Because of the People

During yesterday’s Spirit Fire, Clara Miller, one of the Hi-Ups (10th graders), spoke about what it means for her to be a “Rockbrook Girl,” and about what she most values during her time at camp. We thought others would enjoy reading it too, so she agreed to let us publish it here.

One of my favorite Rockbrook songs is “How Did We Come to Meet Pal?”. In particular, I love the line “T’was fate we came to Rockbrook and you became my friend.” Year after year, I return to the streams and the mountains, slowly dying fires, and blue skies, but more than that, I’ve always returned to camp because of the people. The bonds created at camp are unlike any other. They are built on honesty and authenticity, and for that reason, they are stronger than friendships formed in any other environment. I love the mountains and their beauty, and at the risk of sounding cliche, I love camp. However, when I dive deeper into my love of Brevard and Rockbrook, I realize that both stem from the people who I’ve gotten to know. That is why I returned for my Hup year. I couldn’t bear to spend a summer without Rockbrook girls.

Rockbrook Camp MountainsHup year was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It was some of the hardest work I’ve done in my life. I’ve never had to be a servant leader in the way Hup year required, and for that reason, I had to push myself in brand new ways. There were days when I couldn’t see the light at the end of the scraping-setting-barn walking tunnel. Then I would look out from the dining hall and see the beauty of camp. I would be reminded of why I choose to return to the mountains. Spending wonderful cabin days with my other Hups would remind me of the people who I return to again and again. And in those moments, I realized that I was wrong, and Hup year isn’t a scraping-setting-barn walking tunnel. It’s a year that, while difficult, is intended to push us to become hardworking, dedicated, and compassionate people. That is what Hup year means to me.

For six years of camp, I’ve been taught to face my fears, to help girls who are struggling, to give more than I take, to be grateful for the experiences and environment that I have been given, and through these ideals, become a Rockbrook girl. In past years, I have done these things, I have met these ideals, but I don’t think anything made me as much of a Rockbrook girl as Hup year. I was pushed in every way to be a brighter, stronger, better woman. Although Hup year was difficult, upon reflection, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My seven other wonderful Hups and my two amazing Hup counselors have become a family of sorts in the last three weeks. We’ve been pushed together, and I don’t know how I’m going to say farewell to nine of the best Rockbrook girls I’ve ever met, and I don’t know how I can return to the wooded mountain without each and every one of them by my side.

—Clara Miller

10th grade summer camp girls

Happy Accidents

archery girl pullDuring my time as an archery instructor this summer, I have noticed in some campers an expectation of high performance during their time on the range. Archery is a sport that requires an understanding of basic from when shooting, such as keeping your elbow up when you pull the bowstring back, keeping your feet parallel and a shoulder length apart, and keeping your arms straight. Often, if a shot does not land as expected campers can be quick to say “I’m not good at this” or “this is not for me” even after one or two tries. Admittedly, I have been this camper myself, and as I’ve transitioned from camper to counselor I have grown to recognize these kinds of perfectionistic tendencies in both myself and in campers.

Perfectionism, “a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection,” can be taught and internalized in children in many ways, especially in school where high achievement, high grades, and high standardized test scores are the expectation. Standards such as these are not inherently bad and can lead to greater success, but there can also be consequences that oftentimes lead children lacking confidence if they feel they aren’t achieving as well as they think they should be.

camp archery readyCamp is a place for girls to leave perfectionism behind. It is a place where mistakes are understood as a part of the process of life and learning. Without the added pressures from high expectations, campers live their camp life to the fullest, and in the most fun ways possible— and giving girls the confidence to decide for themselves how they want to spend their days here.

