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Community Crossing: Chiloquin

Community Crossing: Chiloquin

By Chiloquin Staff

Caroline Hines (Site Director), Maggie Guekguezian (Spiritual Life Coordinator), Kelly Andrus, Eliza Haney, Jess Parker, and Will Wood

 

SSP has had a strong relationship with the Chiloquin community and local organizations for seven consecutive years, with a long history of partnership spanning the last two decades. We were thankful to partner with this community again this summer, albeit in a new online setting, and focus on the relationships we’ve cultivated over time. 

This summer, our site relied both on staff members and a community speaker to provide quality Community Crossing sessions each morning for our participants. Will Hess, Lead Youth Initiative Coordinator of the Klamath Tribes, was our community speaker on Wednesdays. He shared about his own experience growing up in Chiloquin as well as the history of the Klamath tribes and their land. He is also an advisor for the Klamath Tribes Youth Council, which works to empower young leaders in the community and encourage healthy habits. The council is active on social media and holds regular events to engage youth in the community, especially throughout the pandemic. We began working with Will in the summer of 2019 when SSP and the Tribes hosted a collaborative youth kick-off event during preparation week.

Environmental Justice

We framed our staff-led content around Will’s presentation on tribal history and his work with youth in the community. Kelly Andrus’s presentation was about the land and preservation efforts in the Klamath Basin, so we scheduled it on Tuesday. This served as an introduction to the land the tribes are living on before Will came to speak with us. We also incorporated an activity after the presentation so participants could integrate their learning with environmental service. This activity utilized the materials from their SSP-in-a-Box which we sent each participating group before their week began. Participants could choose between planting seeds that were in their package, use the chalk to create some art inspired by nature, or go on a walk throughout their neighborhood or local area to pick up as much litter as they could.

Food Insecurity

Both Jess and Eliza’s presentations went hand in hand, encouraging and leading participants to imagine how they can effect change in their own communities. On Thursday, Jess talked about food deserts and how this relates to the Chiloquin community, and Eliza followed on Friday with how the youth can combat food insecurity in their own communities. Jess described how colonization has had an immeasurable impact on the environment and availability of first foods that the tribes historically relied upon. These foods included fish, berries, and acorns that could be found in the environment and provided an important cultural legacy that could be passed along between generations. Lack of transportation also decreases access to and availability of fresh, healthy food. Although there are grocery stores about 28 miles away in Klamath Falls, there is no public transportation which presents a big hurdle. Eliza led participants through how to plan a food drive to engage larger portions of their communities to help those in need, showing the kind of action they can take to serve when their week of SSP was over. These two presentations worked well after Will’s because the participants already had a solid understanding of the history of the tribes and why some folks may be food insecure today.

“Encouraging and leading participants to imagine how they can effect change in their own communities”

Our staff selected Community Crossing topics to cater to our individual strengths and interests. Because we were not focused on the job-specific tasks that would normally take up quite a bit of time during an in-person summer, we had more time to craft our own presentations. Our staff was able to harness our own experiences as students and young adults in advocacy to create a unique program. Jess is studying nutrition and sustainable agriculture at Cal Poly, which fit in perfectly with her presentation on the impact of food deserts in the Chiloquin area. Eliza’s presentation on service planning was backed up by her studies in education and working with youth. And, since Kelly is studying natural resources and forest ecosystems, she aimed to involve her passion for the environment into a presentation about the efforts to protect and preserve land in the Klamath Basin. These presentations really came from the heart as they involved our passions for SSP and the causes we hold dear.

“Our staff was able to harness our own experiences as students and young adults in advocacy to create a unique program.”

We wanted to make sure that Community Crossing sessions were engaging and dynamic so participants would enjoy what they were learning about Chiloquin. When planning the activities we included with our presentations, we reached out to Chiloquin contacts, including Patty Case with the Oregon State University extension center and folks at the Chiloquin Public Library, to ask what we could do for the community from afar. The extension hosts a summer lunch program, providing free meals to all Chiloquin youth ages 1-18. They asked us to write postcards or letters that would be distributed with meals each week and maintain a connection with youth in the community. In previous years, work teams have rotated assisting with games during the lunch program. Each Thursday after Jess gave the presentation on food deserts, we spent about half an hour writing and drawing words of encouragement to send to the lunch program coordinators so that they could include our notes with their meals!

