By Austin Jones
I served in Smith River, California my last year as a youth volunteer at SSP. It was a very bitter sweet trip. On one hand, it was a great group of people in a beautiful place, but I knew after this week I wouldn’t be a youth again. During Thursday night program, I realized how important SSP had been for me in bonding with my dad.
My dad had gone to SSP with me since 2011, and he went for years before that. A lot of fathers and sons bond over things like fishing, hunting, or sports, but my dad and I, we bonded over SSP. At the end of Thursday night program, it was sunset on the beach. There were people everywhere, some on driftwood, some standing at the water’s edge, and it was so beautiful. Everyone was talking to God in their own way, but I felt like I needed to be with my dad.
Walking around, the feeling was in my toes, passing everyone to get to my dad. I sat down next to him and we shared our last Thursday night program together. I told him I was scared. Scared of going into the real world and becoming an adult. I felt like I was talking to my dad, and also to God. I wasn’t sure what life was going to throw at me, and I still don’t know. Letting my dad know gave me comfort that he was there for me. It is one of the biggest takeaways for me from that trip, and I thank SSP and God for that every day.
It’s not just about building ramps, or painting, or whatever your work is – it’s about finding something deeper, something you can take with you and use in life.
Something that has always been with me through SSP, especially this last year, is the knowledge that although service is great, I’ve always got much more out of it than that. It’s not just about building ramps, or painting, or whatever your work is – it’s about finding something deeper, something you can take with you and use in life.
Going into my Staff-in-Training (SIT) experience felt like I was making the transition from a kid to an adult. I drove six hundred miles alone to meet people I didn’t even know to work with a community in need. I had no idea what to expect, and it was very intimidating. When I arrived in Chiloquin, it was like greeting an old friend. I had been there before as a volunteer two years prior. It felt so familiar, yet so different. You could see the amount of improvement over the two years, and I was thrilled I could be a part of that again.
Pulling up to the church and walking into the kitchen, meeting the staff calmed every bit of doubt I had over the past fourteen hours of driving. The night finished and I had made new friends, and then the nerves came back, because volunteers were coming the next day. When everyone arrived it was so fast and exciting, seeing all these new people and getting to know them all.
When I arrived in Chiloquin, it was like greeting an old friend. I had been there before as a volunteer two years prior. It felt so familiar, yet so different. You could see the amount of improvement over the two years, and I was thrilled I could be a part of that again.
It was great to see so many people that were as excited as I was, or more, for this whole experience that is SSP. Throughout the week shadowing the staff, I found a new appreciation for all the little things they do. When you see those things from behind the scenes, they actually aren’t so little.
Cooking for a huge amount of people was always fun with great music. Construction felt familiar at the work sites, being a part of everyone’s work team, and having meaningful conversations that will stick with me for maybe my entire life. Even just sitting at program was eye-opening to be on the other end, seeing everyone else change over the week.
I wanted be a staffer going into this experience, but serving as an SIT made me realize I wanted it even more. I loved waking the youth in the morning and serving them meals. I loved eating with them, having conversations, and learning about them and how their day went. I loved interacting with the staff and community, meeting the homeowners and seeing people around town. The whole experience of being on staff was what I always thought it would be, and more.
It felt normal to wake up with wonderful friends and have fellowship together.
It was such fulfilling work, but after every day you felt physically drained. You kept going because it was fun, and great to give yourself to the people around you and to a wonderful community. When my week was up, it felt like I had been in Chiloquin for a long time. It felt normal to wake up with wonderful friends and have fellowship together. I was sad to leave after being in such a wonderful place with wonderful people. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.
The experience I had this summer was one of the most important in my life. I felt like I grew as a person and it helped me become a man, but I also still felt like a kid. I could have fun, play games with youth and act silly, but still be responsible for my work and understand the world a little better. SSP has given me a great balance and learning experience that has already helped me in my life, and I know will continue to do so.
Editor’s Note: Austin Jones has served as a youth volunteer for five summers with St. Andrew UMC, Santa Maria 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.