How this Canyon Ops Director Found New Grounds

When 16-year-old Carlos Navarro applied for a summer job at the Canyon, he wanted some money to buy a car. He received much more.

“This place has changed my life. The Foundation doesn’t want to just give people jobs; they want to give people purpose,” Navarro said. “It’s a lot different than anywhere I‘ve ever worked.”

Navarro, now 31, serves as the senior director of Canyon operations, heading teams totaling about 30 people who together manage the property—from installing handwashing stations in the cabins to ensuring the water system runs properly. It‘s a lot more responsibility than his first job, but as he discovered, no more important.

Fifteen years ago, Navarro applied for a temporary grounds helper position at the suggestion of his father, Fern, who worked as Laity Lodge’s facility lead for more than two decades. Carlos had never attended camp, yet he was familiar with the property growing up in Leakey. It became a regular job for him every summer for the next three years.

“They saw something in me I didn’t see in myself”

After a couple of years in college, living in San Antonio, and getting married, Navarro was still seeking his calling. He considered becoming a firefighter before he and his wife Taylor decided to come back to Leakey to be closer to family in 2014.

“It’s always felt like home,” he said.

Navarro returned to the H. E. Butt Foundation in 2014, this time as a full-time groundskeeper. Groundskeeping is an art. Grass growing beside a rock doesn’t necessarily require cutting. Beauty lives in its wildness–a wildness that guests notice and appreciate.

“It actually tells a story,” he said.

Returning to his roots proved fundamental for him. He realized the impact he could make, and his supervisors noticed it, too.

“They saw something in me I didn’t see in myself,” Navarro said. “It’s an interesting way of how I got to where I‘m at. I was shy and reserved until I got to the tech department. It forced me out of my comfort zone, which was great.”

He moved on from groundskeeping to maintenance and then the tech department, fixing appliances, diagnosing problems and making sure the things behind-the-scenes stayed behind-the-scenes. A broken air conditioner during a Texas summer can definitely sour someone‘s time at camp. If it went out at 10 p.m., Navarro was ready to help fix it.

“If you ask me to do something, I want to do it to the best of my ability,” he said.

In the tech department, Navarro couldn‘t stay behind the scenes himself. His role there called for interacting and collaborating more with people from different departments. Two years later, he was offered a director position at Headwaters.

“It’s more than replacing parts; it’s building relationships”

Working alongside people like Glenn Echols, Alan Blaha, and Troy Wright kept Navarro motivated, and when Blaha retired, he applied for that open position as director of Canyon operations. He got the job in January.

“I had really great examples,” he said. “I feel like the torch has been passed on, and I want to carry it.”

His role now is to make sure teams are cohesive and employees are happy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that‘s been a challenge, as it has been for all of us, but staff members have been helping each other during meetings and working to welcome guests back to the Canyon.

“It’s more than replacing parts; it’s building relationships,” Navarro said. “It’s helping people see the glass as half-full. That‘s hard to do sometimes.”

Relationships are what the Canyon is all about—from behind-the-scenes staff relationships to front line guest relationships. Campers didn‘t get the opportunity to build relationships last year because of the pandemic. Well-trafficked areas, like the soccer fields or spots for nine-square, normally worn brown and bare from many footsteps, grew green and lush. With his background of working on the grounds, Navarro noticed this, and it reminded him that throughout our struggles, God is in control.

“It was cool to see everything come back to life; it was an eye-opener,” he said. “I enjoyed seeing it. We’re itty-bitty compared to what His plan is. It keeps you humble.”

Today, Navarro is looking forward to the days of dead grass because it will mean that campers are enjoying the Canyon again and the air is filled with songs, chants, and laughter. All the employees, Navarro said, do their part to ensure those guests have a great, fun experience and find space to grow closer to God.

“I’ve had a blast being able to lead the entire team,” he said. “I think it’s going to be great.”

More from this issue

Laity Lodge's 60-Year Journey

Six decades of retreats is a milestone—a threshold that deserves to be observed and celebrated.

Where the Big Red Sage Grows Wild

It only grows wild in eight places in the world. The Canyon is one of those places.

A New Team for Real County

Providing rural community development in a Texas frontier county.

The Purpose of Crew

LLYC Crew enlists high school students to a time of transformative service.

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