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Conference retreat center gets facelift

Conference retreat center gets facelift

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference retreat center gets facelift

March 16, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0640}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Along with refreshing outdoor scenery, a breath of fresh air is making its way into the rooms and buildings at the Florida Conference’s Life Enrichment Center (LEC) in Fruitland Park.

Thanks to an $85,000 grant from the Florida Conference’s board of trustees, frequent visitors will notice a number of changes taking place in the lodging areas and dining hall.
“Mainly we have been focusing on upgrading the rooms,” said Melinda Trotti, the LEC’s interim director. “And all of the rooms have new carpet, new mattresses, new pillows, new shower curtains, new baseboards and a lot have new curtains. The next step is bed and bath linens. The board of trustees was quite generous in helping to make those things happen.”
So far, the grant has paid for about half the expenses, with the other half coming partly from maintenance reserve funds, Trotti said.

NOMADS move new mattresses into a lodge at the Life Enrichment Center as part of renovations completed there in January, thanks, in part, to an $85,000 grant from the Florida Conference board of trustees. Photo by the Rev. David Berkey. Photo #07-0545. Web photo only.
A group called NOMADS (Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service) worked in January to complete the upgrades, in keeping with their mission to offer their time and talents to rebuild and repair United Methodist churches or properties. The NOMADS have served at the camps before, parking their recreational vehicles at the LEC and completing a variety of tasks.
“In terms of the rooms, they cut, painted and installed baseboards for the rooms after the carpet was laid,” Trotti said.

They also removed 386 old mattresses and replaced them with new ones, began this year’s clearing of the lakefront, rebuilt several fences, sewed curtains, made and hung curtain rods and curtains in the rooms, made repairs on the office ceiling and staff housing, and stained the wooden porch behind one of the meeting rooms.

Another group of NOMADS, led by Lewis Arnold of Edon, Ohio, returned March 11 to work for three weeks at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp across the street from the LEC. Arnold also led the group that visited in January.
“I’ve been coming to Leesburg for 10 years,” Arnold said. “Under Melinda Trotti’s supervision (during) the last two years, they have made some drastic improvements, and I think it’s very good, and it causes groups to come in and have comfortable places to have their seminars.”
Arnold and his group are building a ceiling, kitchen cabinets and windows for one of the lodges at the Warren W. Willis camp, as well as painting and completing other small jobs.
Meanwhile, Trotti said she’s received good response about the projects already completed at the LEC.

“I think people are very excited about (the changes). The new mattresses and carpets are contributing to the quality of people’s stays,” Trotti said.

Staying at the LEC usually involves using the site’s dining hall, and several renovations are underway there, as well, thanks to a $10,000 donation.

Trotti said the gift has helped replace the carpet, paint the room, do some basic redecorating and install new curtains, things “people will notice almost as soon as they come in.”
Trotti hopes the changes will make the location bright and less institutional, “more like home.”
A donor has also given funding to further upgrade one lodging room. It will serve as a sample or model room, showing how the rooms at the LEC will eventually look with additional improvements. Trotti said the sample room should be ready for viewing in several months.
“It’s a very rich look, but still very inviting,” she said. “In terms of the individual rooms, the cost is going to be between $2,000 and $2,500 to bring each room up to this standard of beauty. Individual groups or churches could easily make the donation for one room. It’s something we can do as quickly or as slowly as the gifts come in.”
Other recent improvements at the LEC include replacing furniture in meeting rooms. The Wesley conferencing suite space, which holds groups of 10 to 12 people, has been changed to what Trotti calls a “really lovely space.”

But an overall shortage of meeting space still plagues the LEC.
“Whether we have a really large group or a variety of three or four groups … we are being as creative as possible so that everybody can have the rooms they need,” Trotti said.
In spite of the limited meeting space, the number of visitors has increased. 

“One of the things that’s really exciting is that our budget is looking really good,” Trotti said. “We’ve worked to control costs while also seeing an increase in usage, and it’s been a wonderful mix of Florida Conference United Methodists and other United Methodists.”

Other national groups, such as the National Council of Churches, also use the site for their retreats.

Renovations at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp are part of the 20-year master plan for the conference's camps and retreat ministries. Photo courtesy of the conference summer camp ministry. Photo #07-0546.

“These kinds of groups are exciting for us to have because (they) are taking places that churches can’t take,” Trotti said. “We’re expecting, with the upgrades, to really see an increase in those national groups that come, especially in the winter months.”

Another goal for the site includes improving the four staff housing units, according to the Rev. David Berkey, executive director of the camps and retreat ministries.

Although part of the ministry’s 20-year master plan, those improvements are not in the first phase. Berkey says they’ll have to be funded in other ways, such as “operations, donations and financing.”

The master plan also calls for changes to the conference’s Warren W. Willis camp, Lake Asbury Retreat Center (LARC) in Green Cove Springs and Riverside Retreat Center in LaBelle. The Bishop’s Capital Campaign for the Florida Conference calls for raising money for a new lodge and renovating the Barnett Lodge and recreation center at the Willis camp; two lodges and a new dining center at LARC; and renovating the red pavilion and developing a program-worship center at Riverside.

“The camps and retreat master plan is a comprehensive, long-range plan for the future of the camp and retreat ministry in the Florida Conference,” said Tom Wilkinson, vice president of development for the Florida United Methodist Foundation. “Camps and retreat ministry is one of the components — the largest single component — of the upcoming capital and endowment campaign.”

The foundation has already received a pre-campaign gift of $700,000 from Alice W. Lockmiller of Fort Myers to build the worship-program center at Riverside Retreat Center.


This article relates to Florida Conference Camps and Retreat Ministries.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.