Greg McCarley: Two-time Laurel Ridge grad living a purpose-driven life ‣ Laurel Ridge Community College
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Greg McCarley: Two-time Laurel Ridge grad living a purpose-driven life

Greg McCarley travel pic
Laurel Ridge alumnus Greg McCarley is a traveler, daydreamer and the director of engagement for Simply Shenandoah, a nature resort planned for Shenandoah County.

Two-time Laurel Ridge graduate Greg McCarley has seen his motivation in life evolve through three stages – all beginning with the letter “P.” He says right after earning his bachelor’s degree he was profit-driven before becoming power-driven. Today, McCarley is purpose-driven, which is reflected in the work he is doing and the life he is leading.

Raised in Illinois, McCarley turned to Laurel Ridge to kick start his college education after relocating to Virginia. He enrolled in 2007, two years after graduating from high school. He moved to Strasburg to be with his mother, Tu Park, who had bought New Star Market on John Marshall Highway outside of town in 2005.

“I wanted to get in-state tuition, so I had to live in Virginia for at least a year first,” he said.

After earning his general studies degree from Laurel Ridge, McCarley transferred to James Madison University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in justice studies – global policy. While completing his degree, he studied abroad in Korea and was able to visit extended family members and study the language, as well as volunteer teaching English.

“I just loved being overseas,” McCarley said.

He also did an internship at the public defender’s office in Washington, D.C. There, he was an investigative intern.

After earning his degree from JMU, McCarley eventually worked as a travel and risk analyst at Workday in the San Francisco Bay Area, and later as a personnel security analyst for the Executive Office of the President where he conducted personnel security investigations for people seeking security clearances, later becoming an adjudicator for security clearances during President Obama’s administration. He had the chance to meet the President.

“He’s a good guy, a good man,” said McCarley. “He was very engaging.”

When Obama’s term came to an end, McCarley decided it was time to move on.

“I didn’t want to do any more government work, any more investigations,” he said. “I wanted to do more passionate work.”

Initially, this saw him returning to California.

“I was hoping to get back to my old lifestyle,” he said, but added, “I kind of just wasn’t feeling it anymore.”

The death of a former girlfriend led McCarley to reassess what was motivating him through life, and he started thinking about transition. This led to his deciding to go backpacking overseas and to travel his Volkswagen van.

“I realized I loved nature so much,” said McCarley. “I knew I wanted to do something with nature.”

McCarley said his working life has focused on 3 “P”s. When he first graduated from college and launched his career, he was profit driven. After making plenty of money, he became power driven.

“After having power over things, I moved on to purpose driven,” McCarley said. “That’s where I am now. I believe in doing what I do for the greater good of the world and my community.”

It was around this time that he heard about the recreation and outdoor leadership program at Laurel Ridge and he met Professor Stacey Ellis, who at the time was the program lead.

“She was an amazing professor,” said McCarley, whose fiancée, Samantha Rodeffer, graduated from the surgical technology program at Laurel Ridge in 2022. “I’m still in contact with her. I just loved the class. That actually propelled me to my current role now.”

He is director of engagement for Simply Shenandoah, a wellness and nature resort planned for the Star Tannery area of Shenandoah County expected to open in fall 2025. The 120-room resort will be set among 640 acres with holistic activities, allowing guests to reconnect with nature and themselves.

“It’s the first of its kind built from the ground up in this area in decades,” said McCarley.

With a full restaurant, three treehouses, a ropes course and 40-plus experiences, including yoga, aquatics, hiking, cryotherapy, gardens and saunas, the goal is for guests to have a “transformational experience.” McCarley’s hope is they will be inspired to do something positive for the world.

McCarley’s duties includes liaising with area organic farmers, practitioners, artisans and small businesses interested in having a partnership with the resort.

“I have this vision of building an entire ecosystem of holistic wellness in this region,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of outdoor recreation.”

In fact, earlier this year he took a 10,000-mile road trip in his VW van, hitting more than 30 states and about 15 national parks.

“It was a very long, amazing, fun, vigorous trip,” he said. “I have learned simplicity is great – just talking about life, just enjoying it, really connecting with people. I just love meeting people where they are and just listening to their stories.”

That attitude led to his creation of The Porch at New Star Market a couple of years ago. A side business for him to support his family – literally on the side of the market – The Porch serves bubble teas, coffees, regular teas and ice cream. It is a seasonal, strictly outdoor café.

“I’m a coffee fanatic,” said McCarley. “I wanted to bring a little piece of every place I’ve been to coffee shop-wise.”

Whimsically decorated, The Porch has a chalkboard asking where visitors are from, and its décor includes old radios, books, art, and even a Burmese snakeskin. McCarley’s sister Sherry runs it. Like Simply Shenandoah, The Porch has no wifi.

“No – talk to your friends, that’s your wifi,” said McCarley.

It’s those connections with others that will see you go far, said McCarley, who describes himself as a “huge daydreamer and creative thinker.’

“You don’t have to go to the most prestigious school,” said McCarley. “You don’t even have to be the smartest student. Enjoy the moment. Build the connections. Enjoy the experience. Take a chance. I’ve taken so many chances that worked out. Don’t be afraid of rejection. The answer is always ‘no’ unless you ask. Be an opportunist. Think of solutions to problems.”

He credits Laurel Ridge with giving him a starting point when he’s needed it.

“I’m a way happier person than I was in the past based on that starting kick off,” McCarley said. “Laurel Ridge kind of put me on the right trajectory.”

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.