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Ridgecrest volunteers: ‘We’re like family’

[SLIDESHOW=43316,43317,43318]BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. (BP) — It’s like family. Those words come up time and again as volunteers describe serving together at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.

Now Ridgecrest wants to expand that family. With a deeper pool of volunteers, leaders say, the conference center can be more effective in sharing the joy of the Lord.

Volunteers are a vital part of the Ridgecrest ministry, executive director Art Snead said. They work in a variety of areas, from carpentry and gardening to food service and hospitality.

“To see them sweating for Jesus, grilling hamburgers, making coffee and folding laundry — it matters,” food service manager Marcus White said. “We really do need them.”

Chris Fenske, who succeeded longtime volunteer coordinator Cathy Williams when she retired earlier this year, aims to enlist more volunteers with a passion for the Lord.

“I want people here who believe in the mission of Ridgecrest,” Fenske said. “Ultimately it’s to impact lives for God’s glory. I want Jesus to be the reason they’re coming.”

Volunteers typically work 30-40 hours a week for at least two weeks, with food and housing provided by Ridgecrest. They live either in conference housing or in their own RVs at a Ridgecrest campground. Some stay for months at a time.

“It’s amazing people are willing to commit that much of their time to volunteering,” Fenske said.

Barbara Werner has served at Ridgecrest seven years. A health issue initially brought her from Virginia to be near family. When she started volunteering, she found Ridgecrest’s coffee shop too enjoyable to leave.

“I got well and did not want to go back home, so here I am, and I love it,” she said.

Gail Cagle and Mary McBride, friends from Florida, are among those who come for months at a time. Cagle started volunteering nearly 20 years ago after attending conferences at Ridgecrest for several years. “I can’t wait when I leave to get back up here each time,” she said. “It’s like a reunion — a homecoming.”

McBride joined her for the first time last year, staying from spring into autumn. “It’s so beautiful up here in October,” she said. “I loved it so much, I’m back this year.”

Like Cagle and McBride, many Ridgecrest volunteers are retirees, but younger people are encouraged to serve as well. Fenske would like to recruit more college students and teachers during breaks or time off during the summer.

She’s also interested in recruiting more local volunteers — people who live near Ridgecrest and can come once or twice a week. Local volunteers are especially important when Ridgecrest needs extra hands on short notice.

Roland and Diane Halbert moved to a home about two miles from Ridgecrest three years ago. When they lived in Georgia, they spent summers volunteering at Ridgecrest. Now they volunteer two or three days a week during the off-season, stepping up to four days a week when it’s busy.

“We like living closer, because we get to go home at night,” Diane said. “And we get to volunteer whenever we’re needed.”

Local volunteers can help overcome a housing limitation, White noted Ridgecrest could use more volunteers than it can fit in the 31 rooms designated to house them. Typically there is plenty of space in the campground for volunteers who own RVs.

“It would be a big help to have a huge list of local on-call volunteers who can serve a few hours and then go home,” he said.

While many volunteers work in food service, Ridgecrest often has projects for people with special trade skills such as carpentry, stonework, electrical or HVAC.

White always encourages volunteers to tell their churches about the Ridgecrest volunteer program. A few volunteers can influence many more, he said.

“Recruitment so far has been mostly word of mouth — volunteers sharing their joys and success,” White said.

That’s how it worked for McBride, who’d heard of Ridgecrest as a child but hadn’t visited until she came with Cagle to volunteer.

“She told me all about Ridgecrest, and I felt like it was somewhere I wanted to come,” McBride said. “I love the mountains, and God opened the door for me.”

She folded towels in the laundry and stripped beds for housekeeping. She wiped tables in the dining room and greeted guests and helped carry trays for children. She mixed fancy coffees in the coffee shop.

And McBride couldn’t wait to come again.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for a better place to serve and take care of people.

“And we’re like family, you know. We’re like a family away from home.”

For information volunteer needs at Ridgecrest in a variety of areas, visit www.ridgecrestconferencecenter.org/volunteer or call 1-828-669-3589.