Duck, duck, duck, goose!


Sorry I haven’t posted for a while, life’s been busy around Ferncliff!

In March, we travelled to Baton Rouge to help residents rebuild from the major floods last August. We worked with Rebuild Together Baton Rouge to patch drywall, hang doors, and add baseboards to three different houses. Many of the homeowners we worked with have been living in a shelter at home situation, which means temporary bathrooms and sinks and not much else. People have been living seven months without an actual bathroom or kitchen, while the rest of their house sits in various states of repair and many homeowners expressed that they were beginning to lose hope that they would ever get assistance.

Rebuild Together Baton Rouge attempts to change that by focusing on one neighborhood at a time. It was amazing to see the community pull together and support one another. As the houses got a little bit closer to being completed, the people were able to begin rebuilding their lives. I love the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) tagline: Out of Chaos, Hope. Because hope is exactly what storm-torn communities need after the news casters have left and the cameras are gone. Beyond painting trim or installing baseboards, we strive to let people know that they haven’t been forgotten.

As we were returning from Baton Rouge, a storm swept through Ferncliff and damaged most of our farm buildings and low ropes course. We had about 30 trees that fell, luckily none of them hit our permanent buildings. After a few weeks of hard work by Chris, our maintenance guys, and several volunteers, the farm is mostly repaired and looks loads better!

This spring we also added some new animals to the farm. In addition to the piglets (dubbed Lucy and Ethel), we now have 5 ducklings and 12 chickens! They’re quite cute and growing up so fast. I think Howie (our older duck) is happy to have new feathered friends to play with. Ashley has also been hanging bat boxes around Ferncliff to encourage our favorite flying mammals to make a home nearby and hopefully decrease our mosquito population. We’ve also seen a couple adorable baby fawns cruising through camp and look forward to watching them grow up! But my favorite new addition to the wildlife around camp is the goose family living on our pond. We’ve named the gosling Ryan and the father Goose Springsteen.

In April, I presented at the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance annual meeting in Atlanta. I got to meet the National Response Team, a fantastic group of Presbyterians who donate their time to deploy and respond to disasters throughout the USA and beyond. During the conference I had the opportunity to attend sessions on FEMA, human caused disasters, racism and privilege, suicide, and many more! It was great to see the church discussing and working on difficult issues that often get overlooked.

Last week we sent a shipment of cleanup buckets to southern Missouri to help with the recent flooding. Since it looks like the flooding in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas will not get a federal disaster declaration from FEMA, assistance tends to fall to the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster or VOADs. Organizations like American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and many religious organizations (like PDA and Church World Service) are instrumental in helping people recover to their new normal.

This week we’ve been ramping up for summer camp with the arrival of our leadership staff. I spent the first part of the week in lifeguard and CPR training. We’ve also been able to collaborate with some of the unit coordinators on themed camps and are looking forward to welcoming our first campers in a couple of weeks!


Adventures in Meatlessness

Here’s some Ferncliff updates for ya. We got piglets!! We are currently holding a naming contest for these adorable cuties. I’m hoping for Mu and Pua, but I think Lucy and Ethel are in the lead. It’s  also been an exciting time in the YAV house. We were all born within 2 months of each other so we have been celebrating a lot of birthdays. For Chris’ birthday we went to an escape room. We managed to escape during the time frame and enjoyed it so much that we decided to create our own. The groups that come to the DAC have a fun finding the clues, while they learn about the DAC and the kits we pack there. Our current record is 26 minutes out of 45. If you think you can beat that time feel free to come on by and try it out!

We enjoyed celebrating Shrouve Tuesday with Second Pres. Being able to consume massive amounts of pancakes  made the start of fasting much more enjoyable. This Lenten season we’ve decided to go meatless. We’re hoping to reduce our environmental impact as well as become more intentional with our food choices. It’s been good overall, but our house can definitely get a little hangry at times. I need to get more creative with my vegetarian recipes because right now we’ve been eating a lot of beans or yogurt. (Any of my vegetarian readers please consider this as a desperate plea for recipes!)

I’ve been exploring  Northwest Arkansas a little bit. We did a weekend tour of several area churches and made stops in Clarksville, Bentonville, and Fayetteville. Bentonville is the birthplace of Wal-Mart so of course we had to check out the original 5 and dime. We also went to Crystal Bridges and saw some gorgeous American art. There was a particularly interesting exhibit on many of the artifacts found at the US/Mexico border called Border Cantos. It was really moving to see that struggle transformed into art, and I would highly recommend going to see the exhibit if it comes to a town near you. It was also really cool to see another SEC campus and get to be in a more mountainous region! A few weeks later Matt, Scott, and I decided to go back to Northwest Arkansas for some climbing.  The second day was pretty rainy and cold, but we got some good routes in on the first day. Anyway life is going good here and we’re looking forward to being busier as camp season gets closer!

