Fed by Friendship

The closing campfire of each Rockbrook camp session, what we call our “Spirit Fire,” is a time for everyone to reflect upon their experience at camp. It’s a time to think about what was most important, memorable, and meaningful over the days living together here. The Spirit Fire is a chance, we could say, to acknowledge the “Spirit of Rockbrook,” that special character that makes every aspect of camp life extraordinary, and exceptionally fun. Dressed in their uniforms and assembled around a blazing fire, it’s a time for all the girls, and likewise the staff members, to be together, and share what camp means to them.

Part of the Spirit Fire program are speeches, moments when selected campers and counselors stand and address everyone, reciting some sort of personal account about Rockbrook, or their feelings about camp life. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Maggie’s speech from our last Spirit Fire.

teen camp friends

“Camp is so hard to explain to people who have never been to Rockbrook before. How do I explain how fun a shaving cream fight is? Or what it means to be a Mermaid? Or how great it feels to be the one to spin the wheel? Frankly, it’s impossible.

Friendships made at camp are unlike friendships at home. Although I only see my camp friends for a month each year, my bond with them feels so much stronger. All of my memories attached to camp are ones I look back at in a positive light. Getting to spend my summers at Rockbrook has given me so many friendships and opportunities that I will never take for granted.”

girl camp friends

I think most everyone here has experienced what Maggie is describing. I think she is saying that despite living it so intensely while at camp, it’s difficult (even “impossible”) to describe the “Spirit of Rockbrook.” And yet for her, a core part of that spirit is the special form of friendship we all cherish at camp. It’s the character of our camp friends— their depth, power, and genuine lasting nature —in other words that makes everything else at camp so meaningful.

I think Maggie has intuited something important. The Spirit of Rockbrook, that ineffable force shaping our time together, is fed by the incredible power of friendship here. This is why girls will tell you they come back to camp every summer for “the people” (or for what I might add, “their relationships with the people at camp). They want to be with their special “camp friends,” experience again that special closeness, and return to a life energized by the “Spirit of Rockbrook.”

It’s a separate question to wonder what makes camp friends special (“forever friends”), and further what it is about the camp environment that allows this special character to form. We’ll have to consider those questions— how and why camp friends are so special —in a later post. For now, we can simply celebrate camp life, and recognize the importance of friendship for its unique spirit.

Camp friendship

The Need to Meander

goofy camp girls

It’s no secret that life at camp for kids is very different from the rest of the year. Many of the differences are obvious: the activities (archery!), the food (tamales!), the weather (all of it!), the beautiful setting (mountains, waterfalls!), parental involvement (very little), close contact with nature (spiders!), access to technology (none), even our friends (the closest). But there are more subtle differences too: the shared experience and strong sense of community, the lack of academic and social competition, the regular exposure to singing, the opportunity to be creative and face adventure, the almost constant physical activity, the genuine kindness and caring shown and practiced, the face-to-face communication, the celebration of our silly sides, and the regular feelings of contentedness and joy, for example. All of these differences, and certainly more, collectively define camp life. They shape the sleepaway camp experience for your girls.

And that’s a good thing! A great thing! After all, it’s these differences that make camp inherently educational, surprising and delightful for everyone at Rockbrook. These are differences that make a difference. They are the core reason camp is great for kids, how the experience of camp life is so beneficial, even transformative in the long run.

young girl horse riding

Today another word came to mind that helps describe camp life as it differs from our kids’ ordinary experience. It’s meander.  I think it describes well a cherished freedom the girls have at Rockbrook, the regular opportunity to wander and explore what camp has to offer.

Different from the hectic pace required to balance school, sports teams, clubs, afternoon activities and home responsibilities, camp allows girls to decide for themselves how to spend their time.  We provide some structure by organizing activities (times, places, staff and supplies) and scheduling certain aspects of our day (like meals, rest hour and evening program, for example), but also build in several blocks of free time when the girls can play freely, link up with friends, and enjoy a relaxed, less goal-driven pace. When there’s no grade, championship or parental praise at stake, girls can truly meander. At Rockbrook, we really value that flexibility, and believe there’s a great benefit for girls to meander, so we encourage it and support it everyday.

