The staff at the Life Enrichment Retreat Center of the Florida Conference wants to help guests have more sleep-filled nights so they can have more inspiration-filled days.
Located in rural Fruitland Park, the LEC competes with other faith-based conference centers as well as those owned by Walt Disney World, located less than 60 miles away. During 2017, the LEC hosted nearly 12,000 guests from more than 160 groups.
Expectations are high.
|The prayer chapel at the LEC.|
“Groups are coming and want to continue to have the comforts of home, as much as possible, even if you are not in your own bed,” LEC Director Mike Standifer said. “And I think that we do provide that. We really want folks to feel welcome.”
Standifer has been director of camps and retreats for the Florida Conference since 2012 and director of the LEC/Warren Willis Camps in Fruitland Park since 2017. He and his staff strive to meet the needs of campers and LEC guests alike, who, he understands, expect to have Wi-Fi everywhere, good food and a comfortable bed in a clean room.
“It’s not the camp that we went to as kids,” he said. “People don’t expect that anymore, nor will they pay for that.”
Founded in 1979, the LEC’s mission is to prepare a sacred space in a natural, lakefront setting for all to grow in community and connect with Christ. The bridge between all these elements is hospitality. One operating philosophy could be that spiritual growth is fostered by a good night’s sleep.
The goal in a competitive market is to provide value. That means staff’s challenge is to offer surprises, new and improved programs and amenities that will keep guests and groups returning. To that end, during 2019 staff will embark on an ambitious upgrade of LEC sleeping rooms, building by building, floor by floor.
The plan is to replace existing main flooring, bathroom floor and wall tiles, bath counters, baseboard, toilets, bath fixtures, furniture and mattress sets. Traditional key locksets will be replaced by key cards.
|The two-story, hotel-like accommodations.|
Like a model home in a new real estate development, staff will start by renovating one sleeping room. Once that showcase is established, Standifer hopes groups from local churches and others will help fund the renovation of all sleeping rooms. The renovation project is a sizeable undertaking for an organization that has an annual budget of about $3.7 million.
“It’s a pretty daunting task when you realize we have 200 of those rooms and they are going to be about $15,000 apiece” in donated funds and in-kind services to renovate, Standifer said.
The next time a group stays at the LEC, guests can vie to sleep in one of the renovated rooms, with staff hoping word of their comfort will spread and interested parties will help finance renovation of subsequent rooms.
‘People who have that eye’
The LEC has staff members assigned to the task of making sure each room is newly furnished to provide a contemporary and durable and replicable look.
|Morning at the LEC.|
To that end, operations manager Billy Thompson and staff are forming a small committee of people with interior design skills, drawn from churches conference-wide: as Standifer said, “people who have that eye.”
The intent is to ensure guests enjoy the renovated rooms.
“We are looking for a couple of folks to help us who have a love for camping and retreat ministries in Florida, specifically here at the Warren Willis Camps and the LEC, who may be interested in helping us upgrade our lodging rooms so that they are suitable for ministry far into the future,” Standifer said.
The first meeting of the committee will be held at the Life Enrichment Center in late spring.
“By coordinating a combination of contractors, year-round staff, seasonal workcampers, local volunteers and short-term mission teams, we believe that we can greatly improve our guest experience and prepare these spaces for decades more of ministry and mission,” Thompson said.
Friends and supporters of ministry and mission at Warren Willis Camps/Life Enrichment Retreat Center might consider supporting this remodel project in the following ways:
- A professional interior decorator could donate time to help make selections of color, furniture and tile types.
- Paint, tile, locksmith and plumbing contractors might offer to handle a portion of the work for free or at a discount.
- Small groups of patient and detail-oriented, mission-minded people might join staff for “a day away” for demolition or painting.
- Skilled to semi-skilled RVers could dedicate a few weeks to the renovation project. They could park their RVs at a full hook-up site on the grounds.
—Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.