“These presentations really came from the heart as they involved our passions for SSP and the causes we hold dear.”

Looking Forward

Friday’s theme, “Seed,” was designed to empower participants to utilize what they learned to bring about change in their communities; planting the “seeds” they found during their week with SSP. We wanted to empower youth for future activism so they could serve in their own communities, even if they couldn’t serve in-person in Chiloquin. Eliza’s presentation on service planning gave youth the tools they needed to make a difference that is feasible where they lived. She walked through how participants could create their own food drive to aid a food bank in their local area, and also provided ideas for other potential community service opportunities. A big advantage of meeting online was the opportunity to apply concepts we talked about to each individual’s home community.

“We wanted to empower youth for future activism so they could serve in their own communities, even if they couldn’t serve in-person in Chiloquin.”

We got a lot of feedback from participants who had been to SSP Chiloquin in the past that they learned more about Chiloquin in their online week than in their in-person week. We would love to incorporate what we learned this summer online into an in-person summer experience, infusing learning opportunities with hands-on service experience. To prepare for future service experiences with SSP in Chiloquin, our 2020 Community Crossing presentations are available to you to learn more and get excited:

We hope this year SSP can support our constituents by providing programs that foster fellowship and connection using the technology we have at hand. We can continue to build community during this pandemic by providing spaces for people who love the mission of SSP, and their friends and family, to spend (virtual) time together.

Editor’s Note: How would you like to be involved with SSP in the coming year? Complete our program interest survey by October 1 to let us know what kind of opportunities you’d like to see. Visit our Instagram and Facebook pages to watch our summer program videos and hear more about our community partnerships.

Community Crossing: Smith River

Community Crossing: Smith River

By Smith River Staff

Bruce Ferguson (Site Director), Austin Jones (Spiritual Life Coordinator), Erin Kistler, Colleen Mirza, and Alli Muesling

This summer was our eighth year partnering with the Smith River and Del Norte County communities. Over the years, SSP has cultivated deep connections with community members and partner organizations in this region to serve  and advocate with local residents.

Community Crossing: Building Bridges

Through SSP’s online program, we had three Community Crossing sessions led by community partners and staff: 

  • Card making for the Del Norte Senior Center and Smith River UMC
  • A presentation from Dar Caldwell about the K!DS Learning Garden
  • A presentation from Tara Dettmar about the Tolowa Dunes Stewards

Each of these organizations has added depths to SSP’s in-person summers, providing insight into Del Norte County’s environment and residents. We worked together to plan and carry out creative sessions and presentations about the community, ensuring participants would get a sense of the area’s culture, history, and dynamics without being physically present.

The card making days were a great way to invite participants to engage with the community, producing tangible gifts for organizations who have hosted us in the past. It was not quite the same as seeing the joy on a homeowner’s face when they see their finished  ramp, stairs, or shed, but it was the closest we could get. For the Del Norte Senior Center, we created a Google Slides presentation where participants could add individual slides with words of encouragement and affirmation in whatever creative way they saw fit. Each slide will be printed out and mailed to the Senior Center as a way to stay connected and spread love during an isolating time.

“The card making days were a great way to invite participants to engage with the community, producing tangible gifts for organizations who have hosted us in the past.”

For Smith River UMC, we hand made cards on construction paper, and used Zoom to record a video of participants sending their love and excitement for future partnership, which will be shown to the church congregation. These projects allowed volunteers to creatively engage in service and show how they can continue to serve while at home. While sheltering in place, we have found that doing things with our hands is a great stress-reliever which reduces the tendency to live only in our minds.

“While sheltering in place, we have found that doing things with our hands is a great stress-reliever which reduces the tendency to live only in our minds.”

A 2019 youth participant creates art for the K!DS Learning Garden, or “Dar-den” as it’s affectionately called.