Girls Adventure Campers

Meandering, this self-directed exploring, is valuable because it affirms the girls’ personal choices. Not being told which activities to take, which trips to sign up for, and what to do during free time, is not just liberating; it’s empowering. The girls have great options in front of them at camp— play in the creek, or finish a craft project, or join a gagaball game, for example —so no matter what they choose, they can feel happy about what they end up doing, who they are spending time with, and what they are learning. Most importantly though, they can gain insights into their true preferences, and in some ways, who they really are. Granting children this level of agency, in other words, provides an opportunity for self-exploration and character development, no matter how subtly or explicitly.  Maybe we should say kids need to meander, for this reason. And if so, this is another reason a camp experience is so important. I’d say it’s certainly another reason why girls love Rockbrook, and again, why “there’s no place like camp.”

camp girls cheering

Accepting Adventure

We jumped right into some outdoor adventure today, only the second full day of the session, by taking more than 90 people whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. Since the early 1980s, after the US Forest Service issued us a permit to run the river (we’re the only girls camp to have one!), Rockbrook girls have been taking this exciting outdoor trip. It’s a fun two-hour run through the Nantahala Gorge over several well-known, named rapids as well as calm sections ideal for splashing and goofing around with the others in your boat. Over the years, rafting has become the most popular out-of-camp adventure trip we do with I’d say almost 90% of the Middlers and Seniors choosing to go.

Camp crew whitewater rafting

There were actually two Rockbrook trips down the river, splitting the number of girls to make more reasonable sized groups.  The first chose to add an overnight camping experience the night before at our outpost camp located near the river’s put in. The girls came prepared with sleeping bags, a change of clothes, flashlight, brushes for hair and teeth, sprays to block bugs and the sun.  A few stuffed animals came along as well. We enjoyed a quick dinner of mac-n-cheese and still had time for a campfire and s’mores before heading off to sleep in the platform cabins. The second trip elected to ride over from camp and raft in the afternoon, finish up and be back for dinner.

Happy camp adventure rafting

The weather was ideal for both trips— hot and sunny. This of course made the “extra-cool” (close to 50 degrees) water feel both exhilarating and good. There were “high-fives” with paddles, chances to “ride the bull,” surprising bumps followed by sudden swims, and plenty of screams and laughter all day long. Check out the photo gallery to see shots from both trips. They were great!

There’s more to these rafting trips than simply the thrill, the ride, and the fun. For example, rafting is a real adventure, something that’s a little scary (because something might go wrong— like falling out of the boat), perhaps a little uncomfortable (that cold water!) and certainly a physical challenge. It promises to be fun, but really does take courage for girls to sign up and agree to go. And when they do go, endure the discomfort, power through that twinge of nervousness, and use their muscles in new ways, there’s inevitably success that feels really good. There’s accomplishment built into rafting and thereby it is a great self-confidence boosting experience. Through their own independent choice, their own agency, the girls learn they can do something (often with expert advice and special equipment) even when it looks difficult, uncomfortable or scary. Rafting can be a step toward feeling more confident and capable in other ways. Instead of shrinking from challenges, these camp girls will be more open to moving forward, accepting adventures, and proving once again that they can do it.

Camp is wonderful in this way, and this is just one example of how being independent, making choices, accepting challenges, and finding real success is our daily bread at Rockbrook… all wrapped in a thick layer of fun.  Such good stuff!

Nantahala rafting camper girls

Classic Camp Movies

two camp girls ready for an adventure

Here’s something fun! You might be anticipating your camp session later this summer, or you might be feeling nostalgia about time at camp, but you are definitely needing a little dose of camp life to get you by. If so, it might be time to pull out a classic camp movie. But which kid-friendly movie to choose?

Thinking about the classics, Corrine Sullivan at Popsuger makes several great suggestions.

