• 59°

Perseverance in the Pines

When the Mississippi United Methodist Church governing bodiestold officials at Camp Wesley Pines three years ago that fundingwould become more and more scarce in the next few years, they knewthey were looking at a challenge.

“The first couple of years didn’t hit us as bad because we had asurplus,” said Executive Director Ted Giordano. “But now in thethird year we’ve used half of our surplus and we’re trying tofigure out how to get our budget to where we can survive.”

Officials at the camp in Gallman have said they will make itwork any way they can, but as the funds are cut 10 percent per yearover eight years, they’re having to tighten their belts. With alittle more than 30 percent cut so far, Wesley Pines loyal aregetting creative to keep the cabins in the woods fullyoperational.

An endowment has been set up to allow the camp to work offinterest in the fund, and camp leaders are asking local churches tochip in by paying summer salaries for the counselors and summerstaff in return for testimony from their adopted counselor.

Testimony, said board member Garland Brent, is what makes it soimportant to keep the camp running. Wesley Pines serves 2,000campers each summer, but about 26,000 people per year throughcamps, retreats, church events, reunions and revivals, among otherthings.

“Even with our financial struggles, our outreach to thiscommunity is still ongoing and growing,” Brent said.

Camp Wesley Pines hosts camps not only for regular campers, butalso camps for epileptic children, one for the Muscular DystrophyAssociation and one for the American Lung Association as well. Andfor that reason, CWP loyal are trying to find ways to make surethat as the funding drops, the camp continues to run.

“Probably the main thing is that 100 to 110 people make a firsttime confession of faith here, and we’ve got about 300 rededicatingtheir lives to Christ each summer,” said Giordano. “So manypeople’s lives have been touched here.”

So Joe Davis, a part-time program director and fundraiser, wasbrought on to try to locate grants and set up events to help bringattention to the fact that Wesley Pines doesn’t belong to theMethodist Church, it belongs to the community.

Davis said the project is one that is close to his own heart, ashe has been involved in some way with Wesley Pines since he was achild.

“I definitely grew in my faith here,” he said. “I was acounselor, a (counselor in training), a lifeguard … There’s onlybeen one summer since 1998 that I didn’t work here.”

And it is much the same for Giordano, who has worked with thecamp for 36 years.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most people in the CopiahCounty community have at some point been affected by the ministryat CWP.

“The majority of the people in the community that keep up withand love Wesley Pines are aware of what’s going on here, and manyhave come to our aid through personal donations or they’ve come andhelped with missions projects,” said Davis.

But in spite of the positive impacts on the area, necessaryfinancial cuts will still continue to be made. Assistant DirectorMatt Shaw said the maintenance and upkeep are being pared downduring the offseason to try to save funds.

Giordano said other measures are being taken as well.

“This time of year it’s hard to tell about enrollment, becausecamp applications don’t usually start coming in until about March,”he said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed, and we’ve raised thefee for summer camp. I don’t know how it will affect us, but we hadto do something.”

And yet, the camp continues to run on faith, he said. Next year,the camp will be down 40 percent of its original budget.

“So we’ll operate on 60 percent,” Giordano said confidently. “Wedon’t have a choice.”

Even as things keep tightening, which is inevitable, and inspite of the looming mark of 80 percent budget cuts, the littlecamp that could will keep on plugging away, changing Copiah Countyand the surrounding area for the better, officials said.

“We’re not going to die a slow death,” Brent said. “We’reworking our tails off to make sure that what God wants done isgoing to get done. We know He’ll take care of the moneyissues.”