Dar’s presentation was a delightful whirlwind tour of the K!DS Learning Garden and all it has to offer the Smith River community. He made a point to highlight SSP’s previous contributions to the garden, so youth could see what types of projects they could possibly be involved in for the future. He also emphasized the importance of helping keep community gardens alive during this time, when communities and individuals are struggling with food access. As of June 2020, the Del Norte Triplicate reported that the current pandemic has increased the need for food in the community by 200%. In discussion with Dar and the staff, youth explored how they could be involved with responding to food insecurity in their local communities. Participants actively asked questions, wanting to learn more from Dar about the K!DS Learning Garden. They were excited about potentially getting to visit the garden and serve with Dar during future trips to Smith River.

“As of June 2020, the Del Norte Triplicate reported that the current pandemic has increased the need for food in the community by 200%.”

Tara’s presentation was incredibly informative, both about the biodiversity of Del Norte County and the history of indigenous Tolowa Dee-ni’ and their ancestral lands on the Tolowa Coast. This was a great opportunity for us to discuss tribal sovereignty and how colonization has had innumerable impacts on the Tolowa Dee-ni’ people. We were excited to engage participants in this conversation as awareness of racial and environmental justice increases throughout the country. Bringing those issues to light this summer was impactful as participants could understand how larger movements affect communities like Smith River.

Advocacy While Sheltering in Place

Community Crossing sessions were not the only opportunities to talk about service and justice. Afternoon Choose an SSP Adventure sessions focused on advocacy were, to our great joy, very impactful and fulfilling. At the Calling Your Reps 101 session, youth and adults showed up ready to roll up their sleeves and make some calls. Each person was passionate about a particular cause (or many!) and eager to make a difference in their local community. While this session was specifically tailored to shelter in place (you can call your representatives from your bed!), we look forward to advocacy-focused programs becoming a staple of SSP’s future programs. We envision a broad array of ways youth can engage as advocates: focusing on the community in which we are serving, building broad skills to carry back to our home communities, and more.

“We look forward to advocacy-focused programs becoming a staple of SSP’s future programs.”

Advocacy sessions are also a fantastic opportunity to present a community-centered, liberatory vision of Christianity that contests the power-hungry, colonialist legacy that the Church, as an institution, has historically too often left in its wake. We as Christians can acknowledge and take responsibility for the latter while championing the former, emphasizing the radical politics of Jesus and his dedication to uplifting the oppressed. Youth want to know how to repair a broken world; let’s show them that faith can be the basis of that reparation.

Online Program: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table

This summer allowed us to push our creativity in forming a new and engaging online program for participants. As a staff team, we were able to bring our own talents and interests to the table in a way that would not normally be integrated during an in-person summer. As we got to share our own passions, we also got to learn more about the passions of our youth and adult participants.

Smith River UMC has hosted SSP for many years and continues to be an anchor for us in the community.

Since the main focus of the summer was relational ministry, we were able to connect with the youth more than during an in-person summer. With small group sizes, we were truly able to learn about each person and share about our own lives. The online program really allowed us to take advantage of technology in new and creative ways. In-person programs don’t usually allow for this and we were presented with unique opportunities. We created team covenants using Zoom whiteboards, and sent digital cards with Google Slides and Zoom recorded videos. Technology allowed us to expand our creativity in connecting with not only the participants but our community partners.

“We created team covenants using Zoom whiteboards, and sent digital cards with Google Slides and Zoom recorded videos.”

An advantage of the online program was the ability to reach participants who might not have been able to attend a regular SSP session, whether due to scheduling conflicts, cost, or travel time. The opt-in nature of the program meant youth and adults alike could participate as it was convenient for them. We had numerous participants of all ages who had never served with SSP before, and were excited about the possibility of doing an in-person summer. Afternoon Choose an SSP Adventure sessions intentionally promoted cross-site intermingling, allowing youth and adults to meet other groups of participants and staff that shared their interests. Just like in-person programs, it is always great to meet new people and form new connections through this mixing of people from different geographies and backgrounds.

“Afternoon Choose an SSP Adventure sessions intentionally promoted cross-site intermingling, allowing youth and adults to meet other groups of participants and staff that shared their interests.”