As a camper, I always felt at ease during my summers at camp. The pressures of home and performance never affected what I did here, and I was always supported in my endeavors, even if I felt I had made mistakes. Making something because I wanted to and not for anyone else was also a freeing feeling. Now as a counselor, I try to give campers the same support and ease. In pottery, when we make slab mugs some campers will say “I don’t like how this turned out, can I have a new slab?” to which my fellow instructor and I reply “just flip it over and start again!”. Even if the camper does not like what they’ve made at first, trying something new or turning a mistake in an intended design can make a piece look even better.

summer camp skit funAs a counselor, one of my favorite things to do is watch evening program camper skits. Certain nights the cabins on each line are given a wacky theme to create a skit around such as “Christmas in July” or “Moana meets Frozen”. Skits are a wonderful time for campers to let their creativity shine, design and wear funky costumes, and learn how to work together as a group. The campers never fail to come up with hilarious and out-of-the-box performances, and seeing the girls cracking up at their own antics during the skit and laughing together afterwards is always a delight. There is no right or wrong way to create a skit— no way to make it “perfect” —and I believe that is why the campers have so much fun making and performing them.

To conclude, at the start of this past rotation in Archery I was teaching a girl who, after a few arrows missed the target, claimed “I’m just not good enough at this.” However, as my co-instructor and I gave her a few tips and she got more used to shooting the bow, her aim became more accurate. At the end of class that day, four of her five arrows hit the white of the target and she cried with joy “I got them on the target! Look! I did it!” and she received congratulations and cheers from the other girls in the class. Today, that same camper got a bullseye! She was astonished and proud and we all cheered together. It was a great improvement from the first day of class, when she had expected a great shot on her first try. With guidance, practice, and confidence girls can do anything they set their minds to, and here at camp it is known that mistakes are just a part of learning.

—Hailey McGee, camper & counselor, 2010-present

camp teenagers

What Makes a Camp Friendship

Maggie and Friends

Ten years ago, on the first night of my CA year, I went to bed with a full heart and so much joy. I remember thinking to myself, “I have twenty more days with these friends.” I hadn’t seen my cabin-mates in a year and I wanted to savor every day we had together. There was something about this group of girls that was different than my friends from home. Although I didn’t know the exact difference, I knew it was meaningful and would last a lifetime.

The topic of camp friendships was sparked in a recent conversation and I still was unable to describe how camp friendships were different from friendships at home. I decided to ask Rockbrook girls of all ages the question, “Why are camp friends so special?” Some answers are similar, others are different, but all encompass the spirit of Rockbrook and the friendships that are formed in the “Heart of a Wooded Mountain.” Here are few of the answers, and while they may not point to some single essence of camp friendship, they are insightful.

camp teen friends

One of the youngest campers I asked observed that camp friends are special because “they are with you so much,” you see them “only once a year,” and because you are “living with them” you are just so “comfortable around them.”

Several Middlers, girls about 11 and 12 years old, echoed that observation that camp friends are “stronger.” Camp friends are “the best friends I’ve ever had,” because you are “away from each other all year. You will “have them forever” because you can “be yourself with them.”

The oldest campers described their camp friends as a “sisterhood I will cherish forever,” a closeness like “family” even though they’re from all over. At camp, they said “it’s easier to connect with people” simply because you are “away from friends from home.”

camp swimming buddies

Several counselors attributed the special character of their camp friendships to unplugging from technology and social media while at camp. Camp life provides “more opportunities to talk face to face,” and no “social pressures to be or act the coolest, have the most friends/followers, and you just get to be yourself.”

I also asked Rockbrook alumnae, now grown women who attended camp as children, about their camp friendships. One put it this way— “Camp friends have a better understanding of who you are which makes them more loyal, easier to talk to, and easier to be around.” And another— “Camp friends are like no others… we meet at a place where we can completely be ourselves. No pressure to look beautiful, be cool, or dress like a super model. A friend at camp is someone who is genuine and real.” At camp, you are “friends because you like/love the real person for who they are and the amazing memories you make and share.”

Camp Friends girls

One alumna described it beautifully:

“Too often, in the ‘real world’ people let first impressions rule the day. Beauty, wealth, fashion, youth, and social standing open doors, while a lack of these can close them. At camp, you are only responsible for how you treat others. Your kindness, positivity and openness draws people to you and friendship results. Friendships based on this solid foundation of authenticity are friendships that last a lifetime.

