Emma Brewer-Wallin #mySSPstory

Emma Brewer-Wallin #mySSPstory

Emma Brewer-Wallin
Wellesley College
Site Director, Tsaile 2018
Salem First Congregational UCC


When I was deciding to apply to be a Spiritual Life Coordinator for the first time, one of the things that appealed to me about staffing at SSP was that I would get to do the “same thing” every week for six weeks. I wanted to be able to try something in program, see how it went, and actually be able to learn from it for the following week. I thought this would be a really unique opportunity. So often in leadership settings, things happen so quickly that you never get a chance to try again. The next thing comes, then the next and the next and the next, and the same situation never comes around twice.


I felt vulnerable presenting things I’m passionate about and revealed who I am.


To be clear, staffing at SSP is incredibly fast-paced. But we also take intentional pauses to reflect on what has happened, what we can learn, and think about how to apply that to what will happen again. Although every week is different, there are certain aspects we know will happen every time. We know in advance each day’s theme for program, we know we need safety presentation on Monday mornings, and we know what’s going to be on the menu. So even though each week changes in terms of the size of the group, their SSP experience, interactions with community members, how projects are going, and the weather (not to mention the unique personalities of each group) there are plenty of aspects to our work that we get to make better and better.

When I applied to SSP, I was looking forward to having six weeks to continuously improve my program. This is an incredibly valuable part of staffing, but it is also one of the hardest. Even though I wanted feedback so I could improve, sometimes hearing what other people thought of my work could sting. I felt extremely vulnerable presenting things I’m passionate about and revealed who I am, only to hear someone didn’t quite understand my message. But it’s SSP, so people did this absolutely lovingly, and with a bit of reflection. I could see where they were coming from, and I (and my program) grew.


When we make mistakes (and we all do), at SSP we get second, and sometimes third, fourth, or fifth, chances.


There are two things that make SSP special for leadership development – whether you are a staff, youth, or counselor. First, we demand that you be yourself. When you take off your cool jacket and put on your social sweater, you also start wearing your leadership cape and your loving goggles. This way, each of us gets to be ourselves – our best selves – and be absolutely loved for it, and we get to encourage others to do the same. The second thing is when we make mistakes (and we all do), at SSP we get second, and sometimes third, fourth, or fifth, chances. We get the chance to reflect on what happened, why it happened, and how to do things differently the next time.

For me, that had a lot to do with how I could make my program the best it could be for everyone experiencing it. For you, it may be different. One mistake at the work site doesn’t mean you never get to use a chop saw again; hurting a friend’s feelings doesn’t mean you have to be alone; burning a few pancakes doesn’t mean the kitchen party is over. At SSP, we love, we learn, we lead.


Editor’s note: Emma most recently served on staff in Tsaile, AZ and will return as the Site Director in 2018! She is a Leadership Academy fellow and her story is the eighth part of the #mySSPstory series highlighting SSP staff leaders and their stories. Join Emma and apply for 2018 summer staff!

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  • Staff are jumping for joy today after wrapping up all projects, saying bittersweet farewells to the communities they’ve served in all summer, and hitting the road to staff debrief. Hold them in your thoughts and prayers as they make the trek back to Sacramento today and tomorrow after a full summer of service to others. Thank you to everyone who dedicated time, energy, and love to make this summer a success!
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