Whether they serve on a regular basis or for just a day, volunteers at Highland play a vital role in helping us keep the camp experience affordable and exceptional at the same time. This year, Highland was blessed to have four different volunteers work with our summers camps for multiple weeks at a time. It was pretty special to sit down with each of them and hear their stories.
Gandhi Kalloo of Trinidad served as a cook for three weeks, preparing food for both summer campers and guest groups. A trained chef, Gandhi came with a wealth of culinary knowledge and skills – so much so that some of his friends and family at home thought that perhaps being “just” a camp cook was not worth his time. However, he believes that there is a worthwhile art to serving even simple camp foods in an appetizing way, and that, even more importantly, a Christian camp setting is a significant place for renewing and centering one’s faith.
In addition to seeking a time of spiritual renewal for himself, Gandhi was looking for a way to give back to the Mennonite church, which played a big part in funding his schooling. He decided that volunteering as a cook at a Mennonite camp would fit in with this desire, as well as affording him some practical experience in handling food allergies and serving large groups. Virginia Mennonite Missions workers in Trinidad recommended Highland to Gandhi and helped facilitate the connection with us.
Gandhi was surprised by some of the cultural differences related to food preparation and eating he encountered here. He noted that the prepared foods that would be an unusual luxury for cooks in Trinidad (packages of cut and seasoned potatoes, for example) are considered basic and easy here, and that very few people here stop to thank the cooks for the effort they put into preparing meals. He was also amazed at how the other staff would frequently break into song, saying that he often felt like he was living in a musical. Gandhi enjoyed watching the interactions between the young people on staff, and commented that an accepting atmosphere for everyone – regardless of appearance, age, or ability – is one of the key features of a place where people gather to allow God to work through them. The power of this overall atmosphere is something Gandhi will take with him, along with the heart-deep lessons of reassurance and changed thinking that God spoke to him during several impactful evenings of worship.
Mariana Martinez, a native of Honduras, has been living in Harrisonburg for a number of years. As an international college student, she cannot work outside of her school setting, but still felt a desire to spend her summer on more than just distractions. Mariana remembered how volunteering at Highland as a high school student had helped her center her relationship with God, so she reached out to Dean Williams, our Program Director, about volunteer opportunities for this summer.
Mariana chose to volunteer for six weeks, mostly helping in the camp kitchen, and in the process she found that God met her desire to reconcile with him through the other staff. Though she hadn’t expected to form close relationships with high schoolers, their shared experiences of work, play, and worship helped them form significant friendships despite their different ages. Stargazing together on the basketball court and playing soccer in the rain were memorable moments for Mariana, as were the meaningful conversations that were inspired by moments when she felt an outpouring of the Spirit, creating space for them to be honest and talk about the difficulty of a walking with a Christ-like commitment in life.
Mariana left camp with friendships that she will continue to nurture and enjoy, and a renewed spark of faith. She’s excited to engage with discipleship and sharing her faith, being unapologetic about Jesus and the gospel. And she has been reminded of the value of intentional stillness.
Dan and Rosella Hernley came from Sarasota, Florida to volunteer for our full summer camp season. They came with the simple goal of helping out however they could, and ended up taking on several important roles: running craft activities for campers, helping at the climbing wall, driving campers to off-site adventures, making regular runs to town for supplies, and more.
Inspired by her father, who faithfully volunteered at Christian camps for many years, and informed by her own summers spent working at Camp Luz in Ohio and Lakewood Retreat in Florida, it was Rosella who suggested spending their summer volunteering at camp. Highland was a natural choice for them, since they had lived in this area before retiring to Florida, and Dan had spent significant time at Highland in various capacities. In addition to occasionally camping at Highland as a family or during the larger Conference gatherings, Dan’s children were summer campers at Highland, and later served on our summer staff. At that time, Dan also got involved with the mowing crew and driving campers to off-site locations for caving, biking, and photography. In fact, Dan was named Highland’s volunteer of the year in 2001! So part of the appeal of spending the summer here was reconnecting with old friends and once-familiar places.
Dan and Rosella also value the new relationships they made this summer. Spending time with Gandhi was a highlight for Dan, especially; the Hernleys were able to connect with Gandhi in a different way than the younger staff members could, and they have continued their friendship via texts since Gandhi left the US. The Hernleys also struck up a special friendship with one of our camp nurses, and were delighted to be invited to dinner at her home one night later in the summer. These are examples of relationships they will continue to nurture, from a distance for now and hopefully again in person, since they desire to volunteer at Highland again.
Gandhi, Mariana, Rosella, and Dan each brought unique gifts and talents to our staff, and are perfect examples of how volunteers can have a big impact on Highland. We definitely appreciated each of our wonderful volunteers and all of our committed summer staff.