Paula Sandusky spent some of the best years of her life crawling under desks and climbing into the phone closets of Wall Street traders.
Until Stony Point Center—one of three national conference centers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—took her away from all that.
Sandusky, now senior manager of Operations for Stony Point, had walked away from Wall Street to raise her family when she was approached some ten years ago by the Rev. Sue Bouder, wife of the Rev. Bill Pindar, of one of Stony Point’s former directors, at a PTA meeting at their children’s Rockland County school.
Bouder, who was then serving as pastor of the Stony Point Presbyterian Church, invited Sandusky, who was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, to visit her Presbyterian congregation.
So Sandusky did. And she took her daughter with her. “The Ash Wednesday service was so lovely,” she said, “I started attending regularly.”
Once Sandusky had made the Stony Point congregation her church home—eventually becoming a member, Sunday school teacher and church treasurer—she continued to be pursued by Bouder, who was on a mission for the PC(USA).
“You must visit my husband at Stony Point Center sometime,” Bouder told Sandusky, who had vowed she’d never go back to computer systems work.
Yet shortly thereafter, that’s exactly what she did.
What started out as a ten-hour-per-week position helping with Stony Point’s computers, its website, and the conference center’s marketing, evolved into something larger, different, full time, and better suited to Sandusky’s business and finance background.
Entrusted with the oversight of a team of managers—food service, guest services, housekeeping, reservations, business office, and property—Sandusky helps to resource and serve the more than 200 guest groups that Stony Point hosts each year.
Sandusky is quick to point out that Stony Point’s co-directors, Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase, have had a singular focus for the conference center since their arrival in 2008.
“Rick and Kitty bring in this goal of intentional community that makes it so purposeful, and that grounds so many of our guest groups here,” said Sandusky, referring to the center’s Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith community dedicated to the practice and study of hospitality, nonviolence, and justice. “Because of Rick and Kitty, the guest groups understand that [Stony Point] is not just a container where they do their work, but it’s exponentially growing this dream of a world where religions live side by side in peace.”
While Sandusky has characterized her tenure at Stony Point as both a “wonderful journey” and a “roller coaster”—the latter primarily because of the ever-present challenges on the revenue side of the operation—she said it would be hard for her to work anywhere else.
“Where in corporate America do you get a hug if you need one?” she asked. “The community just enriches the life here.”
As does the food, featuring locally-sourced ingredients, seasonal vegetables, fresh eggs, and fruits grown in Stony Point’s own gardens and farm.
“Because the members of our food service staff keep thinking that I’m making it up that people are so happy with the food here, I have to show them the guest exit survey results,” said Sandusky. “One group who had been with us for three weeks stood up and started roaring, clapping, and cheering for the kitchen staff out of gratitude for such wonderful, healthy eating. It makes it all worth it when groups go away happy like that.”
Stony Point’s food was showcased Sunday, Oct. 11 at the center’s second annual Farm-to-Table Gala, “a fundraiser dedicated to growing the capacity of Stony Point Center to be fertile ground for justice and peace for the long haul.” The gala provided the occasion to present Stony Point’s second annual Living Traditions Award to Jun Yasuda, a Nun in the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji order residing at the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Grafton, N.Y.
To prepare for such a large, annual event, all hands at the conference center were busy. And happy.
Sandusky says that in her daily work she feels—and is grateful for—the support of the denomination, especially in IT, legal, human resources, and finance.
“It was a real shot in the arm for us when the church supported a third party hospitality consultant to come in last summer for a week to shadow us,” said Sandusky. “The lengthy report that he prepared has become our guidebook. Because many of us didn’t have a hospitality background, to have an expert come in and look at the whole place and give us real, detailed suggestions was very helpful.”
She is also thankful for the generations that have shaped Stony Point, which traces its Presbyterian roots to 1948, when the Gilmor sisters bequeathed their home and 26 acres of farmland to the Presbyterian Church Board of Foreign Missions “to help carry out the mission of the church.”
“This ground—all the people and all the guest groups that have come before—they add something here,” said Sandusky. “To take care of it is a duty. To keep it going is something I feel I couldn’t walk away from.”