Veronica Russell: Why I Serve

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!

SSP Changed the Way I Look at the World

SSP Changed the Way I Look at the World

By Zasu Scott
Youth Volunteer from Loomis First United Methodist Church

I reached a turning point the summer before my sophomore year of high school in 2015. It was my fourth time spending a week repairing homes with Sierra Service Project, and it was undeniable that each experience had been transformational for me. My experience in 2015, above all, played a formative role at a pivotal time in my life. I would set the foundation for how I respond to the world around me. I needed to decide who I wanted to become.

One moment in particular changed the way I looked at the world and changed the way I saw myself:

Grinning, I peered into Mrs. Martin’s home, an elderly Klamath woman who used a walker. Honored, I announced that she could now actually leave her house. My team had finally completed her ramp. She was no longer housebound. My team and I stood back and admired our handiwork, watching her beam with contentment as she used her walker to go down her brand new ramp. Never have I felt more like I was doing exactly what I was meant to – like it actually mattered.

Seeing the impact that I could make with just a chop saw and a week’s worth of labor, showed me that I had the power to make the world a better place. If I had the power to change this woman’s life, maybe I could change my own. I now knew that with simply my hands and my heart, I could be the change I wish to see in my community and in my world.

“I now knew that with simply my hands and my heart, I could be the change I wish to see in my community and in my world.”

Countless times SSP has opened my eyes to the world around me. SSP has shown me poverty in America, from the streets of skid row to remote indigenous communities. It has taken me to the U.S.-Mexico border, and into the lives of many whose world is far different than my own. SSP has shown me the person that I want to become, but more importantly, the people that I want to spend my life fighting for. My summers of service have affirmed I must fight for others, as we as a society succeed only when we all succeed.

This belief brought me to California Girls State, an American-Legion civics leadership program. I wanted to advocate for human rights and social mobility. I wanted to fight for the idea that no matter who you are or where you come from, you deserve the opportunity to fight for your dreams. On this platform, I was elected Secretary of State after delivering a speech to the 500-plus citizens. Up on that stage, I could make my voice heard, but I also could make those without a voice heard.

“Instead we get up, and fight to set the scales of privilege even, one ramp at a time, one garden bed at a time, one coat of paint at a time.”

This would not have been possible without the courage and confidence I gained from SSP. Being a part of SSP created a framework of active empathy in my mind. We serve because we do not sit back when we see something we do not like in the world. Instead we get up, and fight to set the scales of privilege even, one ramp at a time, one garden bed at a time, one coat of paint at a time. It is this ideology of creating a world you want to be a part of that sparked my interest in politics. Not settling for a world of glass ceilings and socioeconomic barriers, but fighting for change and equal opportunity.

When I got up on that stage, I could speak the truths I had discovered through screwdrivers and spiritual sandwiches, from years of active service with SSP.

“SSP changed what I want to do with my life because it made me realize that I have the power to change the world around me.”

Sierra Service Project not only changed me, but it changed the way I look at the world. SSP changed what I want to do with my life because it made me realize that I have the power to change the world around me.


Editor’s Note: If you are looking for summer volunteer opportunities in Chiloquin, Oregon, or at any other SSP site, we still have space available for 2018! Groups, individuals, and even intergenerational (12 years old and up) are welcome.

Joanne Poff: Why I’m a 12xSSP Monthly Donor

By Joanne Poff
Former Board Member and Adult Counselor with Fremont United Methodist Church, Portland, OR



Years ago, I sent a wild teenager off on some unknown youth group adventure, called Sierra Service Project. Little did I know that the young man who would return from that trip would be so changed by his experience.

I remember my son telling me that he never knew you could be a crazy Christian. When I asked him to explain what a crazy Christian was, he told me about love, and acceptance, and helping others as an expression of faith. I was so impressed by his new attitude, that I began volunteering with our church youth group.

The next time our church sent a group to SSP, I was invited to be a chaperone. Little did I know how much that experience would change me! I was hooked. I became our church Youth Director and took fourteen more trips to SSP.

It is hard to find an opportunity where everyone benefits, from the homeowner, to the staff, to the volunteers, and the youth. Why do I donate to SSP every month? Because it is important to me that the SSP experience continues to lead people to be crazy Christians.

Marianne Tomlin: Why I’m a 12xSSP Monthly Donor

Marianne Tomlin: Why I’m a 12xSSP Monthly Donor

By Marianne Tomlin
Adult Counselor with Glendale First United Methodist Church



In 2005, I found myself at a crossroads of sorts. I was on a break from school and decided that I wanted to be a camp counselor. After a church merger, my mom told me that our new Associate Pastor was the dean of our Jr. High Camp in our church’s district. That experience changed the trajectory of my life forever and I embarked on a journey of counseling youth that made me who I am today.

Since then, I have counseled youth in various forms, but one of the most formidable ways I have helped youth (and grown in my own spiritual journey!) has been through Sierra Service Project. I began chaperoning my youth group on SSP trips in 2009 and it has changed me as much as it has changed my youth (if not more). Through SSP, I have truly learned the spirit of serving others and have seen how it can change the lives of both those that SSP serves with and the youth that spend a week of their summer working hard for the sake of helping those in need. I have seen how the work that SSP does empowers youth to want to make the world better, and have seen some choose majors in college that reflect what they’ve learned at SSP. I believe this is a large part of what makes and will continue to make the world a better place for all.
SSP most embodies Micah 6:8, “The Lord has showed you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,” and teaches youth and adults who walk through their sites each summer how God calls us to serve those in need. I believe in that mission as well, which is why I am called to be a 12xSSP monthly donor. I encourage those who read this to do the same.

Send Me SSP News Monthly

Join Our Email List

News Archives


  • Found the @sspchiloquin2018 Spiritual Life Coordinator and @ssptsaile2018 Site Director at Wellesley College outside of Boston! Cesca and Emma are travelling a long ways to lead youth and adult volunteers this summer.
  • We had a great time representing SSP at Bishop O'Dowd High School yesterday during their annual service fair! Thanks to all who came out to talk with us. DM us to invite SSP to your school's fair, and visit the link in our bio to learn more about volunteering this summer!
  • Thanks Brentwood Community United Methodist Church for your serving hands last Saturday at #SSPrancho! #VolunteerSSP @cityofrc

Follow Me!

Twitter Feed

Check our our new #12xSSP stickers! Sign up to be a monthly donor or increase your current donation in February and……2 months ago
New "I ❤ SSP" @stickergiant stickers. Donate this month and we'll send you one! #ExploreBuildGrow #IHeartSSP…3 months ago
@ImpactFoundry We can't wait to join the #nonprofit community in #Sacramento! Thank you for orchestrating a great d……6 months ago