Join the SSP Alumni Association

Rick Eaton

SSP’s Executive Director 2001-2018
SSP Staff Alumni Association Leadership Team

Throughout my years as SSP’s Executive Director, the community of people who had given their summers to serve as SSP staff members was never far from my thoughts. During the final evening of staff training every June, I would deliver a little talk to the 40 or so young adults who would be hitting the road in the morning for their summer sites. I would always remind them of all those summer staff members who had gone before them, who had sweated and toiled to create the wonderful organization whose leadership was now passing into their hands. I knew that being reminded of this legacy would be a source of inspiration and strength to them.

Today, the staff alumni community consists of hundreds of people ranging in age from 19 to 70+ living in the United States and throughout the world. The goal of the SSP Staff Alumni Association is to bring this community together for fun and fellowship, personal and professional growth, and to strengthen Sierra Service Project. For the past year, a small team of us have been working steadily to formalize the Alumni Association. If you are an alumni staffer, I hope you will get connected and join us!

Editor’s Note: Founding members can join for a $50 annual fee, and will receive a tumbler with the new Alumni Association logo! Email Rick for more information, or join the other 15 founding members today!

Backpack Delivery to Lukachukai

Backpack Delivery to Lukachukai

Chuck Schaller

Former Board Member and Adult Counselor, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Carmichael, CA

Michael and I had the privilege of delivering 300 backpacks to the Lukachukai chapter house on the Navajo Nation – a journey of 1000 miles. SSP volunteers and staff generously donated and assembled 25 for each grade, 1-12, filled with grade-appropriate school supplies. The backpacks were graciously and thankfully received and unloaded by members of the chapter house. According to our contact Paula, she will advertise their availability to the local families and then distribute them via a drive-through pickup day.

The Dine’ received a generous monsoon season this year, the first in eight years, which freshened the beauty of the entire reservation. There are however reminders of the years of drought in the countless dead and dying pinon’ and juniper throughout the reservation. Road improvements were encountered in several areas, slowing the trip, but inspiring optimism for the future. Yards and homes have received recent loving attention. Everywhere we stopped on the nation, people were wearing masks in solidarity and with dignity, a moving commitment to the health of their neighbors.

“Especially concerning has been the vulnerability of elders whose language and cultural knowledge are irreplaceable.”

The Navajo Nation is home to about 400,000 people. Covid-19 has hit Native communities harder than any other in the United States, with three times the hospitalization rate and two times the death rate as White communities.[1] Because the Navajo live in multi-generational families, crowded homes have put them in greater jeopardy. Especially concerning has been the vulnerability of elders whose language and cultural knowledge are irreplaceable. The urgency of the situation was evident in the signs and billboards we saw along the way urging people to observe COVID precautions.

We were surprised to see a few major projects under construction, most notably a modern, grades 1 – 12 school [Tsaile-Wheatfields], a hospital [Dikon Chapter], and new housing. We were told that this was part of the American Rescue Plan Act. As a way of allowing families to isolate during the pandemic, we also saw “tiny homes” that Navajo teams are building with the support of the Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) and the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.

It was deeply gratifying and consoling for us to be part of SSP’s contribution to a wider effort to support and encourage the Dine’ people as they look to the future.

[1] Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/investigations-discovery/hospitalization-death-by-race-ethnicity.html


Editor’s Note: Thank you Chuck and Michael for delivering the backpacks and telling your story in our annual newsletter, and to the many SSP supporters who contributed $18,000 worth of school supplies that were assembled into 300 backpacks. Join SSP next summer for a hands-on service-learning week in Tsaile, AZ. Volunteers complete carpentry home repairs and learn about Navajo culture. See current spots available.

Loomis Serves: Molly Leach & Melanie Oliver

Loomis Serves: Molly Leach & Melanie Oliver

Molly Leach

College Student, First United Methodist Church of Loomis, CA

My first SSP in Tsaile, AZ was the summer after my 8th-grade year and after that week, I was hooked! I was honored to serve as a youth member on the SSP Board for a year and had hoped to spend my last summer at SSP back in Tsaile until Covid hit and rearranged my senior year. Little did I know when I served at SSP in Chiloquin in 2019 that it would be my last. While I was bummed about what I lost that year, including my senior prom, my high school graduation, and my last opportunity to serve as a camper at SSP, I also knew that I had more than many who were struggling to survive.  

