Camp Culture | Stories | Summer Staff
You can’t open a summer camp without a few invaluable ingredients. A large enough property, for one. The buildings that will feed, house, and entertain your campers, for another. But most importantly—especially if your constant refrain is “Our Staff Is Our Program”—you need the counselors, health assistants, photographers, and other college students who will make up your summer staff.
With the recent opening of the Springs, Pine Cove’s newest youth camp (and its first outside of Texas), the task of hiring Jesus-loving college students to make up its staff quickly became a top priority. And one that Springs Director Caleb “Wheelin’” Carter knew couldn’t happen without the Lord’s provision. The search was on—and so were the prayers.
“It was so clear to me after being around Pine Cove since 2007 that if the Lord doesn’t build it, the ministry will not meet the Pine Cove/Kingdom of God standard that we have,” Caleb explains. “So from the start, there was a lot of prayer that the Father would provide staff in the same manner that He provided the property: supernaturally, in accordance with His nature as a provider.”
One of the first steps in this new staff search? Find some returners. Not Springs returners, obviously—those didn’t exist yet. Enter: every other Pine Cove camp.
“Right away, there’s kind of this mentality of like, ‘Alright, cool. If we want this to be a Pine Cove camp, there’s gotta be Pine Cove people there,’” shares Towers Director Andrew “Get Smart” Boshell.
‘Returners,’ the shorthand for staffers who have spent at least one summer at camp before, are a huge way Pine Cove’s camps maintain their culture, year after year and decade after decade. It’s the returners who pass down the traditions, cheers, attitudes, and lore that makes a Pine Cove experience recognizable as Pine Cove from a camper’s first summer to their last.
“Every single camp director at Pine Cove is an incredible man or woman of God,” says Caleb. “I sincerely consider them all friends, and I actually know them and have shared meaningful time with each one. So with that context in mind, it suffices to say I ‘hollered at my bros’ in order to start talking and praying about whom the Lord wanted at the Springs this summer. Not whom I wanted, and not whom they preferred to give up, but the staffers that the Lord wanted here.”
“From the start, there was a lot of prayer that the Father would provide staff in the same manner that He provided the property: supernaturally, in accordance with His nature as a provider.”
Is it tough, though, for a camp director to give up a beloved returning staffer to a different camp? The short answer, according to Andrew: no.
“It’s pretty easy knowing that they’re still coming back to Pine Cove to serve. It’s harder when you have staff that are long-time faithful staffers who are just done working and they move on,” Andrew continues. “But in this regard, it’s like, ‘Man, you’re coming back to camp. You’re just filling a different role. And it just happens to be at a different camp.’”
Figuring out exactly who to ask to transfer to the Springs didn’t come down to who lived closer, or who Caleb wanted to have on his team. It ultimately came down to who the Lord called on to serve at the Springs.
“There was a posture from the get-go of whatever the Lord wants to do, even if it doesn’t make logistical sense,” explains Caleb, who served for three summers as director of the Ranch before his move to the Springs.
In all, the Lord led a total of 44 returners to the Springs, including 13 from the Ranch, 10 from Pine Cove City, and seven from the Towers. Every single camp gave up at least one staffer to send to the Springs for its inaugural summer.
One such staffer, Matt “Best Chick-fil-A Cow in the DFW Area” Williams, was spending his second summer serving at the Shores when he began to consider moving to the Springs.
“The camp looked really beautiful,” Matt says, “And I was like, ‘Dang, that’d be a really cool place to work at, or just to experience maybe going down there.’”
First, though, he would need to have a conversation with Caleb—not necessarily an easy task in the middle of summer when both were serving at different camps. But twice during the summer of 2021, Matt found himself placed in a situation where he could speak with Caleb, first at the Shores during a leadership weekend, and then at a classic East Texas staff hangout spot: Fresh. The Lord was at work!
“[There were] just a few really cool moments where Caleb was just kind of put in front of me and I got to just speak to him about wanting to go to the Springs,” Matt marvels.
Another staffer that God purposely put in Caleb’s path: Timbers counselor Brady “Posty” Burnett. The Shores was hosting a three-on-three basketball tournament, and Caleb was not one to miss it. Neither was D-2 basketball player Brady Burnett.
“Midway through the tournament, [Brady] came up to me and said, ‘Hey, aren’t you the guy that’s gonna direct the Springs in Georgia?’” Caleb remembers. “He proceeded to tell me with certainty that he wanted to be at the Springs after two amazing summers at the Timbers. This was a huge moment because I had been praying for the Lord to build this new camp with His actual hands, and draw people to it. I hadn’t yet begun my interactions with other camps, and for Brady to approach me gave me my first confirmation that the Lord has this thing in His hands.”
Brady, left, and Matt, right, at the Springs.
One by one, Caleb’s new team was assembling. Among them: Caroline “Volly” Coon, a former Ranch staffer who stepped into the role of Springs Director of Details for the summer of 2022.
“It has been so beautiful to see the foundation for the culture of the Springs be created before our eyes,” Caroline shares. “We have returning staff from almost every Pine Cove camp, and we have all been able to bring ideas and traditions from camps we have worked at in the past and see the seeds being planted for what the Springs will look like for years to come.”
