Building Community to Lean On

Willow Adelya Riney

Camp Mikell Summer Staffer

On June 5, Willow Riney finally took a birthday lap around the Camp Mikell Dining Hall, following the tradition at the diocesan retreat center in Toccoa. That moment of exultation was part of her new thing in 2022: turning 19 and joining the Camp Mikell Summer Staff.

From her base in the Luke I cabin, Willow passed on traditions that she had learned as a camper. In many ways, she has been raised in and by the diocese.

This connection began when her parents divorced and Willow and her mother, Rebecca Riney, moved in with Willow’s grandparents. Her grandparents attended St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Marietta, and lived just a half mile away. Willow and Rebecca began attending and quickly made St. Cat’s their church home.

“People there were like second grandparents to me, or another mom and dad,” Willow said. “The older I got, the more I made a name for myself by serving, and became recognized as a leader.”

From children’s choir to acolyting to youth group to diocesan youth ministry and serving in retreat leadership, Willow got more involved. Relationships with her youth group directors motivated her at first, then she started making more friends and contacts.

The pandemic “was a lot to handle for my faith, but one really big steady things that I had going for me was Camp Mikell,” she said. “Even though I only saw those people maybe a couple times a year, I never felt like I lost my connection.”

Willow’s first summer on Camp Mikell staff coincided with another life passage: gaining independence as an adult. She is a sophomore at University of South Carolina, majoring in early childhood education.

“Being able to make a difference in kids’ lives would be my new thing,” she said. “Helping them know that this group of people are always here for you. For me, that means that no matter how much I do struggle with my faith, I know that I have a community that I can always lean on, and that is the biggest support I could ask for.”

“Being independent has also been a new thing for me because this year, I’ve taken over doing everything for myself, which has been amazing, but it’s also like, wow, I’m going into the real world very soon. This is scary!”