White Sulphur Springs

White Sulphur Springs in Manns Choice, Pennsylvania is one of two conference centers owned by the Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF) – a Christian ministry to military personnel. The other is Spring Canyon which is located in Buena Vista, Colorado.

Paul Robyn is the director of the White Sulphur Springs Center and Josh Jackson is senior designer at the Officers’ Christian Fellowship in Englewood, Colorado.

Both men were kind enough to answer a series of questions about both the work of the ministry team and its presence online. In his role as director, Paul fielded most of the former questions while Josh jumped in on the technical side of things.

White Sulphur Springs

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.

White Sulphur Springs and Avada

Q: Avada is currently powering the whitesulphursprings.org site. What made you plump for WordPress as a platform and Avada as a theme solution?

Josh: There are a number of factors we looked at before deciding on Avada:

  • How is the theme rated?
  • What are most recent users saying about the theme?
  • Do the developers appear to be responsive with support and fixing bugs?
  • Do the developers appear to be continually updating the theme?

Avada, and more specifically, ThemeFusion, met the criteria. It’s obvious that the Avada theme isn’t just something that was created to make a few bucks while the developers were between jobs, only to have the theme collect dust on the shelf after a few months.

I appreciate that ThemeFusion has a vested interest in its customers. As for WordPress, I selected it based on familiarity and ease of use. I’ve worked with WordPress for many years and have grown very comfortable with it. It’s a solid platform.

Q: There is an impressive range of high-quality imagery on display at whitesulphursprings.org. How did Avada help you showcase your content?

Josh: Whether it’s creating hero images for pages or galleries of photos, again…ease of use.

Once you take a few moments to learn some of the basics of Avada and how the theme works, and how the structure of a site is put together with Avada, building good-looking pages becomes pretty intuitive. I have a limited web design/code skill set, so I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities with Avada!

Q: Is there a particular Avada feature that made it stand out for either the design or development teams?

Josh: Knowing that I have a relatively limited skill set and would likely be training others with little to no web design experience, I wanted a robust theme that allowed many variations and permutations of a site with regards to design.

It also all goes back to budget – if we want or need to design something in particular, we don’t always have money to pay someone to do it for us.

Q: Is there a particular area of existing functionality you’d like to see us build out further with Avada? Or any missing features you’d love to see in the next release?

Josh: I’ll have to think on that one. For our organization and our needs, my primary suggestion is this – just keep providing good support and keep the theme updated and working well. You guys are doing a fantastic job!

And Finally…

Q: Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to any of your program participants and recommend one book to read, what would they be?

Paul: The Bible, of course!

Josh: I would second Paul on this, the Bible. This concept is hard for nonbelievers to understand, but I’ve seen people’s minds blown when they allow the Word to speak to them, and accept it as God’s Word to mankind.

It all comes down to having an open and willing heart to allow God to reveal Himself to an individual through His Word.


We’d like to heartily thank Josh and Paul for taking time out of their busy schedules, at what is a particularly hectic time of year, to talk to us about Avada and their use of it.

Organizations such as the Officers’ Christian Fellowship help an enormous range of people throughout the year and it’s a privilege for Theme Fusion to have a product that’s part of the supporting infrastructure behind that.

The White Sulphur Springs site is a truly impressive use of Avada, and we’re delighted our theme was able to help with providing a website worthy of the beautiful natural setting of the center.

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