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Ebenezer Alive! celebrates 20 years of education
Beth Epling
Education Coordinator Beth Epling shares the history of Ebenezer Alive! during Business After Hours on Thursday at New Ebenezer Retreat and Conference Center. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

RINCON — Twenty years ago, New Ebenezer Retreat and Conference Center concocted a recipe for teaching history that students in multiple states still find appetizing.

The program, called Ebenezer Alive!, was celebrated during Business After Hours, an Effingham County-sponsored event, at the retreat center Thursday night.

“We’ve been alive, well and going crazy for about 20 years,” said Education Coordinator Beth Epling. She has spearheaded Ebenenzer Alive! since its inception in January 2000.

Ebenezer Alive! focuses on heritage and history, character education and natural/environmental sciences. To explain the reason for its success, Epling recounted an episode with an Effingham County Middle School eighth grader from several years ago.

“He said, ‘Mrs. Beth, history is really real. It’s not just words in a book,’” Epling recalled. I said, ‘You got it! You got it!’”

Ebenezer Alive! is an extension of the classroom for students in grades 4-8. It offers hands-on experiences in a beautiful wooded area. It offers 45 programs and activities, plus off-site trip opportunities to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Georgia State Railroad Museum, Sapelo Island, Tybee Island Lighthouse, Old Fort Jackson and many others.

Epling took the opportunity to thank retreat center staffers — past and present — who have contributed to her program. She also expressed gratitude for the nearby Georgia Salzburgers Society.

After Epling finished speaking, New Ebenezer Retreat Center Director Clara Barnes took the microphone.

“Mrs. Beth is the wonderful Southern belle,”  Barnes said. “She has been know to ride a golf cart side saddle.”

Barnes then read a poem she wrote in honor Epling’s contributions to thousands of children from Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas.

Earlier, Effingham County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairman Joe Marchese and Dr. Randy Shearouse, superintendent of the Effingham County School District and member of the New Ebenezer Retreat Center Board of Directors, also lauded Epling.

“... she has made such a difference with so many young people in Effingham County, it’s just amazing,” Shearouse said.

Richard Kessler, described by Barnes as the retreat center’s “founding father,” also talked about Epling, who used to run Effingham County’s 4-H program. He said he immediately thought of her when the New Ebenezer Retreat Center Board of Directors opted to start a program for students.

Kessler joked, “I told her, ‘You don’t have to say anything. You are recruited.’

“She said, ‘Oh, this sounds exciting.’ 

“And so, we got together and talked about it. I think she made an instant decision because it was so right for everybody.

“... It’s really been a wonderful program. We have about 2,000 students a year go through the program, and we have about 25,000 go through the center every year. Ebenezer Alive! has touched a lot of people and New Ebenezer has certainly touched a lot of people.”