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Deb Manahan

Deb Manahan

Board Member, Valencia United Methodist Church, Valencia, CA

My journey with Sierra Service Project started in the early 2000s. It began with a call from Valencia United Methodist’s Pastor Pete Falbo, asking if I would chaperone a group of youth on a mission project called SSP. All he said was I would be driving a minivan full of high schoolers from Southern California up to somewhere in Oregon.

Little did I know from the first moment I stepped into Valencia United Methodist’s parking lot on a Saturday morning in July, my life would be forever changed.

From day one, my role as an SSP adult leader has been to foster the growth of our youth as they navigate their journey.

I must admit, it was a rocky start with the youth. I was an adult they didn’t know or trust. It took a brave parent Terri and her son Colin to open my heart to SSP. My first SSP story includes teenagers thinking of me as the unknown adult, rather than someone who just wanted the youth to have their own mission project experience. I always tell them it is not about me…it’s about them.

From day one, my role as an SSP adult leader has been to foster the growth of our youth as they navigate their journey. It’s not about me, it’s about the hundreds of youth who feel the call to take a week out of their busy summer, give up their phones, have little sleep, pay to work in the rain and high temperatures, and enter a wonderful community, with God-filled moments and life-changing experiences. Though I have never had a child of my own, since that first week at SSP I have been known in our youth group as Momma Deb.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the hundreds of youth who feel the call to take a week out of their busy summer…to enter a wonderful community with God-filled moments and life-changing experiences.”

Spirit walks have always been transformative for me. It is difficult to say which has been my favorite, but I will never forget our walk at Canyon de Chelly. We had just lost one of our church’s youth, Colin Gore, in a tragic accident. He loved SSP deep in his heart. On the evening of the spirit walk, I knew as I looked out and saw a heart on the canyon wall that Colin was with God, and he was looking down upon us.

“When they hear and see the passion I exude for Sierra Service Project…[they] begin to understand how transforming SSP can be.”

People say I am crazy to leave on a 9-day mission trip in the heat of the summer with 20 youth each year. They think I am even crazier when I tell them I drive a 12-passenger van, we sleep on the floor, pay to work on houses, give up cell phones, and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day. When they hear and see the passion I exude for Sierra Service Project and our God because of my experiences with SSP, they still call me crazy, but also begin to understand how transforming SSP can be. I am so honored to be a board member for Sierra Service Project.

Editor’s Note: Deb is one of our new Board members in 2019, and has been a consistent group liaison and adult counselor for Valencia United Methodist Church’s youth group trips to SSP for many years. The leadership of adult volunteers like Deb makes SSP’s work with youth each summer possible! Learn more about serving as an adult counselor.