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New program director helps camp and retreat ministry offer more

New program director helps camp and retreat ministry offer more

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

New program director helps camp and retreat ministry offer more

Feb. 24, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0447}

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

LEESBURG — Melinda Trotti joined the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry staff last June. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry, Photo #06-316.

The Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry is expanding its vision through a new program director who is working to shift the ministry's efforts from a facility-driven paradigm to one of theological reflection and hospitality.

Melinda Trotti, a Mississippi native, is filling that role, while also serving as interim director of the Life Enrichment Center (LEC) in Leesburg.

Trotti arrived last June from Epworth Camp and Retreat Center in the New York Conference, having served on the National Camp and Retreat Committee that plans large events for camping volunteers and professionals. Trotti is also an adjunct professor in the Common Ground program for camp and retreat leaders at Drew University.

A key emphasis of Trotti's work is implementing four new levels of programming. The first involves Trotti and conference staff serving as hosts to the various groups visiting the conference's four facilities — the LEC and Warren W. Willis Youth Camp in Leesburg, the Lake Asbury Retreat Center (LARC) near Jacksonville and the South Florida camp in Alva.

"We provide hospitality for people who come to the site knowing what their program is," Trotti said. "Hospitality includes customer service, but it is a very theological concept and is really about creating an inviting space where people can be transformed through God's Spirit. When we do hospitality right, people have a sense of, 'I'm cared about here, and this is a sacred place.' "

The second level of Trotti's efforts involves serving as a resource for groups that have a game plan, but need some help in using the facilities and getting the items they need.

"I may do something as simple as opening the pool for them or leading a group on the ropes course. People may come and say, 'I'd love to lead a retreat, but I don't know how,' or 'I'm not sure how to structure my schedule.' I hope we can get the word out that I'm available to help people do that," Trotti said, adding that level of programming was provided during a meeting of district cluster leaders last October.

"We're looking at how we can do things in this space that you can't do anywhere else?" she said.

A third focus is partnering with groups that arrive with a specific program and theme. Trotti and other camp and retreat ministry staff will work with them to make the event happen.

The final emphasis is providing programs developed and directed by camp and retreat ministry staff. Trotti offered a 24-hour self-awareness retreat for church professionals last October that was aimed at clergy and volunteers who work with children and youth. She is hoping to eventually lead a weekend on the spirituality and ethics of food and a journaling workshop designed to unleash internal creativity for personal growth and self-awareness.

Trotti is also working to provide more recreational health and wholeness options at the LEC and youth camp. She hopes to offer children's activities developed around outdoor recreation throughout the year. The two campsites now have lifeguards on staff, which Trotti hopes will help achieve that goal; previously, groups had to bring their own lifeguards.

"We really want to be flexible and utilize the gifts that are there (at the camps)," Trotti said.

Trotti is already beginning to coordinate massage therapy services for guests, and the LEC has new cardiovascular and weight machines onsite.

"We tell people, 'Think about what you can do here that you can't do anywhere else.' That's kind of a different way of thinking about the place. It's not just a facility, but a place to de-stress, connect with God's creation, go for meditative walks, reconnect with yourself and with God in a way that you can't in the local church or at home," she said.

Part of Trotti's challenge is shifting the mindset for what the campsites are all about. "Whether it's children or adults, we're having to train people to think about the ministry as not just, 'Do you need the gold room or how many beds do you need?' Let's think about it in a holistic way."

"A lot of our job is to give people language," she added. "They're going to have to live into the reality of what this ministry means. We're talking about the ministry of hospitality and camp and retreats more than we normally would because we're trying to give people some language they can understand. The comprehensive vision for all four camp sites involves each having programming that 'rises up from the people, place and facility.' "

This summer, Trotti is spearheading a camp for grandparents and their grandchildren at the LEC, as well as family gatherings for the long Fourth of July weekend. There will also be a two-week LEC day camp for children and youth from the Carver Heights neighborhood of Leesburg, featuring a partnership with a local ministry that serves Carver Heights. The camp will be a harbinger of the summer-long day camp planned for children beginning in the summer of 2007.

Trotti has worked in urban day camps in Boston and New York. She holds an undergraduate degree in hotel and restaurant management, a master's in theology from Episcopal Divinity School and a master's in women's studies from Simmons College.

She is currently working on a Doctor of Ministry degree through Drew University. Her dissertation project involves looking at the theology of food and the ethics of food production and draws from her experience working with rural and migrant workers in New York and organizing a camp for them.


This article relates to Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.