Youth Board Member from Vista United Methodist Church, Vista, CA
Youth today juggle classes, extracurriculars, and everything in between, leaving no room to breathe and grow. The pressure to be a well-rounded person sometimes compromises one’s passion. Sierra Service Project allows youth to discover not only different communities in the world, but also themselves, as they explore their own identity and passions.
At least once in our lives we have been told something like, “life is about the journey.” It’s very cheesy and cliché, but also true. At the beginning of a week at SSP, you are plunked into a place you have most likely never been before, whether it be a gym in Chiloquin, or the red clay of Tsaile, Arizona. You are in new surroundings, with new people. You find yourself embraced by an open community who wholeheartedly accepts you, for you. Throughout the week you discover new things you never would have known otherwise, about yourself and others, in a safe and nurturing environment free of judgment; a safe haven.
“Seeing God’s work in action proved to me, that good exists in this world of hurt; it just needs to be facilitated; igniting a new hope in me.”
I have always struggled with my faith. Growing up, I was taken to church every Sunday, and sat in the same pew between my parents while the pastor proceeded with their sermon. My first time attending SSP sharply contrasts with my most recent summer trip in 2018. The main aspect that has altered my entire relationship with my faith is my overall confidence. Before SSP, I never took notice of how seldom I dedicated myself to growing my faith. It was a topic I never thought to explore for myself. My natural instincts led me to piggyback on the ideas of my parents, or popular beliefs. I always labeled myself as a Christian and attended church, but failed to interpret God’s teachings for myself.
Sierra Service Project helped me open myself to the world, resulting in me opening myself to God. Seeing God’s work in action proved to me, that good exists in this world of hurt; it just needs to be facilitated; igniting a new hope in me. SSP allows youth to see the bigger picture of the world; both good and bad. The SSP experience puts the world into perspective. The overall message of Sierra Service Project is to provide service to others above self, and contribute to the betterment of communities in need.
“Even though Mary didn’t speak a single word, her tears and strong hugs were enough to bring our work team to joyous tears.”
I will never forget my first year at SSP in Tsaile, Arizona, where our work team had just finished the top of a wheelchair ramp. The homeowner, Mary, no more than five feet tall. Every day we worked on her ramp, she would sit under a tree in a chair, with assistance from her nephew. On our last day, Mary took her first stride out of her house by herself. This was Mary’s first time stepping outside without assistance in a long time. Even though Mary didn’t speak a single word, her tears and strong hugs were enough to bring our work team to joyous tears.
This moment made me realize – this is God’s work. Sierra Service Project truly shows in order to see good in the world, you must put good into the world. There is an active love felt by every single person involved that promotes a foundation of growth and providing service above self. As a participant, you learn there are so many things much bigger than you happening in the world. This, in turn, opens your perspective to the world and your ability to create change.
Editor’s Note: Andrea Maniti is a senior that attends SSP with Vista United Methodist Church. She has been elected this year to serve as a youth representative on SSP’s Board of Directors. This article is featured in SSP’s 2018 Annual Newsletter; read all the stories written by youth volunteers, summer staff, and community members. Request a hard copy newsletter to be mailed to you.