I have RBC friends that I met as a small child, and those that I met at reunions. Some are decades older. Some are decades younger. They live all over the world. We have been incredibly silly together, laughed our heads off together, and cried together as life has gone through its inevitable struggles. I am never alone. As the song says, ‘Look always to it when you’re in trouble… The spirit of Rockbrook…’  Camp is unconditional acceptance and true friendship sharing wonderful experiences from which you both grow as people. It’s a lifelong gift, and I am indescribably grateful for it.”

—Maggie Cameron

best camp friends

Stretching Ourselves

girl camp equestrianPart of the reason most of us come to camp is because we want to grow. Another way of saying this, of course, is that we want to be challenged. As I walked around camp today, I realized how unique Rockbrook is in giving each camper the freedom to make choices about how to stretch herself. Girls choose their own activities, and within those activities, there is a lot to do, but girls are constantly encouraged and given the choice of how they want to stretch their capabilities.

As I walked around camp today, I saw a lot of stretching. This was literal in gymnastics, because when I arrived, everyone was stretching their bodies, loosening up for the games ahead. The campers were excited to play the game “Stick It,” in which someone tells them a move right before they jump on the trampoline, and they have to stick it afterward. In the class, there was a wide array of ability levels. Some girls had grown up as gymnasts whereas others had never done a cartwheel. Everyone, though, had fun, and were able to challenge themselves. Whether they wanted to finish with perfect form, or whether they learned what a pike was, everyone stretched themselves in ways they chose to. The counselor was around the whole time, encouraging every girl, whether she was the star tumbler or the novice.

basketball camp gamealpine tower girl climberThe same spirit was alive and well in sports and games. Campers were playing the game “Knockout,” which is a variation on basketball where girls are trying to shoot a basket in the hoop before the person behind them. If they don’t do this, they are out. What was impressive about this, though, was that the game was congenial the whole time. The spirit of Rockbrook is not competitive, so the mood was light as girls tried to shoot their baskets. When campers got out, they chilled out by the fan and the counselor (who had been playing, but got out) was carrying on conversation until a winner was declared. It’s this cooperative, noncompetitive spirit that enables campers to constantly support each other and feel safe stretching themselves beyond what they think their limits are.

This was especially true in climbing, where I met up with a group of juniors who were trying to ascend the Alpine Tower. I sat on the log next to a junior and asked her about her climbing experience in the past. She had never climbed at Rockbrook before, but had climbed a few rock walls at home. I asked her how she wanted to go up, and she pointed to the hanging logs, the hardest way up. “I’m going to try, even though I’ve never done it before,” she said. It was an impressive moment—for someone who had never gone on the Alpine Tower to go up the hardest way, she was excited to stretch beyond her comfort zone. As I looked around, though, I realized that Rockbrook was creating a great environment for her to be unafraid to try something hard. All around the tower, I heard cheers of “You’ve got this!” and “You can do this!” These were not prompted by the counselors (who were encouraging in their own ways), but something the campers did intuitively.

The atmosphere of camp is one that asks us to always lift each other up, and in doing knowing that others want the best for us and are not focusing on our failures, it makes it easier to challenge ourselves to do hard things. For some girls, even being at camp is a challenge in its own way. Girls are leaving the familiarity and comforts of home, stretching their ability to be independent and make friends outside of their immediate surroundings. Today, now that girls are settled and we have a schedule, it was really fun to see girls who had a bit of homesickness yesterday start to really embrace camp, to think, “I can do this, and it’s going to be fun!” They are finding friends, and they are finding that they are being lifted up by counselors and friends who see the best in them and want to know all about them. As we continue to get settled in, we will continue finding new ways to challenge ourselves and grow in ways that only camp can provide.