Through designing and implementing this summer’s program, we found what really matters is making connections and having conversations with each other. You do not need anything but a second person to talk to in order to build a relationship and understanding. We enjoyed the opportunity to casually allow conversation to flow, just as it does during free time at a traditional in-person SSP. Often, forming strong connections does not need to start with serious topics, because relational ministry is just about making a new relationship with someone, which is one of the core values of SSP. Adapting to the circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about has made this especially apparent, as we all needed supportive outlets to safely discuss the joys and concerns in our lives – youth and adults alike.

“We found what really matters is making connections and having conversations with each other.”

In the next few months, we hope SSP can continue to support youth, youth leaders, and young adults by inviting people to come together and simply talk about the unprecedented times we are all experiencing. People are feeling isolated and uncertainty is weighing heavily on everyone.. With remote learning, youth get the opportunity to receive academic material, but there isn’t really a place to simply socialize, connect with their peers, and really grow in faith and service. SSP looks forward to providing this opportunity and offering spaces for people to come together. 

Editor’s Note: SSP is looking forward to fostering community year-round. We invite you to complete our program interest survey by September 30, where you can share feedback on how you’d like to see SSP live out our mission this next year. Staff alumni are also invited to socialize, network, and reconnect with the SSP community at monthly happy hours, the final Friday of each month from 5-6:30pm Pacific.

Community Crossing: Lake County

Community Crossing: Lake County

By Lake County Summer Staff

Kelsie Currie (Site Director), Em Harvey (Spiritual Life Coordinator), Meghan Andrus, Jordan Garvine, Catie Parker, Evan Rosenblum

Our summer theme “Grounded” revolved around growth – exploring what we need to grow, seeking out healthy environments and challenges, choosing how to be present, and spreading growth into our communities and daily lives. Our staff team strived to create community from far apart, and to show volunteers growth is possible and present in all situations. We hoped to show God is an abundant source of love and strength when going through periods of change, desolation, or anything in between. SSP’s overall goals are to empower youth and help young people to build their faith and grow. The program this year, though very different, accomplished these goals, and encouraged youth to carry the “SSP Spirit” into their communities and lives at home.

“We hoped to show God is an abundant source of love and strength when going through periods of change, desolation, or anything in between.”

Community Partnerships

This was our first year back to serve Lake County in two decades and our staff was excited to share new community connections with participants. Serving with Lake County allows us to connect with advocates and organizations who are doing life-changing work year-round in their community. We were invited to Lake County by a coalition of local agencies providing wrap-around services to community members. Shannon Kimbell-Auth has a long history with SSP, as the pastor of the church that hosted us during our last summer in Clearlake back in 1999. Shannon works with Project Restoration as the Manager of Community Integration, working to connect community members with organizations that provide support for their health and wellness. We also worked with North Coast Opportunities, an organization working in several California counties to assist “low-income and disadvantaged people to become self-reliant.” These organizations are working to build stronger communities and networks for those who need support. Lake County is the poorest county in California, lacking sufficient resources for transportation, mental health support, and housing. Our partnership with these Lake County nonprofits helped SSP raise awareness for their advocacy efforts and educate participants on these important issues.

“Serving with Lake County allows us to connect with advocates and organizations who are doing life-changing work year-round in their community.”

Community Crossing sessions allowed both staff and participants to gain a deeper understanding of the Lake County community, the participants’ own communities, and the world around them. We educated participants on the challenges Lake County faces and ways they continue to embrace their community with resiliency. During training, SSP staff met with three different Lake County community partners, and discussed the struggles their community faces including houselessness, poverty, fire devastations, mental illness, and unemployment. This provided us with valuable insights into their community and their advocacy that we amplified during the summer. 

Shannon Kimball-Auth leads staff and board members on a tour of Lake County and Project Restoration’s work in the community.

We started the week by sharing about the overall area of Lake County, including the high statistics on poverty (22.8% of Lake County’s residents live below the poverty line) and unemployment rate (11.6% as of July 2020), while also addressing the natural beauty of the region. It was important to give participants a foundational understanding of the community so we could have productive conversations about service and advocacy. Catie led this session using Kahoot to keep the participants engaged and excited to learn more, and also included time to go outside for chalk art to spread joy and love to their own communities. In breakout rooms we discussed what facts about Lake County surprised us the most and what issues we would prioritize, often leading to deeper discussions about what values are most important to each participant and why. To close, we defined what ‘community’ means to us, acknowledging what communities we are a part of, and what we value most in a community.

