Seeking, Serving, Growing at SSP

By Holly Kennedy

Group Liaison for Ladera Community Church (LCC)


My first experience with Sierra Service Project was with St. Mark’s UMC in Sacramento as a junior in high school (summer of 1996), and I’ve only missed a few summers since then. It was such a transformative experience that I have made it my quest to get every church I’m a part of involved. Ladera Community Church is no exception.

When I came to LCC in 2012, there was a good group of youth, but no real youth program. I immediately knew SSP would be a great way for our group to build lasting relationships through serving others and exploring faith together. SSP has become a favorite for the youth, and the congregation is eager to support the program.

While I have participated in SSP in many ways over the years, this January was the first time I had ever attended SSP with middle school youth. As our active youth graduate out of the youth group, I hope to get the next generation excited about serving with SSP by giving them a taste of the program through the Weekends of Service.

“Service is a big part of who we are as a faith community, and Sierra Service Project helps us extend the reach of our service to communities in need,”

Our weekend in Sacramento was a great introduction for newer youth, and it whet the appetite of some of our older youth, who will serve this summer in Chiloquin. Through the hard work of four work teams, we rebuilt sections of fencing, painted a home, and built planter boxes at a community garden. We were also supported and led by a great group of SSP staff who gave guidance on the worksite, provided food and programming, and showed love to the youth.

Sierra Service Project provides an opportunity for growth, to youth and adults alike. Our high schoolers were given the opportunity to exercise and strengthen their leadership skills. Our middle schoolers had the opportunity to participate in a service project apart from their parents. Our adult leaders were given the opportunity to grow in how we support middle school youth who are apart from their parents.

At Ladera Community Church, our three pillars are “seeking, serving, and growing,” so you could say service is our middle name – just like SSP! Service is a big part of who we are as a faith community, and Sierra Service Project helps us extend the reach of our service to communities in need throughout the Western United States. SSP has become a part of the fabric of our community, and will no doubt continue to be woven into the fabric of the lives of youth and adults who participate year after year.


Editor’s Note: A Weekend of Service is the perfect way to try out SSP for the first time! Check out more January weekend photos on our Facebook. We are hosting sessions in Sacramento and Portland over President’s Day weekend, February 17-19, and are open to hosting additional groups this spring. Contact Veronica Russell to sign up or serve during dates your group is available!

Bridge Builders

By Helen Mansfield

Pastor and SSP Liaison

Federated Church of Placerville


Two Intel employees, one Christian and one Muslim, decided to take their friendship to a different level. Out of that relationship, Federated Church of Placerville and the Muslim Community of Folsom (MCF) began an exchange intended to promote understanding and dialogue, as well as dispel misinformation. While the adults had participated in several joint activities, there was a push to get both communities’ youth together. I instantly thought of SSP because one of the things I value about SSP is the project’s ability to build bridges.

“One of the things I value about SSP is the project’s ability to build bridges.”

The first thing we encountered was common ground on just how busy youth are in our culture. It took no less than twenty-two emails and multiple phone calls to get a day over winter break nailed down (pun intended). So, while many youth were celebrating a break from school by sleeping in, six youth from Federated and a youth and young adult from MCF came together to serve in Rancho Cordova.

Our first project involved removing an old chain link fence. We made short work of the project, with everyone wanting to take a turn at the over-sized jack to lift old fence posts and their concrete anchoring out of the ground. We enjoyed some conversation with one of the homeowners over coffee and donuts she provided. Then, we moved on to another site to finish building a fence.

Lunch was another highlight of the day. Sitting over food from California Kabob, we learned about halal. Muslims require that animals that are consumed for food must be raised and slaughtered humanely. My real treat from lunch was watching Laura Seiling, SSP Rancho Cordova Program Coordinator, and Aminah Habib, a UC Irvine student, excitedly share their take on the new Star Wars movie, only to be shushed by the rest of the group who didn’t want any spoilers revealed.

“This day of service filled me with hope. We have far more in common than we realize.”

At a time when we seem so focused on what divides us, this day of service filled me with hope. We have far more in common than we realize. Thank you Sierra Service Project for giving us this opportunity to work side by side, building bridges and community.


