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.



12xSSP Donor Spotlight: Joe Barnett

12xSSP Donor Spotlight: Joe Barnett

By Joe Barnett

Former Youth from Redlands First United Methodist Church


I choose to donate to Sierra Service Project because of the lasting impact SSP had on my development as a youth. I hope that my monthly gifts can give someone the opportunity to experience the same joy I did, while also gaining confidence in their abilities and learning there are multiple ways to serve others.

I attended my first SSP trip in the summer of 2003, with my youth group from Redlands First United Methodist Church. For several years, I had heard of the work done by older youth at the church, and always looked forward to my opportunity to attend SSP. The hands-on skills I learned at SSP served as a foundation for my first jobs in high school and college.

“I view SSP as the launching point for my desire to give back”

Recently, I relocated to Sacramento, California. When the time came to consider ways to get involved in my local community, I was thrilled to discover Sierra Service Project was headquartered here. Since I view SSP as the launching point for my desire to give back, making the decision to donate to this great organization seemed like the logical next step.

In addition to being a monthly donor, I have enjoyed participating in volunteer days in Rancho Cordova and North Sacramento. It has been extremely rewarding to see the work SSP does for the youth and communities it serves, and to know that my donation is helping extend these valuable opportunities to others.


Editor’s Note: Joe is currently a Manager for Blue Diamond Growers’ Operations Excellence Group, supporting their Global Manufacturing Operations. This article was featured in SSP’s Annual Newsletter for 2016. Thanks to committed monthly donors like Joe, we were able to impact 2,269 volunteers, 76 homeowners, and 19 nonprofit partners in 2016. 


The Service Academy

By Lewis Pierce

Employment Specialist Intern, Lutheran Social Services of Northern California

The Service Academy is a job readiness program collaboration between the Sierra Service Project and Lutheran Social Services of Northern California (LSS), in which young adult clients of LSS serve homeowners in Rancho Cordova under the instruction of the SSP Program Manager. LSS provides housing programs to young adults aged 18 to 24 in the Sacramento area; many of these individuals are former foster youth. The collaboration is in the first 12 week phase, and we have already witnessed amazing results.

In addition to housing, LSS provides case management and supportive services to its young adult clients. Learning skills necessary for new social and work situations is of high priority, and to that end, LSS aims towards providing workshops and training for clients. However, discussion alone on communication and workplace environment cannot fully prepare anyone for being employed. When I think back to my own first job cleaning tables, I had so little idea of how to carry and conduct myself that I was far from what could be considered a solid and reliable worker.

Experience matters so much in today’s workplace, and the Service Academy provides this in a very unique way for its participants. It allows young adults to do meaningful work in a friendly environment where they can figure out how to work as a team, follow instructions from a leader, and practice techniques to maintain an appropriate working environment. It allows them to form connections and practice networking with their peers and supervisors, learn what it means to cheerfully serve others, and give their time and talents to an appreciative community. It can even give some young adults a much-needed sense of value and self-worth; a priceless boon to anyone.

“It allows young adults to do meaningful work in a friendly environment where they can figure out how to work as a team, follow instructions from a leader, and practice techniques to maintain an appropriate working environment.”

I have been working at LSS for about two months now as an Employment Specialist Intern, and can say with certainty that what the Service Academy offers could be beneficial for every person I’ve met, in some capacity or another. I’ve seen youth wipe dirt from their hands at the end of an exhausting day, and recognize in their faces simultaneously that they have just put in their best effort, and that the following week will herald even greater strength and determination. I’ve seen them laughing alongside a homeowner as they together survey the current progress, gratitude emanating from one and pride from the other. A few times the homeowner even helped stain fence boards, sharing her time, humor, and wisdom with our volunteers in a mutually enjoyable experience. SSP and the Service Academy has benefited LSS in many important ways during our short sojourn together, for which we are very thankful, and hope that we may continue to return the favor in the future.


