By Kathy Erion
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 to the community.
The little miracles have piled up for five years now, and with those miracles, hope has come to the community.
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.
At first, the community was a little suspicious of all these kids coming in. Who are they? Why are they here? Are they trying to change us? There is a fierce anger in this little community toward anyone or anything that even hints at trying to change it. But, it became apparent quite quickly that SSP came with no judgment, only amazing people and hope.
In 2013, SSP came to Chiloquin at the last minute because the site originally planned for that summer became unavailable. Ben Poff, an SSP staff alumnus teaching high school in Chiloquin, was asked if he could do something. Ben sprang into action to secure partnerships with the high school and local Methodist Church. SSP had a site, and miracles started to happen.
That first summer, Kathy and Sam met with Rick Eaton over dinner at their house. They had seen SSP at work, and were convinced their community needed a continued, consistent presence in Chiloquin. Rick graciously agreed and gave them another year as a trial period. That’s all the encouragement they needed. With the backing of the little Methodist Church, Sam and Kathy got busy.
They have been there in times of joy. And, together with SSP, have witnessed a collection of little miracles in Chiloquin.
Over the course of the year, Kathy turned a small residential kitchen into a place to cook for 60 and put in a bathroom that could be used by 7 active staff members. The church agreed to clear the sanctuary of pews to make room for sleeping quarters. Sam got busy getting donations and making deals. She fearlessly approached any person or company likely to have materials Kathy could use in the remodel. Stainless restaurant equipment, finished plywood, a handicapped shower stall, and much more became available. She traded pews for skilled labor to make custom cabinets for the bathroom, and found trained people to help with the some of the wiring. It took most of the year, but the next summer, SSP had a place to be.
Over the years, Sam and Kathy have continued to serve. Sam, a professional chef, has come to Sacramento to help train staff members in the art of bulk cooking. Kathy is a minister and contractor who gently assists both the Construction Coordinators and Spiritual Life Coordinator. Along with their church friends and community members, they have transformed a parsonage and church into what they are today.
Bunk beds and multiple sinks in the basement, a meeting and sleeping place where the sanctuary was, and a kitchen big enough to both fix food and allow room for three or four people to work together at cleaning up have become a reality. They have also opened their home to anyone needing a place to sleep, a meal to share, or a pool to float in during Sabbath time. They have been there in times of crisis—whether plumbing, meal preparation, or as a last minute speaker when something went wrong. They have been there in times of joy. And, together with SSP, have witnessed a collection of little miracles in Chiloquin.
Editor’s note: Sam and Kathy became fast friends of SSP. They have spent countless hours investing and caring for our staff. A site visit to Chiloquin has been like no other, featuring home cooked meals with community leaders! We thank Kathy and Sam for enriching SSP’s work with the Chiloquin community. This fall, they have moved north to be closer to family. We will sorely miss them, but are delighted to work with Patty Matthews, our new community liaison! This article is featured in SSP’s 2017 Annual Newsletter; read all seven stories written by youth volunteers, summer staff, and community members. Request a hard copy newsletter to be mailed to you.