Q: Can you tell us a little about the background and purpose of White Sulphur Springs?
Paul: White Sulphur Springs (WSS) is a conference center/camp ministry of the Officers’ Christian Fellowship. As part of the OCF, our primary ministry is to the military community. We provide a Christian retreat center for the OCF community to draw aside and encounter God.
Q: The property itself, as shown on the site, is in a stunning natural setting. Can you tell us a little about its history and how it came to be the location for your ministry?
Paul: WSS is located in south central Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains near the small town of Manns Choice.
The original hotel was built in 1884 and operated as an elegant country resort until 1978. At that time, the OCF was looking for a property to establish a conference center on the East Coast within easy driving distance of the Washington, D.C. area.
The OCF purchased the property (approximately 500 acres at that time) in 1978 and has been operating White Sulphur Springs as a ministry ever since. Over the years, the Lord has blessed the ministry and given us the ability to add almost 600 additional acres and build a new hotel facility – the Heritage House, completed in 2011.
Q: You’ve grouped the core values of your organization under the acronym H.E.R.I.T.A.G.E on your site. Can you expand a little on the thinking behind it?
Paul: Each of those letters represents our priorities and the characteristics that define who we are within both the OCF ministry and within the camping/conference center industry.
Even before WSS was owned and operated by OCF, it was owned by Christians and has been a place of refreshment, rest and encouragement to many people over many decades. We recognize and embrace that wonderful Christian heritage of hospitality and service.
Q: There’s a strong connection with those from a military background in several of your programs. Can you elaborate on the special appeal your retreats and programs have for those who have served in the armed forces?
Paul: Being part of the OCF ministry, our primary ministry audience is the military community. Many of us that serve on the OCF staff (and here at WSS) have served in the military or grown up in military families – certainly everyone involved has a heart to bless and serve military families.
Q: From browsing the site, there seems to be a large team organizing the various programs and amenities behind the scenes. How big is your team and where do most members hail from?
Paul: During our peak ministry seasons (summer and winter), we recruit high school and college-aged kids to serve on staff with us to run all of our programs.
At our largest, with a full college summer staff and high school support staff, we have about 40-50 young people here helping us with everything that has to happen. Because most OCF families are in the military, we get kids from literally all over the world.
Q: EXSEL sounds like a unique mentoring and growth opportunity for successful applicants. Can you tell us something about your motivations in setting it up and the experiences of the participants so far?
Paul: Because we have worked with young people for many, many years, mentoring and discipling young people is a real core competency of our team. As we assessed the amount of work that is required to conduct our operations in the new, we realized that we needed additional help.
Recognizing that we have a unique opportunity to offer a program of real value to kids in that 18 to 24 range – because of the gifts and talents of our team, as well as the unique atmosphere here at WSS – we realized that an internship program like EXSEL would be of interest to that age group and would be a blessing to us as well. We kicked off the inaugural year of the program on September the 1st.
Q: What special technological challenges do faith-based organizations face?
Josh: Some of those challenges, which I’ve either experienced or heard about from others in non-profits, can include:
Manpower: This can take either the form of not having enough people to do the work, or not enough people skilled in certain areas such as web design or graphic design.
Turnover: Oftentimes, a nonprofit will get a skilled person for a short time, only to have that person move on to another, often higher-paying, place of employment.
Money: I’m not sure how much needs to be said without overstating the obvious :-) Non-profits find themselves in a unique position though: attempt to do the work in house, or outsource a job? Either way, non-profits can’t just increase their production of widgets to cover expenses. Budgeting is a huge concern, and an art and science of sorts.
Marketing: While this isn’t directly a technological challenge, when you take a holistic look at an organization there are areas such as marketing which indirectly affect technology. Does an organization have a clear goal? A clear message? A clear target audience? Can it cultivate a new generation of donors? The answers to all of these questions ultimately determine what technology is used.