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Building faith through service

AmberMarie Meyer, left, of Big Bear Lake and Samantha Persad, right, of Milwaukie, Ore., were in Del Norte this past week doing home repairs for local residents through the Sierra Service Project. Many volunteers learned carpentry skills for the first time.
AmberMarie Meyer, left, of Big Bear Lake and Samantha Persad, right, of Milwaukie, Ore., were in Del Norte this past week doing home repairs for local residents through the Sierra Service Project. Many volunteers learned carpentry skills for the first time. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Without prompting, Phyllis Tedsen will excitedly explain all that she’s planted in her new raised bed garden: “I have peas, swiss chard, green onions, and radishes,” Tedsen said with a chuckle.

Having a raised bed is easy on Tedsen’s 88-year-old knees, especially after having two total knee replacements, open-heart surgery and sore, swollen feet. But even accessing her raised bed has been difficult recently since her access ramp was removed due to it being dangerously rotted.

Thankfully for Tedsen, a new access ramp was installed this past week by youth volunteers with the Sierra Service Project, a Christian-based organization completing 20 home-repair projects for low-income residents in Del Norte County this summer.

Tedsen and others applied for the work to be done on her home through the Smith River United Methodist Church, which is hosting the volunteers and invited the Sierra Service Project to the county.

For six weeks starting July 1, more than 350 youth volunteers, 14 to 18 years old, from California, Oregon and Nevada, have come to Smith River
 to work on construction projects. Each week, a new group of volunteers arrives on Sunday, receives a crash-course in carpentry skills Monday morning, and then descends on a Del Norte resident’s home to do something like fix an awning, install a handrail or access ramp, put a new roof on a home or paint a house.

“The main thing is empowering youth to do projects that society says they normally aren’t equipped to do,” Evan Griffiths, Smith River site director for Sierra Service Project, said outside of Tedsen’s home on Wednesday.

All of Sierra Service Projects are done to California code (even outside of the state) and construction supervisors make sure that the precise measurements are done correctly.

But beyond that, the kids run the show.

“If you show them how to do it once, then they can do it on their own for sure,” said construction supervisor Drew Izzo. “We’re on top of the precise measurements, but when it comes to cutting wood or mixing concrete, they are very competent.”

Phyllis Tedsen, of Fort Dick, had a new ramp installed by volunteers with Sierra Service Project this week, making it easier for her to reach her beloved garden.
Phyllis Tedsen, of Fort Dick, had a new ramp installed by volunteers with Sierra Service Project this week, making it easier for her to reach her beloved garden. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
William Southall, 15, of Pinole in the East Bay area,  had never done any type of carpentry work before, and he was surprised that the only thing the volunteers cut with the table saw was the lumber.

“Yay! You didn’t cut anything, I mean except the wood,” Southall said, after helping another volunteer with a clean cut of lumber.

“I like doing it because I know it’s about a lot more than building; it’s always nice to do something for someone else,” Southall said.

AmberMarie Meyer, a 15-year-old from Big Bear Lake, found the experience “very heartwarming,” and she’s enjoyed learning how other people in other parts of the state like Del Norte live, speak, and treat strangers.

“People up here are very nice,” Meyer said.

The Sierra Service Project volunteers are housed at Smith River United Methodist Church and are using shower facilities at Smith River Baptist Church. 

Youth volunteers Alec Mayo and Kenzie Johnson check a beam to see if it’s level.
Youth volunteers Alec Mayo and Kenzie Johnson check a beam to see if it’s level. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
“Sierra Service Project’s mission is to build faith and strengthen communities through service to others,” according to the organization’s press release. “Started in 1975, the Sierra Service Project offers youth from churches of all denominations a chance to grow their faith by putting it into action in service to others. In the process, youth learn valuable skills and lessons, and begin a life-long commitment to volunteerism and service.”

Tedsen was also scheduled to receive a new handrail for the concrete stoop to her garage, making it easier to access, and soon she’ll be able to use her electric scooter again to access her home and raised-bed garden, using the new ramp installed by volunteers.

“They say you either use it or lose it, so I’m going to keep on going,” Tedsen said.

Reach Adam Spencer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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