  1. Meatballs (1979)
  2. Troop Beverly Hills (1989)
  3. The Parent Trap (1998)
  4. The Parent Trap (1961)
  5. Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)
  6. Camp Nowhere (1994)
  7. Heavyweights (1995)
  8. It Takes Two (1995)
  9. The Baby-Sitters Club (1995)
  10. Addams Family Values (1993)
  11. Camp Rock (2008)

You may have already seen several of these, but take a look again and you’ll be reminded of what’s important about being a kid, and how that blends with life at camp. When you’re feeling “campsick,” it makes perfect sense to watch any of them again. Enjoy!

goofy camp friend group

A Life Unfiltered

Summer camps have long been described as places where children can benefit from eschewing certain aspects of modern life, where children, for example, can “return to nature,” practice “physical fitness,” or discover “spiritual truths.” Through the generations, as our society has evolved away from some social or cultural norm, parents have sought a way to provide their children access to what they feel is being lost. In this way, camps have happily served as repositories of tradition, havens from the inadequacies and perils of unchecked “progress” accepted by society.

zip line child

In recent years, a new threat of modernity has risen to the top of the list. It’s not simply “technology,” computers, television or the Internet, in the broadest sense, but it’s related these. It’s the smartphone, in particular the smartphone when in the hands of a child or adolescent.

Professor Jean M. Twenge (Dept. of Psychology at San Diego State University), who researches generational differences, has published a new book that explores how the introduction of the smartphone, its now near ubiquity among teenagers and other young people, correlates with a number of serious public health concerns. The book is: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy— and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood —and What That Means for the Rest of Us. She also just published an article in The Atlantic adapted from the book: “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

girls weaving looms

I want to encourage you to read the article, in fact STRONGLY encourage you, because I think you will find it informative, and perhaps troubling if not horrifying. Working at the level of demographics, Professor Twenge began to notice “abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states” beginning five years ago in 2012, the year when “the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.” Today in 2017, almost 75% of American teens own smartphones and have begun to use these devices as a major means through which they interact with the world. What it means to “socialize” for today’s teens is mostly mediated, technologically filtered, by their smartphones. Increasingly these days, adolescents are doing less, meeting and hanging out less, and instead spending free time in virtual spaces texting and sharing Snapchats and other social media messages. Sadly, this often means our kids typically spend hours each day “on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.”

kayaking children

Research results pointing to troubling psychological and social trends affecting teens are stacking up. Teens getting together with friends has dropped, as has their interest in driving a car, alcohol consumption, dating, and even sex. While these trends are helping keep kids more physically safe— less drinking and driving, and teen pregnancies, for example — they also show adolescents spending more time alone, indoors and on their phone. Research data is showing teenagers who spend hours using social media are more likely to report being unhappy, lonely, and tired (sleep-deprived).  More troubling still is the correlation between smartphone use and depression and suicide. As smartphone use has increased since 2012 among teenagers, so has the suicide rate, now reaching a 40-year high. It’s clear that with the rise of adolescents’ smartphone use, particularly with respect to social media, their behavior and attitudes, their approach to the complexities of life, their expectations and desires, their talents and ambitions, are all changing.

All girl camp kids

Bringing this back to camp, it should be obvious what Rockbrook provides: a life unfiltered by smartphone technology, one filled with the experience of real friendships, bodily inter-action, discovery and exploration of the natural world.  Being at camp means actually doing things. It means children using and stimulating all their senses, not just the narrow idealized encounters available via a screen, no matter how “smart” it is. Camp provides daily opportunities to practice being real, taking managed risks, and creating enthusiastically. Life within a caring community like Rockbrook needs no technology to enliven deeper layers of our humanity, our sense of humor, our awareness of others’ needs, and our innate ability to see beauty in the tiniest detail. For all these reasons and more, camp is a “happy place” for children.

Professor Twenge’s research and writings suggest we should limit our kid’s access to smartphones during their formative years. Kids need rich experiences, face-to-face friendships, the challenges and rewards provided by real life. Handing them a smartphone or tablet robs them of that. Ironically, this communication device isolates teenagers, significantly narrowing who they are and most likely who they will become.

Again, thank goodness for camp, a (smartphone-free) place where kids get what they need, truly enjoy themselves, and grow beautifully.

Girls Dance Group

An Unburdening

It’s sometimes difficult to describe life at camp, to convey how the girls at Rockbrook feel about the experience overall. They’ll tell you they are having fun, or they’ll say things like, “I love camp!” or “This is great!” But what are some of the emotions that go along with it? What are the campers feeling while they’re here?

