Expectation, enthusiasm, energy! The weekend that was a year in the planning finally arrived-the 25th anniversary of SOOP in Phoenix, AZ, February 23-25. With it came an unforeseen cold snap in the weather that added an extra urgency in last-minute planning: figuring out how to keep people warm in all our planned outdoor activities.
Friday the SOOP house, along with our partner Goldensun across the street, became a beehive of preparation: wrapping patio perimeters with heavy plastic to ward off the stiff winds, gathering and testing patio heaters, hanging lights, setting up tables and chairs, fixing and putting out food, hanging photo posters, and greeting incoming guests from all over the US and Canada.
Huddled among the heaters on our quasi-warm, plastic-wrapped patios, we shared stories, food, laughter, memories, and new friendships. We learned that SOOP Phoenix was MCUSA’s first SOOP location that began in Peter and Rheta Mae Wiebe’s private home turned guest house for volunteers who wanted something more out of retirement than golf and books. We learned the story behind the acquisition of the big beautiful dining table and its 12 sturdy chairs that we use every day to build community around our common interests. We learned that over the 25 years of its existence, over 700 volunteers have come through the SOOP house giving countless hours of time to build and create space for homeless men and women, pack food boxes for the hungry, build ramps for the wheelchair bound, teach English to non-speakers, paint houses for the elderly, sort donations and stock a thrift store for refugees, glean citrus for local home owners, assist in classrooms, and bring career skills and expertise to fully remodel the guest house to its current comfortable home away from home.
Saturday evening former and current SOOPers, guests and friends of SOOP over the years enjoyed a beautiful and tasty catered meal served by the Goldensun staff and emceed by Peter, the founder of SOOP Phoenix, who regaled us with more stories and a deeper appreciation for the vision that resulted in such generous gifts of service to the people of Phoenix.
The weekend climax came Sunday morning at Trinity when SOOP volunteers were recognized for their service: those who hosted, those who served as SOOP volunteers, local supporters, board members, and those who participated in fund raisers to benefit SOOP. Most of the congregation was standing by the end of the recognitions. Clearly SOOP has had an enormous impact on the Trinity church family, as well as the broader community.
By the end of the weekend, our expectations for the celebration were met, our enthusiasm for SOOP was enhanced and our energy was turned into exhaustion, but the weekend was absolutely worth the effort. We’d do it all again! In fact, talk has it that the 50th anniversary is already in the early planning stages.