Sally at summer camp
Sally Worland owns Hidden Hollow, a summer camp and event venue in North Georgia. Her faith and values are an integral part of how she operates her business.
Hidden Hollow is in the southern Appalachians and is a part of McLemore Cove, which is included on the National Historic Register. It is 135 mostly wooded acres of seclusion at the foot of, and on the side of, Lookout Mountain, 20 miles from downtown Chattanooga. The five-acre lake is spring-fed with a small creek bordering the property. Special on-site interests (besides the many tourist attractions in the nearby areas) are the Cherokee Indian heritage, the Civil War happenings, remnants of old moonshine stills, and varied outdoor games.
How did you get started? How did your business idea originate?
When I was 14 years old, I felt very strongly that the Lord was leading me to start a camp for children. I immediately talked to my mom and dad about buying property. At first they thought that sounded rather odd. I tried to convince them how serious I was; I even offered to help pay for it (although there wasn’t much I could do at 14). But my mom decided to humor me, and so we looked at different properties. Over time, she developed an interest in having a bed and breakfast, and started to really enjoy looking at farms and daydreaming about the future.
At this point my dad had no interest in it because he thought it would just be one more thing that he would have to work on (and he was right). But when we found this property several years later, we convinced him that it was “the one,” and we purchased it. Through the years, I took on different projects and loans to pay my share, and make the improvements that had to be made. My first camp started in 1976, and it’s happened ever since.
Did you experience any resistance to your business idea, especially as someone so young?
Yes, I told my minister (who I just thought hung the moon), and he laughed and said, “No, Sally. He wants you to be a missionary.” So I decided that I wouldn’t tell another person because I didn’t want anybody else to throw cold water on me. So I kept it to myself, even though deep in my heart I still knew it was what I was going to do. I even decided to explore the mission field to see if that’s where God was leading me.
So over the course of the following summer, I went to France and Africa, and several more trips in the years after that. But after every trip, although I gained more and more respect for missionaries, I always knew it was not my life’s call. And because of that, I’m very conscious of not putting a damper on what children tell you they’re supposed to do. Only they have access to that direct connection between them and God.
As a young person who felt so strongly called to a particular role, are there any lessons you learned between realizing your goal and achieving it that you would like to share with today’s youth that might feel similarly called?
There are kids of faith, teenagers and younger, who already know that the Lord is leading them. I would encourage them to know Luke 1:37, “With God all things are possible.” They may feel defeated at times, but don’t give up, keep putting one foot in front of the other. God gives us these dreams and goals because He expects us to take action.
I would also remind kids that it’s really important to prepare yourself. In college I took every camping and camp leadership class because that’s where my passion was. However, I majored in social work in case I needed something else to fall back on. And it turned out to be a good move that allowed me to achieve my dream.
My social work degree helped me to get my first job as the youth director for the YWCA, and then after when it merged with the YMCA. It involved a lot of inner city children’s work, but it also followed alongside the school system, allowing me to have summers off. So I was able to start and fund my camp, doing both jobs at the same time.
And for those who don’t consider themselves persons of faith, I think it would be a whole lot more difficult, but they still need to pursue their dreams and their goals. Everyone, regardless of faith, has a purpose and a role, and are called by God to follow that.
Within your business, with your employees and clients, how do you, as a Christian business person, see your role with them?
Personally, it was to be kind to one another. If you can’t do anything else, you can be kind to people. And we all fail on that at times. Even if someone has different religious beliefs, or values, I can still be kind to them. But it’s a constant thing I need to work on.
I also want to be as generous as I can be. And that has to be balanced with being wise in a business sense, which can be hard at times, because you want to be generous, and you want to give, but you also know you can’t run a business if you don’t run it business-like. The key for me is to find the balance between those two.
Has there been any point where the two came into conflict?
Yes there have, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way, like sometimes in the spirit of generosity you can end up hurting your business. Even though the Bible tells us not be slovenly in business, sometimes you get your heart ahead of what is probably the best thing to do at the moment. Especially in my line of business, because I’m not selling something directly, I’m offering an over-night stay, or a week stay, people don’t realize how expensive it is to put them up for free because there are many, many people and programs involved. But you don’t want people to see that, you want everything to be in a spirit of generosity.
