Why SSP Works for Our Church

David Barnes

Director of Youth and Family Ministries

Calvary Presbyterian Church, San Francisco


As a long-time youth director in California, it has often been quite an adventure to find a mission trip partner. Is it affordable? How much work will it take for us to get there? In addition to airfare, there are vans to be rented, and who knows what else?

“SSP practices joyful and committed community service in a way that allows volunteers to truly feel at home in these communities.”

When I first connected with Sierra Service Project, it was with the intent of serving people in a somewhat local community and being able to drive there. I had two trips to plan, two sets of forms, two communication plans, and was going crazy until I connected with the kind folks at SSP. They immediately listened to me, heard my concerns, and then went about making my life a lot easier. By the time we were done, our middle schoolers had been to Chiloquin, OR, our high schoolers had been to Stockton, CA, and I was surrounded by happy kids and satisfied adults.

SSP practices joyful and committed community service in a way that allows volunteers to truly feel at home in these communities. The days were long but well-managed. The spiritual content was commendable for how welcoming it was, without keeping God and Jesus at arm’s length. We loved being there, and hated leaving. When it came time to start thinking about our 2018 trip, I heard lots of requests for SSP and, “Can we go back again?” Music to a youth director’s ears!

If you want cost-effective, energetic, and meaningful programming with people that care about what you want for your youth, SSP is at the top of my list!


Editor’s Note: David served in 2016 alongside his middle and high school youth in both Stockton, CA and Chiloquin, OR. He is now preparing his group for Summer 2018. Sign-ups open October 9th, so read through our Summer Information Packet now to learn more about our programs and how to register!

5 Reasons SSP is Worth It

Brandon Gonsalves

Director of Youth Ministries

Santa Clarita United Methodist Church


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, and served 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!

Leadership Academy

What is it?

A year-long leadership development program for 8 to 10 selected staff members aimed at improving their leadership skills and helping to discern their life-long calling to live out their Christian faith through service to others. The Academy is a collaboration between SSP and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

What does it entail?

Participant (“fellows”) will spend three weekends in discernment and study at Wesley in Washington. Fellows will also be assigned a mentor who they will work with throughout the year.

Who will lead this?

The weekend retreats will be led by Wesley two dynamic faculty members. One leader will be Kim Bloom, whose area of expertise is “helping others discover insights about their life, work, and relationships.  Through conversations and activities, a person’s theology and world-view are explored and integrated into these insights about everyday life.”

The other leader will be Michael Koppel. Michael Koppel is Professor of Pastoral Theology and Congregational Care and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Wesley Theological Seminary. An ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), he has served as pastor, campus minister, hospital clinical care supervisor, hospice chaplain, and youth minister in California, Ohio, and New York. He teaches and researches in the field of pastoral theology and care ministries. Michael is the author and editor of several books, numerous professional journal articles, and church publications. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. from the University of California, Davis, and received the M.Div. from Yale University Divinity School, and the Ph.D. from Claremont School of Theology. Michael enjoys swimming, bicycling, and hiking.

What else will happen while we are in DC?

Each weekend will include time for relaxation, some site seeing and some engagement with people and issues in the context of being in the nation’s capital.

How similar will this be to the Leadership Academy that happened two years ago?

There will definitely be similarities. It will be different, however, because the leadership team is different, the location is in Washington rather than Southern California, and it will consist of three weekends instead of two.

Dates & Who can apply?

Any current staff member may apply. We will start accepting applications at Debrief in August. The requirements are:

  • You commit to attending all three weekend sessions. The weekends will be: November 11-13, February 9-11, and April 6-8.
  • You are serious about grappling with how your faith and your commitment to serving others will be played out in your future.

Priority will be given to people who intend to work for SSP again, but everyone will be considered.

What does it cost?

All of this is free-of-cost to the Fellows. Transportation, lodging and meals are covered.

Questions? Ask Rick.

Ready to apply? Apply here!

Partnering in Service

Adam Harris

Eagle Scout Troop 447

Sierra Service Project Partner


Six and a half years ago, Eagle Scout Troop 447 was re-formed in Natomas, CA, out of the ashes of a former troop that had left behind a shed full of equipment. Natomas Baptist Church not only held onto the gear in the shed, they continue to allow us to store our equipment on their property. My scout troop has done extremely little to give back to the church and its congregation, but my Eagle Scout service project allowed myself and my scout units to give back in an extraordinary way.

I began the process of selecting a project by asking Pastor Tom at Natomas Baptist what the church was looking for. The church had been trying to put in a community garden for many years, so that was the first idea that came up in discussion. During the past month and a half, Sierra Service Project, Boy Scout Troop 447, and Venturing Crew 580 have put in nine 12′ by 12′ garden plots.

“My Eagle Scout service project allowed myself and my scout units to give back in an extraordinary way…working with Sierra Service Project to complete [this project] has been an amazing experience since the beginning.”

In order to complete the project, I had to make partnerships to make progress. Working with Sierra Service Project to complete my Eagle Scout service project has been an amazing experience since the beginning. The people involved with this organization have been extremely helpful, not to mention vital to the success of the project.

Bob Elam, SSP’s Project Consultant, helped me get tools on loan to work on my project, and personally delivered three wheelbarrows, multiple drills, and so much more to the site before work began on February 11th. Megan Walsh, SSP’s Director of Programs, sent a team of weekend volunteers out on February 18th and 19th, all of whom had fantastic work ethic and got a lot of work done on site. Mrs. Walsh also assisted me in recovering a missing tool that had accidentally been misplaced.

The partnership I have formed with SSP has been one of the most important to complete this project. I am impressed at the willingness of Californians to serve others through programs such as SSP, and I want to spread the word about SSP to my classmates, fellow scouts and my family.


Editor’s Note: Adam partnered with SSP youth and adult volunteers during our Sacramento Weekend of Service in February. We are always thrilled to work with young leaders such as Adam to effect positive change in local communities. To be part of the transformative work SSP does, volunteer through our summer program at one of five locations throughout the Western United States, either as a group or individual youth!


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