by Jenny Lay
At the end of each spring, as Pine Cove ramps up in preparation for another summer of Christ-centered, others-focused, seriously fun ministry, there is a special group of people who are closing out one chapter of their lives and ramping up for some of their own adventures: high school seniors. And while these seniors have outgrown our youth camps and can’t yet apply to be traditional summer staff members, they are a valued group of people with a special place at Pine Cove.
Pine Cove’s programs for high school seniors have taken different forms and have been known by various names through the years, but one thing has remained constant. Pine Cove values these young adults enough to make a place for them at camp and to take the time to encourage, train, and equip them for their college years ahead.
Pine Cove’s first official program that included high school seniors was known as “Tim Team.” Tim Team, short for Timothy Team (a name taken from 1 Timothy 4:12), was formed in the mid-1980s. Based out of the Conference Center (today’s Woods family camp), Tim Team wasn’t just for high school seniors; any high schooler that was at least fifteen years old could apply to serve for a three-week session.
Tommy “Bordeaux” Jones did a stint on Tim Team in the summer of 1996. “The majority of what we did was meal service and a lot of the work that needed to be done around camp,” he explained.
TJ “Schmee” Nicholson served on Tim Team in 1998, the last summer of Tim Team’s existence. He reflected, “I remember that in the old dining hall we could only wash one rack of dishes at a time, so we would be finishing cleaning up from breakfast while we were starting lunch.”
But Tim Team wasn’t just about manual labor. Each summer, Tim Team was led by two Tim Team Directors, one male and one female summer staffer, who spent time intentionally discipling the team. Tommy called his time on Tim Team life changing. “For me, it was a maturing step in my faith, rounding out my view of what it meant to follow Christ. I realized that if you were going to be a disciple, you were going to serve, but it could be both fun and hard work.”
TJ also identified his Tim Team experience as a blessing, saying, “I was in a better place going into college because of the great men and women holding me to a higher standard. I’m so grateful. It made me who I am today. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The next program for graduating high school seniors was launched in the summer of 2002. This program, called Young Guns, was created for young men who had just graduated from high school. Kevin “Opee” East, the Shores director at the time, along with Chris “Knightlight” Legg, Pine Cove’s chaplain during that season, together created the program and its curriculum, incorporating service, discipleship, and adventure.
“Young Guns was born out of a combination of a desire to encourage boys to grow up to be men, rather than older boys, and a need to raise up future staff,” explained Kevin.
Paul “Regulator” McKenzie was in the very first class of Young Guns. He went on to be a Straw Boss, the leader of a Young Guns group, and to oversee the entire Young Guns program in later years. One of Paul’s favorite parts about the Young Gun program was the way teachable moments were utilized. Just as Jesus taught His disciples spiritual lessons by using their physical surroundings, Young Guns were taught countless valuable life lessons through both the planned and unplanned moments that occurred around camp. “What I loved and am shaped by are the teachable moments,” explained Paul. “My highest and fondest memories came out of those unique situations.”
Lessons, like how to handle failure, were taught from situations like an unfair paintball ambush. Young Guns learned about gratitude and stewardship through having to dig an old suburban, their only mode of transportation, out of a huge hole. Every situation was utilized to foster growth in character traits like courage, determination, service, stewardship, community, and true masculinity. Paul’s experience as a Young Gun impacted his college experience and beyond. “I was exposed to the concept of brotherhood, and I knew I needed to recreate that wherever I went.”
After a successful first year of Young Guns, there were requests for a similar program for young women who had just graduated. The Baby Ruth program, named after Ruth in the Bible and the desire for young women to embrace her godly character qualities, launched in the summer of 2003. Emily “Chips and Dip” Jernigan was a Baby Ruth at the Towers in 2015.
“Baby Ruths was the worst, best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said. “It was super challenging, but overall when I think back, it was a really humbling five weeks of learning to live selflessly.”
With many similarities to the Young Gun program, the Baby Ruth program plugged these young ladies into behind-the-scenes roles at camp and gave them opportunities to serve under the leadership of a Mama Ruth, to memorize Philippians 2, and to study concepts like identity, servanthood, and humility with other Baby Ruths.
“Studying Gideon was mind-blowing. I realized that God gives us our identity and that I couldn’t earn it,” Emily explained. “I learned about the danger of desiring man’s approval and the importance of instead desiring God’s approval. It was truly pivotal in my life.”
The Baby Ruth and Young Gun programs ended after the summer of 2015 and were replaced by Pine Cove’s current program for graduating seniors, Counselors In Training (CIT). In the CIT program, just-graduated high schoolers plug into staff positions at most of Pine Cove’s camps, including the eleven Pine Cove City teams. They are given the opportunity to rub shoulders with summer staff, to acquire a coveted camp name, and to get a jump-start on learning the valuable lessons that come from spending a summer on Pine Cove staff.
Chandler “Sunny Side Push-Ups” Fletcher served as a CIT on a City team for the summer of 2021. He said, “I loved Pine Cove so much growing up, and getting to stay connected with Pine Cove through the CIT program was one of the best things ever. Not only did it make me feel a part of Pine Cove, but it reinforced my faith tremendously.”
Besides training up staff for future summers, one of Pine Cove’s goals for the CIT program is to give high school graduates the opportunity to live in community with the current college students on summer staff, helping to prepare them for their upcoming college experience.
“Nothing I could have done during the summer after my senior year could have prepared me better for college than being a CIT,” explained Chandler. “Living away from my parents but also knowing I was safe and surrounded by fellow Christians was the perfect balance for being on my own. I went into my freshman year on fire for the Lord… Pine Cove’s CIT program was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Pine Cove’s mission is to inspire campers to walk intimately with Jesus and equip college students to change the world. What about those who are no longer campers but not yet college students? Whether through Tim Team, Young Guns and Baby Ruths, or the CIT program, Pine Cove values these graduating seniors enough to take their “in-between” summer and make it a summer of growth—as always, for His purposes and His glory.
Posted Feb 15, 2023