When Ellie Graziadei stepped off the plane and arrived in Texas for the first time, she had no idea that she would be spending her next four summers on the road as one of Pine Cove City’s traveling staff members. Now, as a full-time Recruiting Coordinator, Ellie treasures her memories as a City staffer and considers City to be the not-so-secret gem of Pine Cove. With experience as a counselor, health assistant, media content creator, and director of details on City Team Canyon, Ellie has seen all sides of the energy, flexibility, and intentionality required to thrive on the road.
For some, City may be considered the most unique of Pine Cove’s camps. It certainly seemed that way to Matt Pierce, another Team Canyon staffer, who had not heard of Pine Cove before his interview. After all, an off-site day camp where staff live in host homes and transport equipment across the country in vans and trailers is certainly not what most people think of when they think of a traditional summer camp. But for Ellie and Matt, this is the only camp experience they have ever known.
According to Ellie and Matt, a typical day in the life at City begins with an early wake-up call around five or six in the morning. After an hour of quiet time and setting up around the church, campers start arriving at 8am. Not only do staff jump in the gauntlet every morning to welcome campers, but they go straight from the gauntlet into a high-energy Power Hour, City’s version of Club. “From there, the day goes by so fast,” says Matt, who remembers every day feeling like a full-on sprint. “By the end of the day, you’re like, ‘What in the world just happened?’” After Power Hour is Bible Study, followed by two activity classes, but unlike on-site camp, counselors run every activity class in order to stay with their cabin all day. “There is never a moment when my camper is not with me,” says Ellie, “because we want to maximize the small amount of time we have with them.”
The rest of the daily sprint consists of lunch (LUNCH?!), a third activity class, an all-camp game, Club, and reflection time. By 4pm, it’s time to send campers home with their parents, Bible study in hand. For Ellie, these touch points with parents were her favorite time of the day, and part of what makes City so unique. “It’s weird to say I loved sending kids home at the end of every day,” she says, “but I did, because we got to invite families to partner with us in the daily ministry of camp.” From drop-off to pick-up, counselors have 5-10 opportunities throughout the week to connect with parents, tell them how their camper is doing, and share with them what they learned in Bible Study. “You’re building a relationship with a kid’s parent who might not know the Lord,” says Ellie.
After campers leave for the day, the rest of the evening is reserved for staffers to spend intentional time with each other or with their host homes. Once or twice a week, staff participate in Topic Nights where they discuss key subjects like vulnerability or being men and women of God. “Your staff are your people,” says Ellie, “and you end up forging deep relationships with your team because they’re your only friends.” This includes weekends as well as weeknights. Not only do staff live in host homes and work together, they also travel together on Saturdays and spend their time off in a city where they may not know anyone but each other. “Our group of 35 got really close really quick,” says Matt.
Three nights a week, staff spend intentional time with their host homes, joining them for dinner or any evening activities the family has planned. “You shift from pouring into kids to pouring into families,” says Ellie. “It’s a whole separate ministry.” Ellie and Matt both agree that the generosity of host homes is astounding. “You just get spoiled every week,” says Matt. “Sometimes they’re up before you are, making breakfast.”
Through the generosity of host homes, staffers not only learn how to be hospitable but how to receive the hospitality of other believers. “We come in with the mindset of, ‘We want to serve you guys,’” says Ellie, “but we can only do that to a certain extent when they’ve welcomed us into their home. We have to allow them to also serve us.” Many host homes also provide an example of what it looks like to live as a Christian family. “I didn’t grow up in a strong Christian home,” says Ellie, “but if the Lord blesses me with a family one day, I will have tangible examples of things I learned in City host homes.”
It’s not only the generosity of the host homes that is astounding, but the generosity of the churches as well. Each week, camp looks slightly different because the church facilities are different, but more often than not, church staff go out of their way to make sure our teams have everything they need. For Matt, the kindness of White Rock Community Church made a huge impact. “At White Rock, the power went out and we had to move generators around for an entire day,” says Matt, who was Head Projects that summer. “The church staff helped so much.” Matt and his wife, who met while working for City, now live in Dallas and attend White Rock Community Church. “We visited because it made such a big impact on us, and when we walked in the door, the head pastor remembered our names.”
To Ellie, these partnerships with churches are the most compelling part of City’s ministry. The hope is that City will act as a catalyst for families to build long-term relationships with their local church. “A lot of parents sign their kids up for City because it’s an affordable day camp, and end up coming to church for the first time,” says Ellie. “I love that kids associate their great week at camp with a church in their town—that way, they have a place to return to.” Because of the churches’ partnership with our ministry, campers and families don’t have to wait an entire year to have an encounter with God. They can find it right where they live, by plugging into daily community with a church in their area.
Even though there is no such thing as a home base while working at City, Ellie and Matt agree that home is found in a myriad of other ways—through dependence on Christ, the generosity of host homes, fellowship with each other, and seeing families find a church home. “At the end of the day, the church is here and it isn’t going anywhere,” says Ellie, “that makes it all worth it—that’s why we do what we do.”
Posted Jan 6, 2022