This camp culture mashup didn’t happen by accident; it was carefully designed and prayed over by Caleb and his team: Men’s Director Trent “UGA” McClure and Women’s Director Lorissa “PG” Dollar.
“Trent, Lorissa, and I all felt pretty confident about the camp backgrounds and traditions that we’ve seen,” Caleb says, “But we have been immensely blessed to listen and learn about how the Towers, Shores, Silverado, Woods, City, Timbers, Ranch, Outback, Ridge, Bluffs, Chimney Point, and Crier Creek have done things. We’ve got staff from all of those camps, and have incorporated things from almost every one. I’m confident in the way that I like to lead a Pine Cove camp, but what a fool I would be to not celebrate the gifts and strengths of the other camp teams we have!”
“I don’t explain the Gospel differently to a fourth grader than I explain the Gospel to a senior in high school, because that message is just so good. It’s such good news that whoever hears it—it’s gonna be amazing.”
Rather than create any sense of division, resentment, or entitlement, this melting pot of different Pine Cove camps has instead produced a noteworthy sense of unity throughout the Springs staff.
“There has been an incredible culture here at the Springs of ‘No Springs Returners,’” Caroline explains. “In other words, we all are new staff in a sense, and all had the opportunity to look at this summer with fresh eyes and a new perspective.”
Matt marvels at the same thing. “It’s crazy how the Lord put together our leadership team from so many different camps, and there are no hiccups within the leadership team!” he shares. “There’s just some supernatural unity and supernatural bond that the Lord has allowed to happen.”
The Lord’s supernatural provision extended beyond team unity, of course. It also equipped the staffers in some of the big changes they faced when switching from a family camp to a youth camp. Or, as in Matt’s case, from a high school camp to an elementary/middle school one.
“The mission and the message stay the same,” he points out. “I don’t explain the Gospel differently to a fourth grader than I explain the Gospel to a senior in high school, because that message is just so good. It’s such good news that whoever hears it—it’s gonna be amazing.”
Within this patchwork quilt of various staffers from different backgrounds and with different ideas of how camp should look, God stitched in His ultimate plan for the Springs. While the buildings were being refurbished and the staffers were pouring in from across the country, He made the Springs look exactly the way He knew it should.
“There’s just chills that kind of come over you that like, ‘What, whoa, this is the camp that we wanna experience. This is the camp that we’ve known,’” explains Matt.
That’s not to say it’s been easy every step of the way.
“At the beginning of Week 3, we noticed that a lot of our new guy counselors—who are all incredible by the way—were getting discouraged as tiredness set in for the first time for many of them,” Caleb recalls. “Trent and I had a meeting with the leadership guys late one night and had a gut check to understand the role that we all have to inspire our staff to lean on Christ and the Holy Spirit to take our service and ministry to a level that’s beyond human strength. The Lord really moved in that meeting and lit a deeper and stronger passion for the opportunity we have to display His glory in this place. Camera cut to lunch two days later, and after a meeting that all of the guy staff had, we see all of guy side coming down the hill from the cabins—campers included—roaring and chanting in unison. It made me literally cry a little!”
Matt recalls that moment with fondness. “There was just a fire that the Lord just kind of lit underneath us!”
It was a fire that spurred them on to continue running all summer.
“The moment that you wake up,” Matt explains, “You hit the ground running in prayer. And then you get to run after the Lord, and run after the kids’ hearts in every single moment.”
“A normal Pine Cove summer is already impossible without the Lord, because our vision is for it to be a true ‘glimpse of heaven.’ We can’t conjure that up. God must move in us for it to happen.”
Everything that led to the Springs having its incredible first summer—from that patchwork staff to the moments that spurred them on to run—was ordained by the Lord.
“Being a part of the first-ever Springs staff is an honor and a gift. It has been so clear that the Lord has us all here for a reason,” shares Caroline. “I just knew that the opportunity to be here for the first summer was something that was too special and too ordained not to be a part of it.”
This ordained staff was brought together, even in the unlikeliest of circumstances, to step forward and say, ‘Here am I. Send me.’
“The Springs has become home to them as they have learned to rely on God to do something impossible,” Caleb explains. “A normal Pine Cove summer is already impossible without the Lord, because our vision is for it to be a true ‘glimpse of heaven.’ We can’t conjure that up. God must move in us for it to happen.”
Talk to anyone who was on property at the Springs this past summer and it becomes clear that everything—every brick in the buildings, every drop of water in the pool, and every staff member—was provided by God.
“I mean this is really simple, and hopefully you hear the sincerity of it: God is Jehovah Jireh, and He provides,” Caleb declares. “God has made it clear from the beginning of the project that He wants the Springs to happen. I guess another way I could word this is: when God is clearly interested in something, acknowledge that and move out of the way and marvel at what He does next.”
Posted Sep 15, 2022
Categories: Camp Culture, Stories, Summer Staff (Browse all)
Tags: counselor, ministry, springs, staff, stories, story, summer, summer staff, youth camp