“We defined what ‘community’ means to us, acknowledging what communities we are a part of, and what we value most in a community.”

Understanding Poverty

Kelsie also led a session on poverty, addressing different assumptions we have heard about those experiencing poverty. In order to build empathy and understanding, we wanted to call attention to the idea that one can only understand poverty after experiencing it personally. These activities also helped show why our service and advocacy alongside community partners is valuable. In order to build understanding, we led a poverty simulation where we had lost our job and only had $1,000 left to our name. We had to make a series of decisions as a group in order to make it through the month. It began by asking questions about what job to apply for, how far to live from work, and what food to buy, then progressed to what to do if your child was starring in a school play, but your neighbor would pay you if you helped them move. We continued to have to make other difficult decisions where we had to prioritize how to spend our money on a tight budget. For example, would we accept a coat from a friend? Would we spend half our money to drive across the country in order to attend our grandpa’s funeral? We then divided into breakout rooms and discussed which decision was most difficult to make. This simulation opened our eyes to the difficult decisions many people, including some in Lake County, have to make every day and led to discussions on how we can change our assumptions about those experiencing poverty.

Fire Preparedness

Evan and Jordan led a discussion on the fire risk and trauma associated in Lake County, discussing how half of the county has been burned since 2012, and many properties are not insured due to legal or structural issues. Fire danger has been a serious issue in Lake County that has exposed the inequity that exists for many, including lack of access to safe housing, healthcare, and transportation. Uninsured residents may have very limited ways of recovering if they lose their homes and belongings in a disaster, putting their safety and financial stability in jeopardy.

One of the many burn scars across Lake County, resulting from widespread wildfires.

Halfway through the presentation, Jordan played alarm sounds and told all participants to pack everything they had in three minutes due to a fire evacuation, to imitate similar experiences of those who live in Lake County. This activity shed light on how disruptive disasters can be, including the stress and anxiety that can come from always being on guard. We discussed both what they learned from the fire presentation and what they decided to grab during their evacuation simulation. 

Resiliency

To end the week, Meghan led a presentation on resiliency, both on what it is and how to build it up. We discussed how we respond to stress and anger, and plan for realistic ways to make our responses more effective. We then gave time for the participants to draw and write down their core values to remind them that during difficult times it is important to find what grounds us. This tied in well with Em’s program throughout the week as participants reflected on their soil and growth. Our community partner organizations work with residents to build their own resilience as they grow in their general health and wellness. 

“The eye-opening simulations allowed participants to begin to understand the complexity of the decisions faced by those experiencing poverty, providing context for our advocacy and partnerships with local organizations.”

Through Community Crossing sessions, participants got to form a unique community online while learning about our partners in Lake County. The eye-opening simulations allowed participants to begin to understand the complexity of the decisions faced by those experiencing poverty, providing context for our advocacy and partnerships with local organizations. We designed activities this summer to provide an understanding of the Lake County community and the support we can provide from afar. Our passionate community contacts are consistently working to provide these resources, and we can’t wait to see these partnerships evolve in the future!

Editor’s Note: Whether or not you participated online this summer, complete our program interest survey to let us know how you’d like to be involved with SSP in the coming year!

Community Crossing: San Diego

Community Crossing: San Diego

By San Diego Summer Staff 2020 

Ryan Forletta (Site Director), Kate Grobey, Kathryn Henry, Shelby La Rue (Spiritual Life Coordinator), Joshua Philips, and Ashley Rios

Sierra Service Project’s site based in San Diego is blessed to have strong connections including nonprofit organizations, community advocates, church congregations, and binational partners. This summer, we invited Pastor John Griffin-Atil (Executive Director of the Imperial Beach Neighborhood Center), Robin Echols-Booth (Volunteer Coordinator at the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve), and Pastor Guillermo Navarrete (El Faro Border Church) to be guest speakers at the Community Crossing sessions during our online program. These speakers captured the spirit of our binational community work that has been developing since 2015 (although we have worked with Guillermo since 2008!)