Editor’s Note: Helen Mansfield recently started collaborating to implement interfaith youth activities with the Muslim Community of Folsom. If you’re intrigued by Helen’s experience and story, consider building bridges of your own by serving in Rancho Cordova for a day this spring! Contact Laura Sieling for more information.

Returning to Hózhó

By Silver Nez Perry

SSP Community Contact in Tsaile, Arizona


“Ts’ídá nitsáago ‘áhxéhee’ yéego baa ‘ahééh daniidzin nihikah anaajáhígíí.”

“Thank you very much, those of you who continue to help us, we appreciate it very much.”

Naabeehó elders

When it comes to living in beauty (Hózhó) it is not only through mind, body and spirit. Hózhó is also obtained by having a well maintained home and surroundings. And when a home is in disarray, Naabeehó elders don’t feel that sense of Hózhó, that sense of completeness.

Through their many completed projects, Sierra Service Project has made it possible for my Naabeehó elders to return to Hózhó.

“Nihihooghan dóó nihináágóó Hózhó Náhasdlíí’, ahxéhee.”

“Beauty has been restored to our home and within our surroundings. Thank you.”

Editor’s Note: SSP has received a generous grant from the Bruce & Diane Halle Foundation, which allows us to complete many more challenging construction projects than in previous years. We are very grateful! There are still spaces available most weeks in Tsaile, AZ for groups and individuals interested in serving during summer 2017.

Prayerful Reflections

Prayerful Reflections

By Rev. Mark Cordes

Chair, SSP Board of Directors & Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church

I got in my car, podcasts ready, playlists done, and began to drive. It was going to be five hours or so. As I drove, I realized it had been at least two decades since I’d headed that way. North through the redwoods, across five watersheds before finally arriving at Smith River.

Early in my journey the podcasts and playlists were forgotten, replaced by the sounds of the wind and reflections on ecology, place, and people. Inevitably the NorCal fog surrounded my car. I am coming home.

Smith River site – a small church across the street from a school and a dairy farm. The smell of sea fog…well, mostly sea fog. Small knots of youth and adults wandered during free time. Dylan and crew welcomed me. Dinner, program, lights out…the first day.

Visiting work sites, spiritual sandwiches, youth with tools, removing invasive beach grass, napping, water day, program, crammed into cars. Talking about SSP’s past and present, sharing in the sacrament of service, and the gift of working with our hands. Staff counselor meeting, air mattresses, snoring…the second day.

“…sharing in the sacrament of service, and the gift of working with our hands.”

Cutting potatoes, prepping dinner, cleaning up, shower, bathroom duty, staff hugs, more stories from first-time youth sure to be lifers about what it means, what it is, what they made, dug, built, cut, hammered, hung, accomplished. Knowing I have to leave soon hangs over me. At the beach talking about God…listening to the wind, those precious voices of faith, renewal, discovery, hope, transcendence, glory, wonder…Sierra Service Project in halting, shy, deep, prayerful reflections amidst the sounds of the sea.

I drive to my other home. My kindergartener greets me…I dream of he and I at SSP learning together about God, building faith, strengthening communities, and serving…it can’t come soon enough.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, let me say a heartfelt thank you to all of you who make Sierra Service Project possible.

Deep Blessings,

Rev. Mark C Cordes


Editor’s Note: We are very grateful to have such an active and supportive Board of Directors behind our work. Mark’s article appears in SSP’s 2016 Annual Newsletter, which you can read in full by requesting a copy on our website. Groups or individuals interested in serving in Smith River should contact Veronica Russell, SSP’s Volunteer Coordinator, for more information.




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  • Calling Sacramento youth groups! Is #KitchenParty (KP) your favorite time of day at SSP? We are looking for kitchen helpers during #SSPstafftraining to help prepare: Thursday 6/15 breakfast, Friday 6/16 breakfast and lunch, Friday 6/23 lunch. DM us to give back to the #SSPstaff!
  • The Klamath Basin by @SSPchiloquin17 is a beautiful place to explore. Trips to #SSPchiloquin can include visits to Crater Lake, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and Lava Beds National Monument. #MeetMeInKlamath #WaterIsLife #ExploreOregon
  • Today is the final #SSPsitevisit before we launch into our summer work. #SSPstaff @brooke__adams and @kennaculbertson visited @SSPspokane to prepare for #SSP2k17. Check out these work projects: stair replacement, two wheelchair ramps and a new wood shed!

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