Seeing all the smiles and hearing so much laughter, “happiness” is the first feeling to notice. There’s obviously so much joy and exuberance percolating up throughout the day at camp— screaming with delight while flying by on the zip line, laughing so hard at a skit you’re rolling around on the floor, smiling from the string of friendly greetings that seems to follow you everywhere. Yes, the girls here are happy, and we could say at times “excited,” “thrilled,” or “elated.” Of course, there are challenging emotions now and then too, bugs that bother. A camper might feel frustrated, for example when she misses the target in archery, or even angry when there’s a disagreement with another girl in her cabin. These are all common and expected emotional responses to life in the camp community.

girls making a tie dye at camp
camp archery girl pose
camp cabin winners

There’s another word, perhaps a little surprising, that describes a general feeling at camp: unburdened. It’s a feeling of freedom, in many ways, a welcome relief from the pressures, limitations, and expectations kids bend to throughout their ordinary lives. Put differently, I think modern life is burdensome for kids in specific ways that camp life addresses. How we live at Rockbrook— mostly outside, free from technology, as members of an accepting community, active and engaged, but with free time to explore the world and who we truly are as individuals —is in this way unburdening.

Think about what’s happening at camp, and how it differs from your daughter’s ordinary experience.

  1. At camp, we ditch technology. Here, instead of diminishing, and flattening experience, our communications are unfiltered, personal, and face to real face.
  2. We have plenty of free time throughout the day to play, explore, create and rest. Here at camp, our schedule is always built with flexibility and openness.
  3. Camp lets us avoid social pressures to “be” (look and act) a certain way. Here, girls can be who they really are, their authentic selves, because they feel genuinely accepted and included no matter what.
  4. At Rockbrook, we put aside competition and find ways to cooperate and support one another. Games are for the intrinsic fun of it rather than to determine a winner.
  5. We’re outside most of the day, closer to the wonders of nature, and free from the constraints of regular automobile travel and being indoors.
  6. Camp is also full of action. We’re doing things all day long, not sitting still at a desk or being passively entertained.
  7. And we’re never alone. Camp life is immersed in kindness and caring, inseparable from the positive relationships (so many friends!) that comprise our community.

Can you see how each of these aspects of camp life contrast with specific burdens our kids face ordinarily? Kids these days endure a lot, admittedly for often good reasons, but I also believe they benefit from being unburdened in these ways at camp. (Life at camp certainly includes its own set of challenges, and yes burdens, but that’s a topic for another post!)

The girls at Rockbrook may not use the word, but they certainly feel it. I asked a few campers today if they felt “unburdened” in any way at camp and they all enthusiastically said, “Yes!” That feeling of “aahh, I feel good” could be the loosening of pressures, lifting the weight of competition, dissolving the cloudy film cast by technology, the opening of the self usually kept under wraps. Life at camp elicits these feelings, and it does feel really good. In fact, we might say it’s the perfect context for a really great time.

Let’s just add this notion of unburdening to the many reasons why girls love camp. OK?

archery camp girls

Meaningful Action

Small child kayaking camp
outdoor yoga camp girls

It’s a comment we hear a lot around here… from perceptive visitors taking a tour while camp is in session, from counselors marveling at simple moments of their day, and certainly from campers as they reflect on how camp feels to them. “Everyone seems so happy,” or “These are some happy girls,” or “Rockbrook makes me happy!” I think I’ve seen it on a t-shirt too; “Camp is my Happy Place.” And it really is true. There’s something special about life at camp that makes everyone here remarkably happy, especially when compared with the outside world. If you have been scanning our daily photo galleries then you have a sense of it. Camp life for kids has a general feeling of well-being, joyful engagement, and belonging.

But here’s the thing— this feeling isn’t dependent on the activities we’re enjoying. It’s not like we’re happy only when kayaking, weaving, riding a horse, hiking through the woods, or playing tetherball. Sure, we are happy when we are doing exciting things like riding through the trees on a zipline, and we are happy when we savor the day’s surprise muffin flavor, but the happiness of camp extends to other times that might, from a different perspective, be described as “work,” or even as “boring.” Camp girls are happy at times “just hanging out,” sweeping their cabin, taking their turn wiping their dining hall table, or simply walking down the line after hearing the bell for lunch.

In other words, the happiness we experience at camp is not the same as the fun. …or even pleasure or satisfaction. Obviously, camp is great fun, regularly punctuated by pleasure, and satisfying in lots of ways. These are the moments we write home about— getting a bullseye in archery, throwing a pot on the wheel, going back for thirds of Rick’s homemade guacamole and chicken flautas. Everyday there are activities and special events designed to be fun and carefully planned to be satisfying and enjoyable (a trip to sliding rock, a drumming workshop, a wet and wild creek hike, or simply singing together during morning assembly, for example). These moments are entertaining and great, and they certainly contribute to the happiness of camp, but they do not alone make camp a happy place. There must be something more going on. If not the fun, what is it about camp life that encourages such happiness?

