April 9, 2021
Dear Rod, Aaron, and the FUMC Leadership Committee,
For several decades, the congregation at Sacramento First United Methodist Church has been uniquely supportive of Sierra Service Project’s mission to build faith and strengthen communities through service to others. This gift reaffirms that ongoing trust. Thank you!
Rod, I’m always encouraged by your ongoing challenge to members of our church to find ways to exercise “the ‘doing’ of our faith.” It’s one of the most important reasons why Laureen and I chose First as our church home several years ago. From cooking and serving community breakfast, to participating in Staging a Miracle, to hosting Family Promise, the Methodist tradition of “doing all the good that you can” has a home at First Church, just like it has a home within SSP.
Almost a year ago, it became clear to us, just as I know it did for you, that 2020 would provide unprecedented challenges to our ability to undertake “the doing of our faith.” Once it became clear that we couldn’t host in-person volunteers in intentional communities, we prayerfully reflected on how to guide our participants as they grew in faith, while changing to adapt to a “new normal.”
Developing a new program model came with trepidation from long-time volunteers. With the eager engagement of our young adult staff, who lead a four-week online program from across the country, we launched our first online summer program, focusing on building faith and exploring ways to continue advocating for our community partners.
It quickly became clear gathering in this way was something youth participants sorely needed, as is evident in this parent testimonial:
“As parents, we had low expectations. Our kids have been disconnected for so long, with their primary social outlets being virtual and unfulfilling. Boy, were we mistaken! Our girls absolutely LOVED their time with their groups online! It was very engaging for both of them, and we greatly appreciate all the time and effort that went into making SSP as good of an experience as possible, under the circumstances.”
During the summer of 2020, 85% of youth said they would recommend our program to a friend (similar to our in-person summer program in 2019), and 92% said the spiritual program helped to strengthen their faith (an improvement over 2019). These numbers make it clear that this new way of building community may be different, but it’s no less impactful.
At this time, we expect a return to our typical in-person work for the summer of 2022, our 47th year of service. We are excited to slowly return to serving as the hands and feet of God with partner communities in a tangible way in the coming year. In the meantime, we are enthusiastic about growing new programs in 2021 that will build faith and serve our neighbors, while staying at a safe physical distance. The attached flyer highlights some of the new programs we are offering this year.
Although we are confident our online program will provide an avenue for youth to make new friends and grow in their faith, the reality is that the low participation fee we have set will not cover all of the program’s expenses. We project our online program will generate a modest revenue of $30,000 from participant fees. We have offered meaningful employment to 12 summer staff; with the people power invested from our staff, our budget relies on additional funding to underwrite the program. The total cost of running our 2021 online summer program will be $150,000, running at a loss of $120,000 if we rely only on participant fees.
This gift from First Church will go a long way toward solving this challenge. We have been approved for a Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan of just under $100,000, leaving us with a more manageable $20,000 funding gap. By helping us finish this year in a stable financial position, First Church is equipping SSP with the tools to continue growing youth in their love of God and service as we look toward our 50th year in 2025, and beyond.
When I think about my First Church family, my first thoughts are often of the kids who were barely out of their toddler years when Laureen and I first came through the doors eight years ago. Like me, they grew up seeing excited youth leave for SSP, and come back a week later transformed through the power of “the SSP experience.”
We want to ensure that our programs are available to these kids, who are now in middle school and ready to experience the radical acceptance and empowering affirmation that comes with a week at SSP. The continued support of First Church is a big step toward making that happen. Together, we will find new ways to support youth and serve community partners until it is safe to gather for in-person volunteer programs.
Thank you again for helping us be the hands and feet of Christ in our communities.
Director of Development, Sierra Service Project