Many children and adults have spent time at Camp Hopewell. Gracyn Ashmore is a University of Mississippi freshman journalism student during the week. On the weekend, she works as a counselor and social media coordinator at Camp Hopewell.
The Hopewell Camp and Conference Center, owned by Ashmore’s parents, is a year-round ministry of the Presbytery of St. Andrew, Presbyterian Church. In addition to a full summer camp calendar, Hopewell – located at 24 County Road 231 in Oxford – hosts retreats and conferences throughout the year for all ages and many groups.
Ashmore, who has worked at the camp since she was 15, said her counselor job comes with many duties that have increased over time. Now she serves campers and visitors.
“I’ve pretty much been doing the same thing since I got there in regards to hospitality assistant,” she said. “I picked up maintenance and was a set builder for theater production, so I started to get more skilled in that.
“At the age of 17, I could actually work as a camp counselor. Picking up that summer job and actually being able to be in a cabin group with campers instead of being a camper or pre-camp leadership is the most of my progression.”
Coworker Robert Hall, a member of Hopewell’s maintenance staff, said Ashmore “really helps out and makes my job easier, and she’s fun to work with.”
Ashmore is in charge of a group of 12 to 16 campers weekly.
“You wake up every morning and get your campers ready,” she said. “You clean the cabin and get on with your day. Each day has its own set of activities that you do. We all swim, always have an all-camp where the whole camp comes together. We do worship every night and Bible study in the morning. It’s a 22-hour work day. We get two-hour breaks.”
There are many activities, ranging from canoes, archery, low and high challenge obstacle courses and more.
“The campers come in on Sunday, and they leave on Saturday,” Ashmore said. “We play frisbee games, do challenges, have a dance at the end of the week. Sometimes we do cookouts and shelter building. Before the summer starts, we pick what activities we will do for the camps.”
As a camp counselor, her main goal is to ensure all the campers stay safe.
“I think the most important thing for me isn’t just to make sure everyone is surviving,” she said, “but to also make sure everyone is happy and having a good time. Sometimes you notice a camper that is just not quite clicking with the group, or seeming homesick, or just not really enjoying camp.
“I feel like it is my job to make sure that everyone is having a good experience. It may not be the best week of their life. They may not come back. It may not change their life, but I make it a goal to make sure they are enjoying their time where they are and maybe growing a little bit in faith … It’s really about being there for the campers.”
The Presbytery Youth Council retreat recently took place. The Thursday before, Ashmore needed to clean a few cabins and get them ready for campers. With a quick sweep, a few sprays into the toilet and shower, and a spritz of Clorox, cabins were ready for the next guests and prepared for the weekend. The next day, campers arrived ready for adventure.
During the Presbytery Youth Council retreat, Ashmore took photos for Camp Hopewell’s many social media outlets. She follows daily activities and shoots photos, starting in the chapel where campers were writing prayers and growing closer in their relationship with God.
“I know there is a mirror there where you take a look at yourself and write down your insecurities, erasing them away and writing what you love about yourself,” she said. “There’s another one about smells and (writing) what they mean to you or what they make you feel. It is a very relaxing, very calming thing to do for those who don’t really want to go out to the nature hikes.”
Ashmore photographed a group headed out on their service project to hang birdhouses around the nature trails.
“We made them to put our around camp,” she said. “Their job was to paint them to make them look pretty around the trails. Some may have been sent out to different places. Anytime we can do a work project to help out it, is always good.”
Making the most of the weather, the next location was in the dining hall where there were board games and music to give the campers activity despite rainy conditions.
“It is a good way to share company and wind down after a long day,” she said.