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.
Kelsie Currie #mySSPstory

Kelsie Currie #mySSPstory

Kelsie Currie
University of California, San Diego 
Spiritual Life Coordinator, Smith River 2017
Riviera UMC

 

My first SSP was in 2010 in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. As my youth group’s rented luxury minivan pulled on to the dirt path that led to our site I was absolutely terrified. After 2 hours of energized staff members, other motivated youth, and a rundown of our week; my spirits changed completely. Since then I have served 5 summers as a youth, 2 as a staff and I have never looked back!

Every summer the thing I’ve looked forward to most has been SSP. My peers talked about summers filled with pool parties and tropical vacations. All I could talk about was my excitement for the beloved road trip with my youth group. Heading off to unknown places and welcomed into a community I felt so fortunate to serve. My friends may have looked at me like I was crazy but SSP is too special not to experience again and again. I was hooked!

 

“Dedicating a week of your summer to service not only can change a homeowner’s life, but your own.”

 

SSP allowed me an outlet to focus on someone other than myself. It has taught me that one of the best and most humbling roles that one can take to express their love is to serve. SSP has taught me that my hands and heart are capable of making a change in a community. It has taught me that the product of service goes far beyond the physical labor you do.

Building garden boxes and painting a strangers house may seem minuscule to some. Yet they represent so much more to the communities we are serving in. Dedicating a week of your summer to service not only can change a homeowner’s life, but your own. SSP opens you to new perspectives, new friendships, and a rejuvenated sense of purpose.

Each summer I was building for others, but I was also building up myself. I became a stronger leader and caring citizen. I became a better team player, a more understanding family member and friend. I strengthened my work ethic and developed a sense of civic responsibility.

 

“Luckily for me, when I was ready to deeper explore my faith, SSP was a starting place for me to do that.”

 

The skills I’m continuing to cultivate at SSP have helped develop me as a problem solver. SSP has given me the experience to serve as a role model to youth and my peers. These skills will be indispensable as I work towards being a child psychologist. My experiences at SSP have allowed me to further explore my call to ministry. I dream of not only serving youth through my career but also by inspiring and guiding them as a youth leader.

The thing that I have always loved about SSP is that it meets you exactly where you are. If you are looking for a place to bond with your youth group and make new friends SSP can be that. If you are looking for a place to build and serve in a community SSP can do that for you. Luckily for me, when I was ready to deeper explore my faith, SSP was a starting place for me to do that.

If you would have told me in 2010 that I would one day be on summer staff I would have laughed in your face. Serving on staff has been one of the most integral part of myself. It has stretched and shaped me in ways I wouldn’t have been able to fathom and I’m so grateful.

 

Editor’s note: Kelsie most recently served on staff in Smith River, CA  as the Spiritual Life Coordinator! She is a Leadership Academy fellow and her story is the ninth part of the #mySSPstory series highlighting SSP staff leaders and their stories. Join Kelsie and apply for 2018 summer staff!

Emma Brewer-Wallin #mySSPstory

Emma Brewer-Wallin #mySSPstory

Emma Brewer-Wallin
Wellesley College
Site Director, Tsaile 2018
Salem First Congregational UCC

 

When I was deciding to apply to be a Spiritual Life Coordinator for the first time, one of the things that appealed to me about staffing at SSP was that I would get to do the “same thing” every week for six weeks. I wanted to be able to try something in program, see how it went, and actually be able to learn from it for the following week. I thought this would be a really unique opportunity. So often in leadership settings, things happen so quickly that you never get a chance to try again. The next thing comes, then the next and the next and the next, and the same situation never comes around twice.

 

I felt vulnerable presenting things I’m passionate about and revealed who I am.

 

To be clear, staffing at SSP is incredibly fast-paced. But we also take intentional pauses to reflect on what has happened, what we can learn, and think about how to apply that to what will happen again. Although every week is different, there are certain aspects we know will happen every time. We know in advance each day’s theme for program, we know we need safety presentation on Monday mornings, and we know what’s going to be on the menu. So even though each week changes in terms of the size of the group, their SSP experience, interactions with community members, how projects are going, and the weather (not to mention the unique personalities of each group) there are plenty of aspects to our work that we get to make better and better.

When I applied to SSP, I was looking forward to having six weeks to continuously improve my program. This is an incredibly valuable part of staffing, but it is also one of the hardest. Even though I wanted feedback so I could improve, sometimes hearing what other people thought of my work could sting. I felt extremely vulnerable presenting things I’m passionate about and revealed who I am, only to hear someone didn’t quite understand my message. But it’s SSP, so people did this absolutely lovingly, and with a bit of reflection. I could see where they were coming from, and I (and my program) grew.

 

When we make mistakes (and we all do), at SSP we get second, and sometimes third, fourth, or fifth, chances.

 

There are two things that make SSP special for leadership development – whether you are a staff, youth, or counselor. First, we demand that you be yourself. When you take off your cool jacket and put on your social sweater, you also start wearing your leadership cape and your loving goggles. This way, each of us gets to be ourselves – our best selves – and be absolutely loved for it, and we get to encourage others to do the same. The second thing is when we make mistakes (and we all do), at SSP we get second, and sometimes third, fourth, or fifth, chances. We get the chance to reflect on what happened, why it happened, and how to do things differently the next time.

For me, that had a lot to do with how I could make my program the best it could be for everyone experiencing it. For you, it may be different. One mistake at the work site doesn’t mean you never get to use a chop saw again; hurting a friend’s feelings doesn’t mean you have to be alone; burning a few pancakes doesn’t mean the kitchen party is over. At SSP, we love, we learn, we lead.

 

Editor’s note: Emma most recently served on staff in Tsaile, AZ and will return as the Site Director in 2018! She is a Leadership Academy fellow and her story is the eighth part of the #mySSPstory series highlighting SSP staff leaders and their stories. Join Emma and apply for 2018 summer staff!

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  • Staff are jumping for joy today after wrapping up all projects, saying bittersweet farewells to the communities they’ve served in all summer, and hitting the road to staff debrief. Hold them in your thoughts and prayers as they make the trek back to Sacramento today and tomorrow after a full summer of service to others. Thank you to everyone who dedicated time, energy, and love to make this summer a success!
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