But on the flip side, you can often fail to be generous when you should have been. So you try to learn, is this someone that really needs this—is God saying, “Yes, give this to them,” or is it someone who is just trying to take advantage? I’ve learned a lot about human nature, especially from the resort end of the business. But I don’t want to ever get jaded because there are more kind, thoughtful people out there. You just have to learn to be wise.
Do you have any specific examples you can share with us?
Oh yes. There was this one lady who called me and said they didn’t have the money, but they wanted to stay for several days. She said she was in some kind of promotional business, and she would be sure to promote our business “big time.” I gave it to her at a greatly reduced rate and in end, they just trashed the cabin. It was terrible. But it was a lesson well learned.
Do you feel that Christian business leaders should be held to a higher standard, and if so, how has that affected you (or not) with Hidden Hollow?
Yes, I ultimately think of God as my CEO. He’s the one I’m trying to work for. So when I make mistakes, I need Him to show me what I’ve done wrong and how to do it differently. And I know if I choose to go in a way that is not proper for a Christian, it’s going to be counterproductive. It’s just going to make things worse.
I’ve learned that so much more is “caught than taught” (especially by kids). Every interaction can be an opportunity to showcase your faith. Now, it’s not like I stand around talking about my Christian faith to everybody by any stretch, because I don’t. But if there’s opportunities I would, or if it seems like it’s appropriate I would. A whole lot more is expressed by attitude, and that’s what people notice.
Unfortunately, because of many new laws and rules we now have to be careful of how we share. And although I try to never shirk from that responsibility, at the same time, I’m hoping people see more than they hear of how much Christ does love them.
In bringing up our legislature, how do you think we can support, encourage, and/or invest in Christian business leaders in what they believe they are being led to do?
I think it’s good to have networking among those folks. And there’s a lot of that already going on, but being able to talk, share, and be supported is so important, in addition to reaping wisdom from others.
Do you see your business growing into other avenues over the next 3-5 years, or do you feel you’re in the place your supposed to be and the focus now is just on maintaining?
That’s actually something I’m dealing with right now. I’m trying to decide exactly what direction to take it. Maintaining is important. I don’t foresee doing any additional business projects other than some small things in the future.
But I also want to know what direction I am supposed to be going in, because, as I said earlier, there have been so many changes that make having a Christian business difficult. It’s especially cumbersome since I’m an incorporated business and not a non-profit.. Hidden Hollow isn’t looked at as a Christian ministry, even though I feel like at its heart it is.
Hidden Hollow Resort
Do you have a message you would like to share with either today’s youth who feel called like you did, or current Christian business leaders, or both groups?
Don’t give up for one thing. Keep that glimmer of what you’re supposed to be doing and keep adding to it so that it builds a bigger and bigger fire for that passion that you have. I think you’ll know if it’s a passion if it just doesn’t go away—it stays with you. You usually know if you’re not doing exactly what you’re cut out to do, and I think it’s the same way when you’re directed towards a specific goal.
Also, share your dream with a few trusted people. In my situation, I didn’t get a very supportive response at first, but I did later on, especially from my parents, and I really appreciated that. Some people (like my pastor) mean well but they are guiding you to their vision for your life, and it may not be the same as God’s vision. So I’ve learned never to say, “Oh no, you’re not supposed to that,” when kids come to me. Unless of course it’s some thing that’s illegal or dangerous, then that’s a different story.
I would also add that God is the only absolute we have. There’s the saying that “The only thing constant in the world is change,” and there’s a lot of truth to that from the world’s perspective. But from Christ’s perspective, He says very clearly, that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We know he is not going to change; He’s not going to leave us. And so when you’re His, and when you’ve accepted Him, He holds you in the palm of his hand. No matter how hard things of the world become around you—if something bad happens to you, or your family, or your friends—He’s still there. Even though we can’t understand it all, because we’re not in heaven yet, we know that we still can trust God. He is the absolute constant in all things.
Edited for content and brevity.