Camp gymnastics girls

This is My Family

By Naomi Penner

I live in a mighty cabin on the Senior Line that sits up on a hill amidst the trees. A glorified tree house, if you will. Living with me are two co-counselors and 12, 13-14 year old girls. They are a spirited group of Rockbrook gals with nothing but wit, grit, pep, and cheer who always make me laugh. They are the girls of Penthouse and they are my family.

Camp Nature Girls

There’s no doubt that all of us here at RBC are one big family. We live together in the wooded mountains for a few weeks during the summer, so we’re bound to be close. We see each other during meals and activities, Assembly on the Hill, and Rockbrook Surprises, like a shaving cream fight or girl power themed carnival.

Yet, it’s the family within your cabin that shares a different kind of bond. Your cabin is your home away from home. Not only are all your belongings living in it, but so are the people you spend the most time with at camp. Your cabin mates are the first people you see when you wake up and the last you see before you go to bed. You sit together at every meal. You cheer for each other the loudest. You are proud of everything they do. You take care and look out for one another. And most importantly, you love each other no matter what. It’s your cabin mates who turn that cabin into a home.

Two Camp Friends

The fun thing about each cabin here at Rockbrook is that, just as every family, each one has a set of customs and traditions unique to just them. From mealtime to bedtime and everything in between. For me, it’s never a Penthouse meal without standing up to sing along to a Rockbrook song at the top of our lungs, or a Penthouse day without hearing “What the Buddha?!” Every night before bed, we do “Rose, Bud, Thorn.” It’s a nice way to share our day. “Rose” is something you enjoyed about the day, “Bud” is something you look forward to at camp, and “Thorn” is something that just wasn’t to your liking. A weekly tradition we do in Penthouse is “Secret Buddy.” Every Wednesday, we draw names out of a hat to see who our Secret Buddy is for that week. Gifts include sweet notes tucked away in a book, or homemade gifts made during an activity that magically appear on your bed. My favorite Penthouse practice is our nightly Mad Lib. Whoever has “Mad Lib It Up” on the chore wheel that day gets to pick the Mad Lib and go around asking for a noun, adjective, verb, etc. Laughter is critical in Penthouse and we do it ‘til lights out.

Even more special to a cabin are the memories created within and around it. I have so many to draw from with my girls. Like the time we all gathered on Side C, singing and grooving to the High School Musical soundtrack, audible from down the line. Fourth of July spent on the hill talking about our childhoods as the fireworks boomed and glimmered in the background. Or when we went stargazing together on the hill and found a running man and dolphin in the lingering clouds.

As the session nears the end, I’m savoring these final days with my Penthouse, and Rockbrook, family. Looking around the breakfast table this morning, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the time had with this amazing group of Rockbrook girls. Luckily, the wonderful thing about family is that even when you’re far away from each other, whether it be from Tennessee all the way to Poland, the love you have for one another remains.

Nie mówię po polsku! PentHOUSE!

Happy Tennis Campers

3rd Session Video Part Two

We’ve got another wonderful video from Robbie of Go Swan Filmworks!

After spending just a day at camp this week, quiet and clever with his camera, Robbie again captured precious scenes from life at Rockbrook and put together this short 2-minute clip.

Like the first one from this session, we think you’ll really enjoy seeing it.

A Day of Hugs

Closing our long session of camp, as we did today, is always emotional, and often a tearful experience for all of us— campers, staff members, and parents too. Combined with the happiness of reuniting with family members, today brought on a sudden sadness from realizing that everything we’ve been loving about camp is ending… at least for now. Today we had to say goodbye to the freedoms of camp, to all the action, the silliness, creativity and adventure built into everyday of the last few weeks, but more intensely, to all the wonderful people of camp, to the love and support everyone cherishes about life at Rockbrook. There are friends here, true friends who we will miss deeply even as we know that camp will always welcome us back. It’s been a day of hugs, where we try to embrace, for just a moment longer, how Rockbrook feels and what it truly means.

