By Brandon HENSLEY
Nancy Thomas calls it the Batcave, so perhaps anyone would be anxious to see the place that a church secretary alludes to as the lair of a mysterious superhero.
But the journey down the stairs and into the belly of the La Crescenta Presbyterian Church campus doesn’t provide an image of secret high-tech gadgets shrouded in blackness. Instead, it has a feel more like Peewee’s Playhouse.
Inside there is a pool table, several acoustic guitars and basses, a couple of couches, a refrigerator full of food and a retro-gaming lover’s delight, a Nintendo 64.
Most notably though, in the back, is the office of the new guy in town, the 29-year-old youth leader. Emphasis on youth.
“I can take anyone in Mario Kart,” Cameron Hackett said, referring back to the Nintendo 64.
Hackett was hired in August to take over as director of student ministries, which includes leading junior high and high schoolers. While his work environment makes it seem like he spends every day in a kid’s paradise, Hackett has traveled many miles to get here, both physically and spiritually.
Hackett grew up in Portland, Ore., and in high school was a basketball standout for Beaverton High. In 2000, he came to Southern California to attend Occidental College, where he eventually received a degree in English.
But Hackett didn’t grow up a spiritual person. He wouldn’t completely describe himself as a troublemaker, but, “Who I was and what I said and what I did was guided by who I was around.”
It wasn’t until college that Hackett said he had his “spiritual awakening.”
“When I came to college I was open to things of faith, but I didn’t have much of a [religious] background.”
Hackett joined Intervarsity Ministries, a Christian-led ministry group on college campuses, and his journey took off. “At some point I said, ‘I could listen to what everyone else says or I could figure it out for myself,’” he explained.
Before coming to La Crescenta Presbyterian, Hackett worked for Intervarsity at Claremont College for four years. He is currently attending Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
To get hired, Hackett had to endure five rounds of interviews, some with pastor Andy Wilson and some with parents, who are on the Ministry Committee. So why was he the right choice to replace former youth leader Darren Pollack?
“He’s obviously a really bright guy,” said Lee Cook, director of spiritual formation. “He has a lot of qualities. He’s very likable. We liked the direction that he wanted to take the youth group.”
That direction includes expanding the church’s outreach to schools like Crescenta Valley and La Cañada high schools and even Sun Valley’s Village Christian School.
Cook also cited Hackett’s desire for real life application of the Bible. “We like the idea of him teaching the kids how to read the Bible and apply it in their own lives as well,” he said.
Hackett added that he likes the idea of incorporating what he learned in basketball. “I love what sports can do for people as far as building relationships and teaching people camaraderie and teamwork.”
What sets him apart, according to youth volunteer Stacie Roach, is his personality. “He doesn’t try to impress anyone, which is what I’ve really noticed, and some people tend to do that, especially at a church,” said Roach.
She added Hackett “just seems like a genuine guy, really able to connect [with the kids].”
Cook said Hackett’s ability to not take himself seriously is key part in him being successful.
“You cannot take yourself too seriously when you work with youth,” Cook said.
Hackett has already taken part in the annual In-N-Out Formal, when the kids dress up and prizes are awarded to those who win specific dress categories such as “Most Hipster.”
Next year, Hackett is aiming at a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. What he hopes to do long-term for himself is eventually move to La Crescenta – he currently lives in Claremont – with his wife Erna, who is a college pastor. Hackett said he wants to be a part of CV basketball, whether it be coaching or scouting.
As for his goals for the youth program, “I think it’s hard for kids when they don’t have some level of stability, so I’d like to be here for a while.”
While he’s only been on the job for less than two months, Hackett said he’s been able to connect with many of the kids, and said he feels welcome here. Of course, working in an environment like Hackett’s might have that effect on someone. So far, God and Mario Kart have equaled a winning combination.