“I was a loud, weird, curly-haired girl who did not have many friends in my small town.” Cena shared about her 13-year-old self. “My mom was a cook at Bethel Horizons, and I was able to tag along with her to work. I loved hanging out at camp because I learned I deserved to do all the activities I thought girls were not allowed to do, such as hiking, rock climbing, and starting fires.”
Cena felt accepted at Horizons. She said, “It was the first time I was popular! People saw and accepted me as my honest self, and I was finally able to take off my mask. Camp was the first place I got the opportunity to experience multiple cultures and see how people come together even when they have different upbringings. The community Bethel Horizons cultivates is a community of love.”
Cena was again validated for being her authentic self when she was hand-picked from a group of thirty Leaders in Training to be a Junior Counselor the week after her camp leadership experience. Cena’s authenticity and unique leadership style led her to be hired as a Junior Counselor by Eric Knueve the following summer. Back then, he was the Program Director under Pastor Duane Hanson. “It’s kinda funny how all these years later, it would be Eric, now Horizons Executive Director, who would hire me again for my dream job.”
As the Executive Chef of Bethel Horizons, Chef Cena now reflects fondly on all of her camp experiences. Bethel Horizons became Cena’s safe place, and it gave her permission to take up space in the universe. Her uniqueness gave her power. Instead of shunning who she is, the summer camp community nurtured her. This acceptance fostered her journey to accept herself fully and gave her the confidence she deserved.
“I feel comfortable with myself, which resonates with our staff and retreat guests. People open up to me and share their own really human stuff. I think it is because I am not afraid of being vulnerable.”
We usually think of our younger campers when we think about camp’s impact. Cena’s story is so beautiful because those campers grow up and continue sharing the qualities camp instilled in them at such an impressionable age. We thank all of those who support Bethel Horizons for continuing to make sure that the next generation of leaders continues to grow and develop in the mission of connecting to the harmonies of God, self, others, and nature.