It’s really a difficult thing to describe, but here’s a lovely message from a parent that speaks to it:

kaitie U. From 2007

I cannot believe that 10 years have passed since we first made our way up the gravel driveway to camp. It really did not dawn on me until Kaitie came home that this was her last year as a Rockbook Camper. She loves her special time there so much, I guess I thought it would just go on forever. Until I read her statement that she gave at Spirit Fire and saw the tear stains on the ink, I didn’t fully appreciate how much this summer meant to her. I was touched by the raw emotion she expressed and the anxiety she feels about the possibility of never returning again in the same capacity. Rockbrook is more than just a “camp” that she goes to for a few weeks every summer. Rockbrook is a part of the fabric of her very being. It is a part of her philosophy of living. She sees the world through the eyes of a 7 year old little girl who found her way through the heart of a wooded mountain, cabin by cabin, to become the amazing young woman she is today. I find it difficult to put into words…it is the way she stands, the way she walks and the smile on her face when she speaks of this special place that is hers. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have given her.

I hope you have a great rest of the summer. Know that she is thinking of you every single day. I cannot imagine better thoughts.

Laurie Uebelhoer

Thanks everyone for a great session! We’re all looking forward to when we can see you again at Rockbrook.

Building Leaders

Teaching the BasicsAt Rockbrook, our primary focus is always to give campers the time of their lives in a fun, crazy, safe, and exciting environment. Our objective is to give girls the chance to let loose and get a little crazy, and create memories that will last them well into adulthood.

Full CostumeSteady…..We do have another objective, though—one that is woven into much of our programming, often in subtle ways, but at times more explicitly. We know that the girls playing in our camp today will not be campers forever. There will come a time when these girls will be populating boardrooms, operating rooms, courtrooms, art studios, sports arenas, Houses of Congress, and maybe even the White House. Much of what we do here is geared toward helping them to become the strong, positive leaders that they will need to be in the years to come.

Though, officially, our leadership program does not begin until the summer after ninth grade, we encourage all of our campers to be independent thinkers from the moment they step onto camp on their very first day. One of the most important ways that we foster this independence is by allowing our campers to choose their own activities every three days. No counselors, no directors, and no parents can tell them which activities to choose—only the campers, be they seven or fifteen, can make that decision. We urge them to choose activities based not on what their friends are choosing, but rather on what they are interested in, what they are excited about, and what activities might challenge them. Through this process, campers can learn the immense satisfaction that comes from crafting an experience that is wholly and completely their own.

Never Too SmallWorking HardWhat’s more, our campers put together and perform skits nearly every night with their cabins. Returning campers look forward to these skits every summer—they are fun, goofy, and often hilarious ways to top off the day. Planning the skits, though, is not without its challenges. Skit-planning requires girls to think creatively, to determine how every girl in the cabin can contribute to the performance, to pool their resources (usually costumes) and use them in a way that benefits everyone, and to make sure that everyone is on board and happy with the process.

On top of all of that, the girls aren’t planning the skits under the direction of a counselor. The counselors wait in the lodge, and leave the planning, from beginning to end, to the girls. Throughout the session, the campers get plenty of practice in learning to solve disagreements in mature ways that benefit the cabin as a whole, without the interference of an adult. To help this process along, particularly for the younger girls, campers might be assigned days to be the “skit director.” On this night, they are the leader of the skit-planning, and it is up to them to make the tough decisions and make sure that every girl’s voice is being heard.

Yes, it can sometimes be messy—as learning new skills frequently is—but our campers often leave here at the end of the session with a better understanding of how to be a great leader of a team, and, sometimes more importantly, how to be a productive member of a team.

When campers reach 9th and 10th grade, they begin to take on more responsibilities around camp. They shoulder the responsibility of planning an elaborate Banquet as CA’s, then take on the myriad duties of a Hi-Up, many of which are vital to the smooth running of camp. Some girls are always nervous to take on this leadership role at camp. What they might not realize, is that they have been preparing to be leaders, at camp and elsewhere, since the moment their parents dropped them off on their very first day.

HUP Pals