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From Camper to Counselor to National Leader

NovusWay not only transforms the lives of campers through summer and year-round programs, but also through the employment of college-aged students who serve as
summer camp counselors. These young adults help to create a week of Christian community for campers, while they themselves are afforded an opportunity to grow
in their sense of vocation as people of faith. Each year we receive messages from former summer staff who say how much camp has influenced their careers. They have discovered ministry callings within and outside of church, from deacons to pastors, nurses to physicians, teachers to social workers, attorneys to company presidents. Year after year, we see our summer staff alumni
working to make the world a better place. One such person is Suzanne Unsicker McCormick.

Suzanne grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, and her family was very active at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, which is where she learned about Lutheridge. She recallsthe church sending two buses full of kids to camp every summer. The summer after 3rd grade, Suzanne got to join them. She had such a wonderful experience that the next summer she invited her best friend Cindy to join her. Together, they returned for at least one week each summer through the 12th grade. Suzanne spent one summer as a camp counselor at Lutheridge and Cindy three. “Camp was truly transformative and life changing for me,” she says. “Some of my best memories are from camp. It was always this escape from the peer pressure that you experience in school or your neighborhood, which is even truer today with the influence of social media. I wish every child could have a summer camp experience. [For those of us in the field], we know that has the best youth development outcomes of any youth development program.” For Suzanne, the faith component of camp is the richest part because you’re immersed. “Every night you have Care or Vespers. Some of my best, deepest growth – developmentally and spiritually – happened then. It’s when you [get] to live your faith and be safe and vulnerable without judgment. Lutheridge is a place where you can be your authentic self.”

Suzanne credits her experience as a counselor for setting her on her career path by opening her eyes to service. She currently serves as President and CEO of Y-USA and is the first female in this role. She has an impressive 27 years of experience as a local and national executive leader in the nonprofit sector, most recently as U.S. President of United Way Worldwide and a member of its global management team. When asked if her time as a counselor influenced her development of leadership skills, she didn’t hesitate to say, “Without question! The whole job of being a
counselor is being a leader. You start as a leader of a group of campers. You have to be agile and flexible and creative. You have to be on all the time, and you have a high degree of responsibility. As counselors move up the ranks, they’re managing programs and could be managing a whole part of the camp experience. To get to do that as a young 20-year-old is phenomenal. It could take years in the for-profit world.”

Suzanne believes that being a camp counselor gives young adults foundational leadership and interpersonal skills. “You have to relate to parents about their kids’ experience when they come to pick up their kids at the end of the week. I think that being a camp counselor is a very underrated and underestimated leadership experience. It really does develop skills that are so applicable, more so than some internship experiences. Camp gives you a platform to be creative, where a lot of internships don’t offer that. As a counselor, you’re doing more than observing. You’re testing human interaction and communication,” she says. And we couldn’t agree more! We believe working as a summer staff at one of our camps provides life-enriching experiences, and we would like to provide these experiences for as many young people as possible. Thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Synod, we are investing in our summer staff through new leadership recruitment and development efforts, which include creating a Campus Ambassador Program, providing ongoing leadership development training through our annual summer staff training and fall/winter
summer staff reunion weekends, developing a leadership candidate marketing and recruitment staff campaign so we continue to cultivate the highest caliber of summer staff at our camps, and developing a summer staff internship program so they can receive internship and course credit for their valuable work at camp. The leadership training we provide, coupled with the faith
community which they build as a staff, creates an invaluable experience that impacts their vocational journey far beyond the summer.


Our summer staff at Lutheridge, Lutherock, Luther Springs and Lutheranch alike learn valuable life lessons. Suzanne shared several that have stuck with her throughout her life and career:

• The importance of faith and the power of that in your life. Part of what makes camp so special, especially at Lutheridge, is that it connects us to our Christian values.
• How important it is to accept people for who they are and to be nonjudgmental. It’s not always easy to get along with kids that are different than you and to love and accept everyone. At camp, we love everybody and we’re radically inclusive. Learning belonging and inclusion was a big life lesson for me.
• INDEPENDENCE. Camp provides opportunities to get out of your comfort zone, which helps build confidence.
• The power of humor and fun and joy! I remember skits at night and the things we did as counselors. When I think back about what I felt when I was there, those are top of mind for me.

Suzanne’s story is a testimony to the lasting, profound impact of camp, which is made possible by your generosity! To make a donation or to learn more about ways you can give to camp, including support for our summer staff, please contact our Development team at Give@NovusWay.org or Click Here to Give.

Download a printable copy of Suzanne’s story in our September 2023 edition of the Link.