the SSP community and in God’s world. Our morning programs and evening devotionals centered around the idea that everyone is an asset in their own way. This message was particularly powerful to me, because I was struggling desperately to find my own identity in the tumultuous time of middle school. I believed I was alone in searching for my own self-worth, but it became evident this was not the case. Our staffers showed compassion towards our individual struggles, and showed us the importance of accepting yourself. They talked with us daily, making sure everyone felt welcomed and included. It didn’t take long before we, the volunteers, were finding ourselves reaching out to others and welcoming each other.
A group of complete strangers can join together and work to help communities if they lead with love.
Unconditional love is contagious, and we had found it in our staffers. I spent hours in the kitchen during my free time helping our Food Service Coordinators, Amy and Mel, but I was not alone in this. Many other volunteers were offering to spend their free time cooking, simply to help make their lives easier. We had found community in Susanville, and in a week, I had gained 43 new best friends. I witnessed firsthand how powerful the spread of love can be. A group of complete strangers can join together and work to help communities if they lead with love. This message continues to guide me in my life, because I now know that leadership is not the demonstration of power, but rather the spreading of love and showing others why you are someone worth following.
That week in Susanville introduced me to many more opportunities to lead, including once we were in our work teams. My work team was a collection of unique individuals with starkly contrasting personalities. This, at first, appeared to be a barrier. Being young, we previously had all our problems dealt with by adults, but our counselors told us they wanted us to take the lead and would not be telling us what to do. At first, this daunting declaration appeared too difficult. Before that, no adult had ever left any of us responsible for completely re-painting a Native American Reservation Headquarters.
Our team quickly realized if we wanted to get our project completed, we would have to work together and overcome our differences. I stepped in and handed out tasks to each member of the group, dictating what needed to be done and by when, and we quickly surpassed these goals. Not only had our team of diverse middle schoolers stepped up to the challenge presented before us, we had proven to ourselves that we were capable young adults. Our rag-tag group of kids, the eldest not even 13, had discovered our individual abilities to conquer challenges and achieve goals. Since that first week in 2013, I have returned to SSP each summer, as well as one Weekend of Service. My best friends now number in the hundreds, and I have seen love grow and grow.
By having adults and staffers show me they believed I was capable of changing the world through leadership and service, I was able to believe in myself.
Although I’m older now, the leadership skills I learned in that short week have proved invaluable to this day. Doubt continuously arises over the ability of teens to be leaders in their communities and society, but teens empowered by SSP prove every obstacle faced can be challenged head on with confidence and compassion. Leading others is a skill that takes development and constant nurturing. I’m by no means a perfect leader, but I am working on my skill set. Starting SSP so young, I was exposed to my own potential during a time when one faces a lot of self-doubt.
SSP showed me the tools I needed to not only be successful in my community, but also be confident in myself. By having adults and staffers show me they believed I was capable of changing the world through leadership and service, I was able to believe in myself. They fostered confidence in me, which has now given me invaluable amounts of confidence. SSP has shown me I am a powerful individual who is capable of being a leader among peers and in the world.
Editor’s Note: Catie Parker is a junior at Newbury Park High School and attends SSP with Camarillo United Methodist Church in Camarillo, CA. She has been elected this year to serve as a youth representative on SSP’s Board of Directors. This article is featured in SSP’s 2017 Annual Newsletter; read all seven articles written by youth volunteers, summer staff, and community members. Request a hard copy newsletter to be mailed to you.