Editor’s note: Lewis’ young adult LSS group serves on a weekly basis through SSP’s Rancho Cordova program. Anyone is welcome to serve throughout the school year, either regularly or on a one-time basis! Contact Laura Sieling, the Program Manager, for more information.

True Generosity

by Heidi S. Schoonover

Twenty years ago, I was like all 16 year-olds and thought I had the world figured out. But I thought I was special because I acknowledged that even though I had the ideas and goals of the world figured out, I knew I didn’t have the methods to achieve those goals. Then I lost a close friend to suicide and things really got turned around, but there were still a few things I thought I understood. I thought I knew what the words ‘selfless’ and ‘generous’ meant. I thought that while a 6-day mission trip might affect me, it wouldn’t affect me so much to say it changed my life twenty years later.

“I thought I knew what the words ‘selfless’ and ‘generous’ meant.”

My first SSP trip was to Big Pine, and I had no idea what to expect. There were only four of us from our church that year, and we all kind of went into it blind together. When we got out to site and the process of things was explained, we stuck pretty close to each other since we were such a small group. We were pretty intimidated by the fact that we would be split into separate work teams. But as that first night moved along, we started to learn the names of other campers and soon the names of the adults who would oversee our teams. I found the anxiety being replaced with excitement and curiosity. I liked the idea of doing something for someone else and getting to use power tools to do it.

“I found the anxiety being replaced with excitement and curiosity.”

On the way to our work site, we were told we would be building a small addition to a home. No other details were given about the homeowner or need for the addition. When we got there, we were met by a wheelchair-bound woman in her forties with some of the kindest, most gentle eyes I’ve ever seen. There were no wheelchair ramps to be seen, so I assumed any work we were doing had to do with making her house accessible for her. It wasn’t until lunch of the second day that we learned any different.

“In that homeowner, I saw what true generosity and selflessness was.”

Every day, the homeowner cooked a full meal for us, then spent time talking and sharing with us. She had not asked for the addition to her home for herself or even wheelchair accessible needs. She had experienced an abusive relationship and had nowhere to go for a very long time. So she requested an addition that was large enough for bunk beds and dressers so she could provide temporary housing for people leaving abusive relationships. There were clearly things she could have requested that would have been more beneficial to her personally, but that thought never crossed her mind. In that homeowner, I saw what true generosity and selflessness was. I’ve never forgotten that woman’s devotion to her community over herself, and think about it often. It’s changed, I hope, the way I make decisions and how I fit into my community.


Editor’s Note: Heidi attended SSP in 1996 with Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, and is living proof an SSP experience can impact someone’s life for years to come! Consider participating in a transformational summer trip for your youth group in July or August of 2017 at one of our five locations.


Send Me SSP News Monthly

Sign-up for SSP Monthly News

By submitting this form, you are granting: Sierra Service Project, PO Box 13009, Sacramento, CA, 95813, permission to email you. You may unsubscribe via the link found at the bottom of every email. (See our Email Privacy Policy ( for details.) Emails are serviced by Constant Contact.


  • How many helping hands can you find?? Each week in @sspsmithriver17 this summer, over 50 volunteers bring hearts of service to the community. See full photo albums of your SSP week - link in bio! PC for Smith River Week 3: @anniemphotography
  • You really should "ketchup" with what's going on at @sspchiloquin17 this summer! Check out all of last week's photos using the link in our bio. PC: @anniemphotography
  • Life at @sspchiloquin17 is a blast! What is your favorite time of day at SSP?

Follow Me!

Twitter Feed

Thank you @ImpactFoundry for spreading the word about #ArtNursery and the community Ground Breaking Day w/……3 months ago
Who wants to serve this summer? We are only *1* person away from our goal of 1775 volunteers for #SSPsk17! Sign up:……3 months ago
Can't wait for the groundbreaking of #theartnursery on #bdog2017! Come out to celebrate a day of giving together. P……3 months ago