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Bruce Ferguson

Bruce Ferguson

Summer Staff, The Fountains United Methodist Church, Fountain Hills, AZ

After a lengthy drive through the greenest scenery I have ever witnessed, California Highway 197 was nearing its end. A dense trove of Redwoods lined both sides, and where Highway 101 took over, the golden rays of the setting sun blessed everything they touched. With such a majestic reveal of Smith River, I knew I had the fortune of stumbling across something magical. With each passing week I spent there, the small town and surrounding Del Norte County revealed more and more hidden gems.

“With such a majestic reveal of Smith River, I knew I had the fortune of stumbling across something magical.”

Every road in Smith River twists itself through the naturally beautiful landscape. The trees are old, densely populating inland properties. Every worksite is immensely unique in terrain and foliage, but they all seem to have the same innate peaceful energy. Humans and nature coexist here; neither dominates the other.

Volunteering with Sierra Service Project at some of the urban sites, I have experienced many interesting, challenging, and unique worksites all in the best ways. However, Smith River offers a truly unique aspect to construction. The weather is perfect year-round, making it the most comfortable construction site I have ever experienced. My first summer there, I wore a jacket every day.

The ideal weather is provided by the ocean climate which neighbors our home at the Smith River United Methodist Church. Most mornings, there is a cool and dense fog that rolls in from the Pacific, which feels calming and wholesome. Such an exquisite climate allows for a large agriculture industry to thrive in Del Norte.

The small California county is home to internationally renowned cheeses, unbelievable beef and meats, and booming fruit and vegetable farms if animal products aren’t your thing. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to work at the Children’s Garden at First Five Del Norte, where nearly every variety of edible plant can be not only found, but eaten too. This garden was begun in partnership with Sierra Service Project and First Five, and to me, embodies everything that is SSP.

“For the Tolowa, these dunes are considered the center of the world, and the origin of the Tolowa people. It is truly a privilege and an honor to work here.”

Adventure Wednesday is a big part of SSP volunteer weeks, and the adventures to be found in Smith River are truly special. To begin the day, everyone goes to the dunes to work on conservation efforts with the Tolowa Dunes Stewards, who hope to restore the area to its former glory before the introduction of invasive species. For the Tolowa, these dunes are considered the center of the world, and the origin of the Tolowa people. It is truly a privilege and an honor to work here. SSP has provided so much support that the Stewards were able to get a grant for further removal. Any volunteers planning to return to Smith River can expect to see some amazing differences in the landscape.

After working for the first half of the day, everyone heads to Jedidiah Smith State Park for Water Day. Here, Smith River’s true beauty shines. Microbiomes and dense, tall trees block out almost all nasty weather, so if it is one of the rare days there is a storm, Water Day is still beautiful and enjoyable. The water is a beautiful, clear marine blue, and the bottom of the river can be seen at any point. Program and songtime are held on a sandy beach, and we barbeque under a redwood canopy where if you listen closely, you can hear Ewoks running along the branches.

“When you leave, your time here will remain with you forever, inviting you to come back soon.”

Every little and large charm of Smith River and the surrounding Del Norte county cannot be done justice with words alone. It is entirely magical and powerful, with the purest beauty nature can muster. When you leave, your time here will remain with you forever, inviting you to come back soon.

Editor’s Note: Bruce will be returning for his third summer on staff in Smith River, CA as the Site Director in 2020. Learn more about what makes serving on summer staff so life-changing, and apply between December and February!

Molly Leach

Molly Leach

Youth Board Member, Loomis First United Methodist Church, Loomis, CA

During my first SSP, I was assigned to a deck and ramp project for a man who occasionally used a wheelchair, and couldn’t get out of his house because it wasn’t accommodating for his needs. My group came into the project towards the end and got to finish it during our week.

“I finally understood why people kept coming back to SSP…it was the gratification of seeing something that completely changes another person’s life for the better.”

After seeing the look on this man’s face after he realized that he could begin to get parts of his life back, I finally understood why people kept coming back to SSP. It wasn’t because of the yam bread or the song time (although those are strong motivators for returning). It was the gratification of seeing something that completely changes another person’s life for the better.

We also knew this man had a hard time making ends meet, and when he presented us with ice cream at the end of the week, our hearts were warmed knowing he went out of his way to surprise us, despite us not expecting anything in return.

“I used to think SSP was just another summer camp, but that was before I had the amazing opportunity to serve others and give back in ways I didn’t even think were possible.”

When I think back to who I was before my first SSP, and who I am now, it’s a completely different person. I think about how I used to think SSP was just another summer camp, but that was before I had the amazing opportunity to serve others and give back in ways I didn’t even think were possible.

When I’m at SSP, it just feels good. Everything seems to have a purpose or clicks into place. I find that SSP is one of the best ways to learn about communication, working with others, and practical life skills. Without SSP, I don’t think I would know as much about power tools, or even fixing everyday items. I also learned how to make a mean PB & J, which is something I will definitely carry with me to college.