One of the highlights of our program this summer was working with Guillermo and the shelter he works with in Tijuana, called Roca de Salvacion. Learning from Guillermo and visiting this shelter has been a valuable aspect of Adventure Wednesday for participants and staff, allowing for relationship-building and understanding between communities. This summer, we were thankful to find ways to creatively connect with youth in the shelter through bilingual Zoom conversations. Guillermo and Ryan facilitated a conversation in which youth in both countries were able to learn from each other and practice their language skills. Topics ranged from favorite ice cream flavors to the social and political differences between the United States and each youth’s home country in Latin America.

“Learning from Guillermo and visiting the shelter has been a valuable aspect of Adventure Wednesday for participants and staff, allowing for relationship-building and understanding between communities.”

For our daily Community Crossing sessions, we wanted to include an activity that would allow participants to connect with the community using the knowledge they gained from our speakers, as they would during an in-person program. Our community project, related to the bilingual conversation, included a fundraiser for the migrant shelters in Tijuana. Participant program fees during an in-person summer would typically provide honorariums for speakers, so we prioritized these fundraisers to make sure we could still support our community partners. As a staff team, we originally set out with the goal of raising $400, but were able to raise over $2,500 for the shelters. This is thanks to a two-part fundraiser which allowed us to share our service this summer with the SSP community as a whole.

The first part of this fundraiser entailed the San Diego staff team spending the first week of the online summer making friendship bracelets. The idea was to sell the bracelets in pairs; if you bought one, the other would go to a youth in a migrant shelter in Tijuana. All the funds from each purchase will be donated to the shelters, which amounted to a total of $528 through friendship bracelet orders alone! We also invited each donor to write a message of hope in the order notes, which were translated into Spanish and attached to the bracelet that will go to Tijuana.

“The idea was to sell the bracelets in pairs; if you bought one, the other would go to a youth in a migrant shelter in Tijuana.”

In order to raise awareness for the shelters and the friendship bracelet fundraiser, Ryan ran for 12 hours straight at the end of the summer program, and invited his network to sponsor a certain dollar amount per mile – totaling over 50 miles! This proved to be a very effective method of raising funds. Most of the people who signed up to sponsor Ryan’s run were friends and family members of the San Diego staff team. We raised $2,003 for the running portion of the fundraiser. Combining both fundraisers, 48 donors raised $2,531 for the shelters, an amazing collective feat.

Combining both fundraisers, 48 donors raised $2,531 for the shelters, an amazing collective feat.”

Over this summer it became evident SSP can be an organization focused on much more than a summer of hands-on service. One of the most intriguing ideas for year-round service opportunities came from Guillermo. The shelters in Tijuana are seeking to provide distance English classes for migrants during the pandemic. Guillermo has been installing computers into each building and is gathering English teachers to call in over Zoom to give lessons. We hope to coordinate with Guillermo to provide English lessons consistently throughout the year. Beyond being the site director this summer, Ryan is also SSP’s year-round Regional Coordinator in San Diego. He will be the main organizer of this project on the US side, and is excited to invite those who are interested in getting involved. We’ll be sharing more about this opportunity as the details develop during the fall of 2020.

“We hope to continue impactful collaborations with the binational community throughout the year by viewing service in new and creative ways.”

While the SSP’s 2020 summer season has concluded, we hope to continue impactful collaborations with the binational community throughout the year by viewing service in new and creative ways. Other opportunities for year-round service and learning might include offering talks from our guest speakers like Pastor John, Robin, Pastor John Fanestil of Via International, and US Border Patrol. Each talk could have a community project associated with it;we anticipate these opportunities will be beneficial while we are still social distancing! SSP’s San Diego site is blessed with so many community contacts we can continue partnering with over the years, whether from a distance or in-person, to make a meaningful impact throughout the year.

Editor’s Note: Have you served in San Diego with SSP? Share your ideas on how we can remotely connect with community partners during the 2020-2021 school year by completing our 2020 Program Interest Survey, due at the end of September. To learn more about San Diego’s summer program, visit our Instagram and Facebook pages and watch our summer program videos.

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