Hikes and Bikes

Hi y’all. February is off to a good start here at Ferncliff. We’ve recently had the opportunity to tour several local farming operations including Little Rock Urban Farming and Heifer International Village. It’s been really cool to see the commitment to using natural or organic practices that both of these organizations exhibit. Last month, we also delivered re-purposed bathtubs to be used as raised gardening beds at a local school. It will be great for the kids to get some hands on gardening experience  once the weather warms up. This past week we had our first shipment out of the DAC since I’ve been here. It’s great to see all the kits we’ve made get put to good use! 


Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to dog sit for one of my pastors. Besides all the obvious benefits of cute puppy time, I also got to explore a different area of Little Rock. Since the camp is located further out of town, it was great to get to experience more of the actual city. Of course, puppies like to go on walks so I became familiar with the surrounding area, and began to notice the sidewalks. Though the area around my pastor’s house had nice sidewalks, as you delved deeper into the city many streets were missing sidewalks. I realized I’ve never lived in a place without sidewalks. As a kid I always enjoyed playing outside, and I tended to have free rein on our block. My parents didn’t worry about me playing hopscotch or riding my bike because we lived in the suburbs and it was safe to do so. As I’ve gone into other parts of town, I’ve started noticing whether or not there are sidewalks. All of the big subdivisions have nice new sidewalks (and many of them even have bike lanes), while the poorer areas of town typically have no sidewalk or crumbling pieces of cement that seem to start and stop randomly. Without a buffer between kids and the road there isn’t a safe way for kids to navigate their own neighborhood.


I began to think about other activities I enjoyed as a kid. I recently started volunteering with Recycle Bikes for Kids, an organization that takes old, donated bikes and refurbishes them for kids in need. I think back to learning how to ride and remember riding in the gutter or on sidewalks as I was just starting out because riding in the street was considered too dangerous. I wonder how children without sidewalks or bikes could learn how to ride. I never really considered biking a privilege until it’s not an option. I was fortunate to grow up in Colorado where bike lanes and paths are the norm, not the exception. Being in the south for the past couple years has made it clear that biking is not a priority for every community. Biking seems like such a basic skill that I wish everyone had the opportunity to learn.
I was also fortunate to learn how to swim at a young age. Last year while I was in New Orleans,  one of the most striking things I learned was that the city did not have a public pool before Katrina. A city that is surrounded by water and many of its residents weren’t able to access swimming lessons. This inability to swim lead to several deaths when the levees broke and the water rose. These activities that I enjoyed growing up can be the difference between life and death. Biking can be the best transportation for someone who can’t afford a car. It’s frustrating how extracurricular activities to one person can be vital to another.


Greetings from Arkansas! It’s starting to get more chilly so things aren’t really growing anymore, though we do have a lifetime supply of cabbage from our fall garden. The animals have been bulking up for the winter and have nice thick coats to keep them warm. The sheep are recovering from being wethered earlier this week. We have been trying to get the bunnies to be more friendly by petting them everyday… they still seem a little anxious, but we are making progress.
Chris and I spent Thanksgiving here in Little Rock and one of the Second Pres families was kind enough to adopt us for the day. (Thank you Huismans/Scotts!) We ate well, joined in on a Turkey Trot, and got to see Fantastic Beasts!  The holidays are just around the corner and of course that means lots of food. Whether it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas there always seems to be plenty of leftovers. Thanksgiving leftovers are quite delicious and often get turned into soup or sandwiches for the next couple of weeks.
This week I also reflected on other kinds of leftovers. At the Disaster Assistance Center the main thing we do is inspect kits. We get groups (often churches) from all over the country that send us assembled kits and then volunteers come to Ferncliff to inspect each kit and make sure it has the right items and quantities. Many of the kits are assembled perfectly, some need to be slightly tweaked, but a few kits make me cringe. Some kits contain used hand towels, old yellowed toothbrushes, or the little bars of soap you get at hotels… essentially leftovers. I can imagine someone cleaning out their closet and donating things, hoping that someone else can put them to good use. Though I believe their heart is probably in the right place, it is pretty demeaning to be given someone else’s junk. This is a problem not only with disaster relief efforts, but also  with food pantries and clothing drives. If it’s torn or stained or expired, just throw it away, don’t make it someone else’s problem! I’ve heard the argument that people should be grateful for whatever is donated regardless of the state that it is in. However if you’re donating something that should be in the trash, essentially you’re saying that the people we serve only deserve your leftovers. These are fellow humans that deserve the dignity of quality items.Consider how you would feel if you received whatever item you’re about to donate. If you have any qualms about that item, then it probably belongs in the trash. We really appreciate donations and love volunteers, but please be mindful with your donations this holiday season.

