What, I don't get paid?

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2008

Working in Alaska is the dream of many college students. This is their chance to explore the Last Frontier and make few dollars along the way.

During the fall and winter, they sit in their dorms watching episodes of Deadliest Catch and the Travel Channel. The mystique of Alaska calls to them, and the job hunt begins.

Friends relay opportunities and point each other to various Web sites offering jobs in Alaska. Fishing, guided tours, cruise ships, wildlife conservation, lodge work and even Bible camps.

For years now, Echo Ranch Bible Camp has utilized this 18-30-aged workforce. We need college age individuals to counsel the campers, work with horses, lead backpack and kayak trips and help with general camp operations.

The camp looks forward to having summer staff numbers of around 24-30. The current trend is our summer staff come from the Midwest and may attend either a Bible college or Christian liberal arts college. Of course, there are exceptions, and we welcome college age individuals from all over the United States.

The main requirements for our summer staff are that they must be over the age of 18 and have been out of high school for one year. They must have an active faith relationship with Jesus Christ, adhere to the Echo Ranch Bible Camp statement of beliefs, fill out an application with references and pass a background check in order to work with the campers.

And there is one more thing: They must be willing to work without compensation. In fact, the summer staff pays for their room and board plus whatever transportation costs they might have. It is this set of requirements that narrows the possibility of who might work at Echo Ranch.

As I travel from college to college looking to recruit summer staff, I notice the draw of the summer job. The price of going to college has gone up so much that students and parents feel overwhelmed. The idea of working for 2½ months without pay almost seems crazy.

Students will work at a camp offering $150 a week if it means receiving some kind of income. Although this amount of money won't do much in the long run, any number is better than zero.

The discussion on how and should Echo Ranch pay our summer staff has been going on for years. I wrestle with it all the time. However, there are several advantages to having volunteers as apposed to a paid staff.

The first advantage is that a college student working at Echo Ranch has a desire to be there. They have counted the cost and are willing to sacrifice the time and energy that could have gone toward a paying summer job. The summer staff is focused on seeing lives changed and in the process hoping for a change in their own life.

The second advantage is that volunteer work gives Echo Ranch the ability to keep camper fees low. The cost for a junior high student to attend six days of camp is $170. That money will be used mainly for food and fuel costs. We want to give as many kids the opportunity to join us each week. Echo Ranch also offers camper' scholarships if more help is needed.

Working at Echo Ranch for a summer boils down to a select group of individuals. For those who are willing to take the risk, they will get to experience Alaska on a different level. But I must say that there is nothing wrong with taking a normal paid summer job.

The necessities of life take currency, and Alaska is a great place to work and put money in the bank. In some ways, there are many jobs available in Alaska that require an element of faith and trust. Alaska wouldn't be called the Last Frontier if it weren't for a sense of adventure.

I also know there are campers going back 44 years who appreciated the people who spent their summer at Echo Ranch. My hope is that this summer of camping won't be any different. Please keep the summer staff in your prayers as they faithfully serve from the last weekend of May until the second week of August.

• Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at jonmichael@discoverechoranch.com.

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