Girl Shooter with Target
Silly Rafting Camp Girls

An idea from Aristotle might be helpful, namely that happiness stems from “meaningful action.” The notion is that happiness is not a momentary, fleeting fulfillment of desires (like escape from boredom, for example), but is instead a way of being where one’s actions are meaningful.  What makes our actions “meaningful” becomes the question, but perhaps the secret to camp happiness it that it somehow lends meaning to our actions. What we do at camp means something to us as individuals.

OK, but when camp girls make a friendship bracelet, shoot riflery, or go whitewater rafting, how does it mean something to them? What’s special about camp that makes ordinary actions more “meaningful?” I’m not sure, but as one counselor who I was discussing this with put it, “It’s all about community.” She said what we do at camp means something because we do so much together, and we care for each other.

I love that idea because it suggests the importance of relationships, of beginning with kindness toward each other and fostering an environment where everyone is trusted, respected and loved. Do that, and we create a special place where we’re happy. In this way, I imagine all of our community values— care, cooperation, compassion, generosity —likewise contribute to our happiness by making whatever we’re doing more meaningful. So, being helpful in the dining hall, for example, is meaningful and makes us happy because it deepens our relationship with the other girls in our cabin. Sensing real encouragement and support from the people around you makes whatever you’re doing more meaningful.

There are probably other answers to this question about how camp life includes inherently meaningful action, and how it fosters such happiness, but I think our sense of community here is a powerful force linking the two. If so, we might use the idea prescriptively in the outside world and suggest that instead of adding more toys or more “fun” experiences, we can become happier by joining and supporting a camp-like community where our actions are meaningful.  It’s one of the lessons of camp: build positive relationships with the people around you, make your actions meaningful through those relationships, and you’re bound to be happier. Now that’s something to take home!

Camp Rafting Girls

Cultivating Who We Are

Girl camp drawing

Do you know how to draw? What about play tennis? Paddle a kayak? Sing? Tell a joke? Act in a skit? Cook a meal? Do you have the personality, the talent, the physical or intellectual abilities to handle the challenges of these activities? Speaking about yourself, you probably have quick answers to questions like these. You might think, “I’m terrible at drawing, but I know how to play tennis,” for example. Over years of experience, now as an adult you probably think you have a good sense of your inherent traits, your likes and dislikes, your abilities, where you feel “smart” and where you don’t. You’re an old dog who’s learned your tricks… Thank you very much.

But what about your kids? Have they figured all of this out? Gosh, I hope not! We don’t want our children to decide who they are too soon, or conclude, based on their limited experience, that they are not creative, athletic, funny or smart in some way. That would be antithetical to every educational principle we hold. Believing that children are born with an immutable set of traits, a static personality, or inherently finite abilities, is preposterous. After all, we want just the opposite for our kids; we want them to learn, develop and grow.  For this reason, as parents, we do our best to provide all sorts of experiences that might inspire them, and guide them as they grow physically, emotionally and intellectually. We hope that through these experiences our children will gain skills, become more capable, and be happy and successful when they grow up.

Girl kayaking in whitewater

Of course, sending them to camp is a great example of this. The experiences they have here, away from the habits of home and school, are ripe for self-development. Everyday at camp there are physical challenges to meet —paddling boats, pulling back bowstrings, and swimming in the “freezing” cold lake, for example. There are opportunities to grow emotionally, like handling frustration or a twinge of homesickness that might creep in during rest hour. There are daily moments to be creative, to play with options, to dabble and engage new activities and experiences. One moment the girls might get a good closeup look at a spider in the shower, and the next, sample Rick’s tabouli (made with quinoa) along with their turkey sandwich. We want the girls at camp to embrace these challenges and to see them, even if they seem scary or “too hard” at first, as normal, even good. We hope the girls will realize it’s OK to struggle with these new experiences— perhaps to find painting a still life difficult, to completely miss the target in riflery, to feel nervous performing, or to decide that tabouli is weird.

