​Dorothy Miller, a former participant in Service Opportunties for Older People -- the former name for Service Opportunities with our Partners -- reads to children at a Headstart site in Carlsbad, New Mexico, in 1993. Photo provided. 

Compiled by Arloa Bontrager
Wednesday, June 9, 2021

In the Mid-1980s, as many as 90 people were serving with Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM), a predecessor agency to Mennonite Mission Network. At this time, SOOP (Service Opportunities with Our Partners) was known as Winter Voluntary Service (VS). MBM staff witnessed how retired adults offered many gifts, and had significant life experiences, greater flexibility in their schedules, and  an eagerness to share their gifts. Seeing that this demographic could be tapped in a broader way, beyond winter service, MBM began to consider a more formalized program for this group.

April 1989: Mennonite service agencies, at a VS director's meeting, asked MBM Service Ministries to take the lead in developing of a program to "provide more opportunities for older adults to share their experience, skills, wisdom and love with people who are struggling in a difficult world." The intent was also to encourage older people to "grow, change, face new challenges ... and to witness to service as a viable and rewarding framework for life."

December 1989: MBM joined with the Inter-Mennonite Council on Aging (IMCA), the predecessor agency to Mennonite Association of Retired Persons (MARP), to form an advisory committee of "older adults." This committee would lay the groundwork for developing service programming specifically intended for older adults.

At this point, Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCCC) had shown interest in working together with MBM/IMCA and postponed development of its own potentially similar programming to cooperate with the developing efforts of MBM/IMCA. MCC Canada was informed of all developments and invited to participate as much as possible.

August 1990: The advisory committee launched a program outline — a short-term service program designed for older adults, jointly administered by MBM and IMCA, with the guidance of an Older Adult Advisory Committee. They chose the name Service Opportunities for Older People (SOOP). Service locations were developed that would provide a significant service/learning experience, as well as satisfy work needs and meaningful fellowship. Suzanne Lind, of MBM, and Barbara Reber, of IMCA, were the first staff persons to administer the new SOOP program. Five volunteers served the first year of SOOP, with the first ones serving in Glendale, Arizona. They were provided housing and oversite by Peter and Rheta Mae Wiebe.

June 1993: MCCC staff, provincial VS coordinators and Eastern Canada regional representatives agreed to join the SOOP partnership, providing opportunities for older adults in the Canadian Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches.

June 2010: The MARP board determined that it had effectively fulfilled its mission as an agency and decided to discontinue its ministry. Thus, the SOOP partnership, which continues to the present time, consisted of Mennonite Mission Network and MCC Canada.

July 2015: After years of careful consideration, the SOOP name was changed to Service Opportunities with Our Partners. This change reflected a desire to shape programming in a way that emphasized mutual partnership between the administrative agencies, volunteers and local hosts. It was also a response to a request from more families and younger people wanting to serve for shorter periods of time and in flexible timeframes.

Impressive 30-year numbers

Since 1991, there have been 2,006 individuals who have served with SOOP; these individuals participated in 5,095 SOOP experiences (many SOOPers serve more than once).

The top 15 hosting locations over the past 15 years:

Phoenix, Arizona874
Tucson, Arizona526
Carlsbad, New Mexico297
San Antonio, Texas265
El Dorado, Arkansas242
Akron, Pennsylvania188
Gotha, Florida165
Brooksville, Florida154
 Immokalee, Florida125
Petitcodiac, New Brunswick, Canada124
Americus, Georgia108
Brownsville, Texas91
Washington, D.C.88
Kykotsmovi, Arizona85
Sarasota, Florida79


And the top 15 "sending" states and Canadian provinces:


Manitoba, Canada767
British Columbia, Canada199
Saskatchewan, Canada124
Alberta, Canada105
South Dakota81






​Arloa Bontrager is Mennonite Mission Network's director of SOOP (Service Opportunites with our Partners) and Youth Venture. 



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