As I struggled to find light and purpose during the pandemic, I jumped on the opportunity to serve in new ways with SSP! It was a wonderful diversion to get out of the house and work in the back room of the SSP office filling backpacks for kids in the community in Lukachukai, which is where I had my very first SSP experience. I have to say, I was surprised at how much those hours in the SSP office reconnected me to the community where I had once served years ago and reminded me of the importance of doing what we can, no matter how simple it seems, to help others.  

“It felt good to close the circle on such a special part of my life by passing the torch onto him.”

This summer, a small group of us who missed our senior year SSP experience, worked on a house with Bruce on a Day of Service in Rancho Cordova. It was so fun being together again working on a project and eating PB&J’s for lunch. We talked, we laughed, and we worked hard, just like we had on similar sites at SSP. An added bonus was that I brought my little brother with us and introduced him to his first SSP experience! It felt good to close the circle on such a special part of my life by passing the torch onto him. When someone asks me why I spend time volunteering, I say, “Why wouldn’t I?” SSP has taught me that if we have the time and energy to share and someone needs our help, why wouldn’t we? 

Melanie Oliver (& Molly’s parent!)

Christian Education Director, First United Methodist Church of Loomis, CA

At FUMC Loomis, we LOVE SSP! Since its earliest days, SSP was deeply rooted in our church community, philosophy, and tradition. SSP is what the younger kiddos hear about for years and anxiously await the time when they are old enough to go and experience SSP for themselves.  

The pain and suffering in the world have become excruciatingly difficult to process over the last couple of years. We stand on the sidelines, often with privilege, seeing the despair day after day, week after week, and desperately wanting to do something… anything, but not knowing how or what. SSP’s Days of Service, and working on the house with Bruce this summer, stuffing backpacks for Lukachukai, and putting out the call for donations to the Chiloquin Food Bank, made a huge difference not only in the lives of those we are serving, but in our own. Having a wider variety of opportunities allows for a wider variety of gifts to be used!

“There is nothing like the act of serving that brings out the best in people.” 

There is no greater joy for me as a pastor than seeing people realize and utilize their God-given gifts. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have the gift of scraping and painting, but it scratches the surface (pun intended) of what is happening at a glance! Maybe they have the gift of persistence, the gift of a generous spirit to those they are working for and with, the gift of organization, or inspiration, the gift of fixing tools, etc. The list goes on and on. There is nothing like the act of serving that brings out the best in people. It is imperative that we show the upcoming generations what this looks like so they will continue this crucial work for generations to come. 

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, SSP for providing opportunities that help heal the world. Thank you for reminding us that if we each give a little, it adds up quickly, and that the work of the Gospel is never done. If any of God’s children are suffering, all of God’s children are suffering.


Editor’s Note: Thank you Molly and Melanie for telling your SSP stories in our annual newsletter, and for your hard work! We are always looking for volunteers to participate in our programs repairing homes in the community and in our office behind the scenes. Reach out if you have time or resources you’d like to use to support SSP’s mission.

Cards for Humanity

Cards for Humanity

By Joshua Phillips

Staying connected and being an active member of any community is really important. That’s why we wanted to host a space this summer for people to feel a sense of togetherness.

The main goal for our ‘Cards for Humanity’ Choose an SSP Adventure (CASA) session was to encourage participants to reach out to different members of their communities, whether that be on a small personal scale, or for larger contributors, like our first responders. A lot of our SSP participants even found another SSP buddy to be pen pals with.

Letter writing has always been something special to me. Being raised in the digital age, letters almost seemed like a relic of my grandparents’ generation. It was something that older members of my community seemed to do, but I was always fascinated by how a note could travel the globe to reach another person.

“Having a tangible note that I could hold onto was very exciting for someone without a phone.”

I have family in the Midwest. Growing up, it was so special to wait a week or two to continue a conversation with my cousins about what life was like in an area so different from my own. Having a tangible note that I could hold onto was very exciting for someone without a phone.

Writing a letter at home is really simple. A piece of paper, an envelope, a stamp, and an address is all you need to send a piece of yourself to someone else. Just tell them how your day was going, or maybe a funny event that happened to you. On a broader level, you can let your local fire department or community organization know how appreciative you are of the job that they do.

The letter can be as simple or complex as you want. I personally like to get stationery supplies and wax seal mine with plants from my garden for a personal touch. Once your letter is sealed up, drop it in your mailbox to be sent off. Hopefully, in a week or two, you’ll get a response and the cycle can start all over again. How exciting!


Editor’s Note: Did you know SSP will return to in-person service in summer 2022? Whether you participate yourself or know someone who volunteers, you can carry this practice of letter-writing into next summer! As the summer approaches, we will post mailing addresses on our partner community pages – stay tuned!

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