“SSP has changed me throughout four summers of service, and has shaped how I view other people and their situations.”

SSP has changed me throughout four summers of service, and has shaped how I view other people and their situations. I’m grateful for all the opportunities that SSP has given me over the years, especially serving as a youth Board member

Editor’s Note: Molly has attended four SSP trips with the First United Methodist Church of Loomis. She has served in Tsaile, San Diego, Spokane, and Chiloquin. Learn more about why Molly keeps returning to serve with SSP’s summer programs!

Rob Taylor

Rob Taylor

Board Member, Hope United Methodist Church, San Diego, CA

I strongly believe in the SSP mission, and that we are called to serve others and support all people, no exceptions.

I recently retired from an engineering career, and I want to give back to a society that has been so generous to me. I have also always loved working with youth, including my four kids. SSP blends my passions, allowing me to work on construction projects, support underrepresented communities, and tackle social injustice.

“We are called to serve others and support all people, no exceptions.”

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is from the Gospel of Luke: “From those that are given much, much will be expected.” I have been blessed in many ways. Now, I want to give back to help those in need and assist in the growth and maturity of others. 

I have always felt called to work with youth, and have been deeply involved with our SSP trips as a counselor over the last 15 years. This started first with my own kids attending, and now I get the privilege of working with our church youth. I say privilege, because our youth are truly amazing.

Through their participation in SSP, youth grow in their Christian faith, learn to selflessly help the marginalized, gain confidence by building with their own hands, and learn to be accepting of everyone. I’m so proud our church congregation supports them and our SSP mission trip.

“Through their participation in SSP, youth grow in their Christian faith, learn to selflessly help the marginalized, gain confidence by building with their own hands, and learn to be accepting of everyone.”

I love that SSP works in rural sites, because I feel closer to God surrounded by mountains, forests, oceans, and deserts. Feeling God working through me in the forests and oceans in Smith River, the rivers and forests in Chiloquin, and Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo Nation is amazing. I also love working in urban environments, because I see firsthand the need of those living in poverty and the marginalized among us. From Skid Row in Los Angeles, to the poverty in Stockton, to the border issues in San Diego, I believe we are making a small but important dent in combating social injustice.  

“We are making a small but important dent in combating social injustice.”

My favorite projects are constructing wheelchair ramps because you can directly see the need you are filling. One of my most memorable ramps was for an older lady in South Central Los Angeles. She had recently become wheelchair-bound and was not able to easily get out of her house. She prayed to the Lord for help. When we finished her ramp, she told every one of us we were truly angels sent by God. Seeing the comprehension on the faces of the youth was as gratifying as hearing the words.

Editor’s Note: Rob is one of our new Board members in 2019, and has participated in SSP as an adult counselor for many years with Hope United Methodist Church from San Diego, CA. See for yourself why Rob has continued serving with SSP year after year, by volunteering with us next summer!

Russ King

Russ King

Board Member, Point Pleasant United Methodist Church, Elk Grove, CA

My oldest son, Connor, went on his first SSP trip in 2010 with our church, Point Pleasant United Methodist Church in Elk Grove, CA. I had no idea what it was about, but I volunteered to put together the slide show of pictures to show during service at our church after the youth group returned. After seeing all the photos, I knew I wanted to go the next year. Fortunately, a spot opened up for me (we have more adult volunteers who want to attend than we have room for) and I was able to go the next year to Fort Hall, ID.

“Never have I been around such amazing young people that give me real hope for the future.”

The energy of the youth and the positivity of the staff absolutely hooked me, and I have gone ever since: Susanville, CA, Chiloquin, OR, Tsaile, AZ, San Diego, CA, Smith River, CA, Spokane, WA, then back to Tsaile, and this past summer back to Chiloquin.  I have built numerous wheelchair ramps, stairs, an awning, two roof projects, and a 100-foot long chain link dog run for the animal shelter in Smith River.

Never have I been around such amazing young people that give me real hope for the future. Plus, the ability to truly help people who are so deserving and see the appreciation first-hand makes it that much better. SSP is definitely my favorite week of the year. One of my favorite things is seeing youth from my work team go on to become youth Board members, staff, and even Site Directors. I like to think I have played some small part in building their love for SSP and serving others.

SSP is definitely my favorite week of the year.

A few years ago, my wife Patty and I took over as SSP liaisons for our church from Linda Harrell, who had been doing it for many years. She did such an amazing job and was so involved and loving. We were really not sure if the two of us would be able to fill her shoes, but we’ve done the best we can, and SSP is still a very big part of how our church reaches out to serve others. Our entire church supports our SSP trip and efforts through fundraising and prayers, and we really couldn’t do it without them.

Editor’s Note: Russ is one of our new Board members in 2019, and has been an SSP adult counselor with the Point Pleasant United Methodist Church youth group for nine years, alongside his wife and group liaison Patty. Both of his sons were also SSP youth volunteers. Russ is a licensed Mechanical Engineer specializing in residential HVAC design and energy code compliance.

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