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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.

Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith

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

SSP is a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some, it’s a week to get away from home and be free, and for others, it’s a week of working hard and making friends. There is no one right answer to what SSP is because everyone has their own story, and I love telling mine.

For me, the concept of unplugging has always been difficult. Growing up in a technology-filled world really does influence your day to day life, whether you like it or not. My first time at SSP, I was not having it. The idea of having to go ‘off the grid’ for a week was absolutely absurd in my eyes. I questioned why everyone was so willing to go, and my overall attitude towards the trip was poor at best.

Upon arrival at my first SSP in Spokane, I dragged myself through the first two days, still believing with my whole being what I was doing was silly and unimportant. Soon, my whole attitude changed.

“Being with my team for the day with no phone, no electronics, and a group full of people I didn’t know was the best thing that happened to me that trip.”

I started out dreading it. Our first full workday? In the sun? I kept saying it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until we ended up heading into the city of Spokane on Tuesday that my attitude did a complete 180°.

Being with my team for the day with no phone, no electronics, and a group full of people I didn’t know was the best thing that happened to me that trip. We laughed, shared stories, learned about each other on a personal level, and goofed around. That day in Spokane with my work team showed me what SSP was all about: community, hard work, and just opening your heart to the people around you.

“That day…showed me what SSP was all about: community, hard work, and just opening your heart to the people around you.”

Ever since then, SSP has been something I look forward to every year, and I just haven’t been able to get enough of it. I constantly rave about it to my friends, peers, and random people who ask me about the stickers on my water bottle or the cool design on the back of my shirt. SSP provided me with a new outlook on the world, and I am so excited to keep spreading that love and acceptance to everyone as my journey continues.

Editor’s Note: Amanda is a youth Board member for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. She is part of the youth group at Point Pleasant United Methodist Church, a long-time participating SSP congregation, where SSP staff are also hosted for debrief at the end of each summer. Join Amanda in the life-changing experience of volunteering at SSP this summer!

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.

Cindy Chow-Snavely

Cindy Chow-Snavely

Board Member, Church of the Good Shepherd, Arcadia, CA

I didn’t understand the pull of SSP for my husband and teenage kids. Port-A-Potties, occasional showers, PB&J sandwiches (EVERY DAY!), sunburns, sleeping bag accommodations, bumps and bruises, tarred and paint-stained clothing, disheveled exhaustion, and ravenous appetites upon return. Oh, and they had to pay to participate.

And then I went. And I experienced it for myself.

“I didn’t understand the pull of SSP for my husband and teenage kids…and then I went. And I experienced it for myself.”

Teenagers learning how to use power tools. Buddies supporting each other with ladders. Youth taping, priming, and painting interior and exterior walls. Teams building wheelchair ramps. Roofs being repaired. Poverty-stricken families who cry with appreciation after seeing their homes being renovated. Disabled veterans donating pizza lunches in thankfulness to work teams, with what little money they have. Shy teens encouraged by others to sing, dance, and share their opinions. Confident teens allowing themselves to become vulnerable. An open community that welcomes the unique characteristics of all. A supportive community that allows the special gifts of so many to blossom and be celebrated. A teaching community, providing so much good work to others, physically, emotionally, and faithfully.

“As an adult counselor, I get to see youth suddenly gain confidence in their abilities…those moments are priceless.”

From Loleta, CA to support the Wiyot tribe, to Imperial Beach, CA to help neighborhoods in need, my SSP experiences have been personally eye-opening. SSP introduces participants to different people, ideas, and places.  We learn about power saws, paint prep, building techniques, and safety practices. I’m still nervous about being entrusted with construction work, but thankfully, SSP groups work together to learn and perfect the technical aspects of projects. As an adult counselor, I get to see youth suddenly gain confidence in their abilities to accomplish new skills and work as a team. Those moments are priceless.

Each time I participate in a week of SSP or in a Board meeting, I feel inspired to grow in my faith, my own personal development, and become more patient, open, and accepting. I’m also reminded how God has blessed my life – indoor plumbing, a comfortable home, a wonderful family, a great job, and so many other worldly things…including PB&J sandwiches.

“Thank you, SSP, for helping me to put my faith into action.”

In turn, it’s important to me to show appreciation for what God has blessed me with, by helping make the world a better place. Thank you, SSP, for helping me to put my faith into action. I feel I’m helping to change lives for the better – the lives of others, as well as my own.

Editor’s Note: Cindy is one of our new Board members in 2019. She and her husband Kevin are members of Church of the Good Shepherd, a long-time SSP participating group. Her son and daughter were SSP youth volunteers for five years each! To see why SSP is such a transformative experience for adults like Cindy, volunteer with us during the summer of 2020 at one of our five locations.

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