NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – For many, creating a bucket list means putting to paper the experiences that one would not want to leave this world without having savored at least once. For Lois Plank of Wellman, Iowa, service with SOOP was high on her list.
Plank, who lives with cancer, was drawn to SOOP because of the opportunity it offered to participate in service along with her family.
"[SOOP] is one thing I thought would be very rewarding for our family to do together," said Plank. "We had never done anything like it before as volunteers."
SOOP (Service Opportunities with Our Partners) is a program of Mennonite Mission Network that provides short-term service opportunities to families and adults of all ages to connect with faith communities in locations across North America.
Plank first heard of SOOP through Ben and Mary Jane Newcomer, who serve together as the directors and hosts of the SOOP unit in Glendale, Arizona. Since its founding in 1993, the Glendale SOOP unit has connected more than 400 volunteers with nonprofit organizations throughout the Glendale/Phoenix area.
Initially, Plank suggested the idea of serving together to her sisters, Miriam Miller and Ruth Hershberger, as something they could do together in between Plank's chemo treatments. However, the group soon expanded to include spouses and more family members. When the group met together at the SOOP unit guest house in November 2018, there were seven people total.
"What initially started as a sisters volunteer time turned into more," said Hershberger. "It was a family bonding time."
Each weekday with SOOP followed a similar routine. The family would wake up and meet for a quick breakfast, then head off to different volunteer locations for the rest of the morning. Some chose to help with remodeling projects, while others served with local food pantries or helped with English programs for refugees arriving in the Glendale community.
By lunchtime, the family would meet back up at the guesthouse and plan an afternoon tour to one of the many natural landmarks around the area. Come evening, Plank and her siblings would alternate supper duties between themselves. Afterward, they would swap stories about the day's volunteer placements while sitting around the wooden table that spans the guest house dining room.
By the end of their two-week stay, Plank and her siblings found that the dynamic between them had changed.
"It was surprising how birth order of siblings no longer seemed to be as important," said Hershberger. "We discovered new qualities and strengths about each other."
"We had so many different experiences," recalled Plank. "It left a lasting impression on me." She explained that since returning home, she and her husband have taken a renewed interest in the volunteer opportunities in their own community.
"Life for me is living from day to day," said Plank. "[God] was so gracious to give me those days with my family."