Mark Heffentrager is a man of God — both personally and professionally. When he moved to Colorado from Arizona in 1998, he started work as an Eagle Lake Camps counselor for the Navigators and has been with them ever since. Now 40, Heffentrager serves the faith-based nonprofit as director of camping ministries both on the road and from his office at Glen Eyrie. The family man spoke to the Business Journal this week about his roots, his wife and kids and how they have influenced his role with the Navs.
Can you tell me about your background and how you got to Colorado?
I was born in Hawaii, because my father was in the military, and grew up in Tucson, Arizona. I started school at Arizona State and soon became disenchanted with school, so I left college to get started in the working world. I found my way up here because I was a 22-year-old kid heading nowhere in life and I came up to Colorado just to get away. Then I started as a counselor at Eagle Lake and one summer was offered a job to come on and do public relations. I did finish my education eventually in 2005 at Colorado Christian University’s satellite campus down here with a degree in organizational management and an emphasis in Christian leadership.
Have you always been religious?
I have. I grew up in a Christian home and as many Christians would say, there was a season of my life when I just walked away and explored what I felt the world had to offer. I ran down a lot of different roads, but it was the hope of Jesus that brought me back to an understanding that this is what I believe. As I’ve continued down this road, both personally and professionally, I’ve had the privilege to work in an area that I get to express that belief freely and openly.
How has your role changed since you’ve been here?
I started as just a public relations guy, beating the drum for Eagle Lake. At the time, we only had the one property, which has been there since 1957. I would go around and meet with families, youth pastors, marketing agencies, everyone, to push Eagle Lake. … When I started as a counselor in 1998, we had 1,800 campers. In 2001, we had 2,600 campers. Then 9/11 hit and everyone in our industry took a step backward. Last summer at our overnight property was the second-largest summer we’ve had in the history of Eagle Lake. So it has taken us a while to get back to that, but in the midst of all that I went from being a public relations guy to being assistant director for camp. Then, in 2001, Executive Director Jack McQueeney asked me to oversee everything to do with kids as director of camp. That would eventually include a day camp that we run at Glen Eyrie and a program called On Location, in which we partner with churches across the country to bring a camp to their property for a week.
What is your day-to-day like, and how does it change throughout the year?
It’s a lot of fundraising — that’s the first thing. … Eagle Lake runs at about a $2 million budget, and we don’t want to charge our kids more than we have to. So we raise a substantial amount of money so that we can keep prices down and really serve the community. … But my gifts are in creativity and leadership, so I have the chance to bring my own, unique contribution to each area of our program. I spend a lot of time traveling and selling Eagle Lake to churches and communities across the country, and I also spend a lot of time with parents and people in the community to continue to push Eagle Lake forward in a positive light. We want to be good, active members in our community.
How has starting a family affected your work with children?
I actually met my wife at Eagle Lake and we have served in every position. … In our third year at the camp, I convinced a very beautiful woman to marry a very ugly guy and have been married almost 14 years. I have three kids — 6, 3 and six months. … What really changed for me was going from caring about kids as a counselor to really understanding what it means to have your own kids. … As a parent now, I understand that it’s my job as director of camp to help parents understand why this is important for their kids and that their kids will be safe in our care. … It has changed me as a business person. I think I’m more able to relate to parents and people, and I’ve looked at my staff differently since becoming a dad of three.
You have the rare experience of having developed as a young professional within the same organization in the same location. What has that been like?
It’s interesting having been in this job for 17 years now. When I first got here, I was just trying to keep my head above water, and I don’t think I really took advantage of relationships. As I’ve grown, I’ve recognized all the great things we have going on in our culture. … I think there is a vibrant community here, and it’s a laid-back community, and chances to develop deeper relationships. … This is a great place to live, and I’ve really enjoyed it. My wife is from the South and I am from the Southwest, but we don’t plan to return to either of those places. Colorado Springs is our home.