Photo Credit: Chris Utterback, Kelsey Tom, Clarke Huisman

The Privilege of School Supplies

Back to School time always marks one of my favorite times of the year. I have always loved picking out new school supplies. I really enjoyed picking out the cool patterns and colors especially for my notebooks and backpack! It made me feel great to start off the year with everything color coordinated and ready to learn.

In my current work at Ferncliff, I help volunteers to package kits to send to people affected by disaster. One of the kits we assemble is a school kit, which consists of:

  • One pair of blunt scissors
  • Three 70-count bound notebooks
  • One 12” ruler
  • One hand-held pencil sharpener
  • One large eraser
  • Six new, unsharpened pencils
  • One box of 24 crayons
  • One cotton or lightweight canvas bag

Most of the supplies we use to assemble these kits are donated by various churches, so there tends to be quite a variety in the colors and styles of each item. Some pencils have bright patterns, while others are just your basic #2 pencil. Some bags are colorful, while others are a simple beige color. 

I wonder if this becomes a problem when the kits are distributed. I can easily see a child feeling short changed by receiving the more basic supplies or being frustrated that the color they want is not in the kit they received. I find myself wondering if school aged Katie would be happy with the plainer supplies or if I would want the cooler supplies. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that could afford school supplies. I didn’t have to make do with what was given to me. Coming from a place of privilege has benefited me in many ways, but the one I am currently wrestling with is that of choice. I get to choose my wardrobe, I get to choose what I eat, I get to choose even something as simple as the color of my backpack. 
I don’t tend to think of myself as a picky person, but honestly that’s probably because I tend to compare myself to other privileged folk. I know there are many other ways that privilege improves my life, just wanted to give my thoughts on one that has been coming up for me recently….
In other news Ferncliff life is going well! We recently had a pet blessing for several farm animals (see picture below). We got the opportunity to cheer on the Hogs at an Arkansas game a few weeks ago. It was fantastic to experience that game day atmosphere again! This week I will definitely be cheering on the Hogs again as they play against Auburn. Until next time, happy trails and ROLL TIDE y’all!

Exploring Ferncliff

We’ve just arrived at Ferncliff and are starting to get our bearings. It’s an awesome place; I’m already falling in love with the campus. True to any summer camp there’s lots of stuff to do! The camp is surrounded by 4 mountains (named John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew), so there’s plenty of hiking. There’s a really pretty stone chapel, a labyrinth, and two lakes. In addition there’s also all the camp stuff like a pool, archery range, giant slide (the Shady Chute), and a low ropes course. The farm is super cool! We have sheep, goats, bunnies, chickens, and a duck! The sheep are named Bart and BJ; and the duck is named Howard. Ashley and I are pushing to get another duck because Howard seems a little lonely. The garden is pretty neat; there are about 20 beds with various crops (mostly lettuce) for the fall harvest. The YAV house is nice and homey. Ashley and I share a room, and Chris has his own room (for now). The upstairs is a loft with a hammock chair! There’s also a piano, but unfortunately none of us play. Ferncliff is also home to a nature preschool so that’s been fun to see all the little kiddos running around. We’ve been enjoying exploring all that Ferncliff has to offer and are looking forward to meeting our new roommate next week!


Hi! My name is Katie McGee; I am a 22 year old from Centennial, Colorado. I just graduated from the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!!) with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. In my spare time I enjoy rock climbing, rafting, backpacking, and pretty much anything outdoors. Though I am going to miss the Colorado mountains, I am excited to continue living in the south by serving as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) at the Little Rock site next year.

While at Alabama I saw the impact that a tornado can have on a community and experienced the amazing capacity of people to come together to rebuild. Throughout college I went on several trips to help other communities rebuild from disasters, so I am looking forward to working with the Disaster Assistance Center (DAC) at Ferncliff Conference Center. I hope to spend this year expanding my knowledge of disaster relief efforts and sustainability as well as continuing to deepen my spiritual journey and discernment process. I can’t wait to start exploring and see what God has in store for this year!

Katie white dress (59)