By Christine Strong
After five amazing summers attending Sierra Service Project as a youth volunteer, I figured I had pretty much seen it all and hadn’t much else to learn. Of course, I love and dearly treasure every second I get to spend at that precious week of SSP each summer. Given the chance to be a Staff-in-Training (SIT), I jumped at the opportunity for a little more love, a little more fun, and a little more SSP to fill my summer.
Applying to be a Staff-in-Training for the summer of 2017, I knew I would learn new things and have fun while doing it – but I had no idea how much I would learn that week in Chiloquin, Oregon. My week as an SIT was transformative for me in so many ways, and I am so grateful for every aspect of the opportunity. Below I have compiled a list of eight insights I gained during my time as a Staff-in-Training with SSP that made my time so worthwhile.
From late-night counselor and staff meetings, to bright and early mornings singing “Rise and Shine” to the youth at the top of your lungs, to pretending you are sufficiently well-rested and ready to take on your day, staffing can be quite challenging. Nobody ever promised that being on staff was an easy feat. It actually is quite trying, yet you can grow so much from the challenges that come with the jam-packed schedule and the need to be flexible and work through challenges as they come up. There aren’t many other situations in life where you will be tied to such a tight and highly demanding schedule as the one you follow on staff, but it gives you the opportunity to practice living in situations where responsibility and a little bit of pressure is the norm — a norm you learn to feel completely comfortable with, which eventually drives you toward success even more because of this exposure. The beauty here is that the SSP environment is incredibly supportive. While you will undoubtedly face challenges every day, you are surrounded by endless love, understanding, and support from people who want to help you succeed more than anything else.
2. Staff members are all very unique. If you want to staff, you definitely don’t have to fit into a cookie-cutter shape that you may assume is the ‘norm.’
As a youth volunteer, I had a few misconceptions about staffing and the types of people who could or could not flourish in the SSP staff environment. I thought all staff were extreme extroverts who thrive in the spotlight when surrounded by tons of people. Simply stated, this generalization was completely untrue. I, an introvert who often projects extroversion when needed, was thrilled to learn that staff teams absolutely NEED a balance of extroverted and introverted individuals, so that they are better suited to connect with all types of youth volunteers. Anyone who is driven, willing to work, and passionate about serving, loving, and building community with others can contribute significantly to a staff team.
3. Construction is so much fun!
Having responsibility over projects is so empowering. You gain so much satisfaction by reaching goals and benchmarks, and are really proud of your finished products. Also, it is so much fun to collaborate with others to figure out solutions to problems as they occur in the building process.
4. Your faith may be tested, but you are in an ideal environment for spiritual growth.
As I stated earlier, staffing is definitely not an easy job. While on staff, you are very likely to go through some personal struggles and barriers to achieving your highest potential. Despite this likely truth, you will not be hindered too heavily by the problems you are facing because of the unique environment you are in. Friends, and basically family, surround you and check in with you multiple times a day, supporting you in their prayers and actions. Additionally, program, spiritual awakening, and other opportunities allow you to pause and find guidance from God, scripture, and others. Through all of these amazing resources, your faith will be able to grow and become stronger even among the trials you may be facing.
5. You will gain so much inside perspective into the realities of staffing, and let me tell you, it is so much more fun than you could ever imagine.
Staffing is quite different than I expected, in many ways that are difficult to put into words, but as an SIT I developed a good picture of what staffing really looks like. One main thing that was absolutely consistent throughout the entire week was the amount of fun I had with the rest of the staff. With such close proximity to your staff and the sheer amount of time you spend with them, you become great friends so quickly. There seemed to be endless jokes and laughs sprinkled throughout the week that always ensured a lighthearted environment. Additionally, you are NEVER bored, as there is always something that you can be prepping, cleaning, playing, leading, or doing.
6. You will build relationships so quickly, and feel love and support through everything you do.
Everyone who is lucky enough to have experienced SSP will know there is something inherently different about the community and relationships built there. It is so awesome to live in an environment where you can talk to anyone about anything, without fear of judgment. I built some amazing relationships with youth, and definitely with the staff. I was also able to witness some of the deep, sincere, meaningful relationships that staff build with their homeowners. Because of their time commitment and immense devotion to their work, staff are really immersed in the communities they work in, and can develop some extremely strong bonds with their homeowners.
7. Working for SSP will provide you with a broad set of tools, skills, and qualities that equip you so well for just about any challenge life throws your way.
You will practice organizing and leading large groups of people. You will learn to think of solutions on the fly when things go wrong and everyone looks to you for the answer. You will work on connecting with people on a different level by trying to make each conversation meaningful and intentional in some way. You learn so much about how to take care of people, mediate conflicts, handle large amounts of responsibility, work with groups to promote productivity, and so much more. All of these are extremely applicable life skills that develop well-rounded, educated citizens. Staffing for SSP can really foster leadership skills that truly improve all areas of your life.
8. If you open yourself up to new experiences, you will undoubtedly gain something in return.
Regardless of your position at SSP, from first-time volunteer, to counselor, to Site Director, you will always be learning valuable things if you have an open mind. There are endless opportunities to learn more about yourself, the world, people, God, and so many other things. If you put yourself out there, especially at SSP, you will experience great personal growth in many forms.
After experiencing a week of life on SSP staff, I am absolutely sure I want to continue to work for and with Sierra Service Project. I cannot imagine myself not spending a summer on staff, and truly feel my life would feel a bit incomplete without pursuing this further. As an SIT, I gained so much insight into the roles and responsibilities that staff have, but I also gained a fragment of understanding as to how profoundly the job and experience affects each aspect of their lives. It truly is a life changing opportunity, and after serving as an SIT, I know I can never be satisfied without experiencing it fully.
Because I value serving others, building an unmatched community, growing deeply, and expanding my understanding of the world, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to do all these things through Sierra Service Project as a Staff in Training. To SSP’s wonderful supporters, I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done to ensure this program continues to grow, allowing me and countless other youth and adults to have these life-changing experiences. Sierra Service Project wouldn’t be the same without your devoted and generous support, and I am so grateful for your participation in this highly impactful ministry.
Editor’s Note: Christine Strong has served as a youth volunteer for five summers with Point Pleasant UMC in Elk Grove, CA and as a Staff-In-Training in Chiloquin this past summer. 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.