Yes, you read that correctly. Twelve students have forsaken sunshine, bikinis and alcohol to work outdoors in the rainy coastal range of Oregon.
The students signed up through Sierra Service Project based out of Carmichael, California near Sacramento. The students are from Washington State University and the University of Idaho. Next week students arrive from Central Washington University for a similar experience. And in April a group about fifty students aged twelve to eighteen who are affiliated with church youth groups from all over the west will arrive in Vernonia to work instead of play during their Spring Break.
Morgan Blair is a nineteen year old Virtual Technology and Design student at the University of Idaho. “This is a great excuse to travel and it looks good on my resume,” says Blair about his Sierra Service experience.
Sierra Service Projects was originally started by the United Methodist Church but in recent years it has been opened up and is now non denominational. “Basically anyone who wants to come out and serve god is more than welcome,”says Robbie Frederiksen who is a Regional Coordinator for the Portland office for Sierra Service Projects. “We’ve had people from the Mormon faith, the Catholic faith-anybody who wants to come out and work we are more than happy to have their hands. We actually have people here who don’t have a faith at all but want to be of service.”Frederiksen has been working with locals to organize the logistics for the work project.
The first group was building garden boxes for the Community Garden project at the Vernonia Schools.
Alissa Bertsch Johnson is the United Methodist campus minister at Washington State University and is leading the trip. Bertsch Johnson leads a service project each year through the Wesson Foundation. “Last year we went to Los Angles, this year we decided to do something more local in the Pacific Northwest,” Bertsch Johnson explains. She says that the service trip this year was entirely funded by a a couple from Pullman, WA. The couple provided a $40,000 grant which paid for the students to come to Vernonia this year and which will also fund twenty -four students next year who will travel for a mission trip to Nicaragua.
The first two groups will be staying at the Vernonia Christian Church where they are able to shower and use the kitchen to cook their meals. The larger group that arrives in April will stay in the school building.
“A lot of these students are taking their spring break to do this,” says Frederiksen“A lot of us have been getting text messages at night from our friends who are heading to Canada or Mexico or on a road trip across country with friends. It’s so amazing to see this group of individuals who said, ‘No. I’m going to go do some work for somebody else.’”
Hope Harvey-Marose is twenty, from Lewiston, Idaho and attends the University of Idaho. “This is a really good way to bring mission work home,” says Hope. “Sometimes people assume that mission work is always done overseas.”
The students receive no college credit for their time working in Vernonia. “This is just something they want to do,” adds Frederiksen.
David Hawbaker is twenty-four, from Pullman, WA and attends Washington State University. Hawbaker says this is the second Seirra Service Project he has participated in and is an assistant ministry leader for the trip “This is a great experience for us as well as the people we are helping,” he says. “A lot of people go on vacations and have a lot of fun, but we’re having just as much fun and we’re making a difference.”