This is an important attitude, and it’s one we emphasize here at Rockbrook. It’s what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” It’s “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

camp girls weaving outside

This is a joyful attitude that celebrates new experiences, embraces differences and challenges. It assumes neither the world nor ourselves are fixed, and that we can always learn and grow. When faced with struggle or criticism, a growth mindset holds onto a notion of improvement and future understanding. A growth mindset keeps “not yet” in mind.

So at camp, “I’m a little scared to go on the zipline” means “I haven’t yet had the courage for the zipline.” “I didn’t hit the target in archery” means “I haven’t yet hit the target.” “My drawing isn’t very good” means “I haven’t yet learned to draw better.” None of this means, as a “fixed mindset” assumes, “ziplines aren’t for me,” or “I’m no good at archery”, or “I have no artistic talent.”

With somewhat silly abandon, with “just for the fun of it” energizing everything, camp inspires this approach to life. The Rockbrook community is so encouraging, the friends around us so accepting, the girls here are often eager to try again when they feel there’s more to achieve, like mastering a more complex weaving pattern, clearing a higher jump at riding, or sampling a new kind of tabouli, for example. With this attitude, there’s always more out there and more within each of us.

Living in this community we all realize we are cultivating who we are, not discovering something that’s already set in stone.  We are learning that we can always learn more and be more. For our children, and I’d say for us parents too, that’s a really valuable approach to adopt. And through their time at Rockbrook, they’re getting a great head start.

Camp girls talking on porch

Letting Go

“Letting go” is a phrase that seems particularly apt when you consider life at camp, even more so at an overnight camp like Rockbrook. In so many ways, the campers let go of the familiar while they’re here. Think about it. They find themselves sleeping in rustic, 90-year-old wooden cabins with eight or so other people. When they look up in their bed, they more than likely can spot a spider or two. Instead of the whir of an air-conditioning system as they fall asleep, the sounds of crickets and other nocturnal forest creatures linger in the background. Even what they eat— homemade hummus, grilled barbecue tempeh, corn tamales, and strawberry white chocolate muffins, for example —is foreign to many of the girls. All of their familiar screens— TVs, computers, smart phones, and tablets —gone! And of course, most of the activities at camp offer new experiences, from shooting a real gun, climbing a real rock, and using a vintage floor loom, to diving into the freezing cold water of our lake. With so many new things, it’s impossible to cling to what you already know.

Girls Aiming Archery bow and arrow

There’s more. Camp girls, simply by virtue of being away from home, also let go of their parents in certain ways. Free from the prescriptions, intervention, and inspections of mom and dad, this means making all kinds of decisions on their own. It might mean deciding to adjust certain habits of personal hygiene (brushing hair or taking a shower less often for example) because more important (i.e., more fun) things are happening like a ga-ga ball game before lunch or great conversation before bed. Being at Rockbrook, girls don’t depend on their parents to fill their free time, to dictate what always comes next, or to solve every problem. Of course, there are excellent counselors here, wonderful people to guide this freedom, but camp gives girls the opportunity to experiment with things and gain more confidence after seeing how their decisions turn out… good and bad.

Camp Yoga Kids

Asking the campers themselves about how they feel at camp, I’ve heard the older girls say camp is their “happy place” where they can let go of their worries.  Different from the competitive atmosphere of school and the insecurities it can breed, the Rockbrook community is defined by compassion, kindness and generosity. Camp is a place of encouragement where, instead of being left out, ignored, or put down in some way, girls feel supported, respected, and affirmed. In this kind of community, girls don’t worry about how they look, whether or not they’re “good” at a particular activity, or if they’re “cool” enough to be included. All those worries fade away at camp when the point of things has nothing to do with evaluation and everything to do with simply having fun.

Letting go of worries like this also empowers a girl to let go of her polished persona, that “face” she believes others want her to be. Joining a camp community like Rockbrook, knowing she’s truly a part of it, trusting the people around her and caring for them in the way they care about her, inspires her true personality, spirit and character to shine through. It can be a remarkable transformation for a person. By being so supportive, camp opens up a space for a girls’ authentic self to emerge and grow.

So after letting go of all these things at Rockbrook, what’s left? Simple stuff: Authenticity, Nature, Friendship, Joy, Creativity, and Community… a life that feels really good. That is camp.

Zip Line Camp Kids

A Book of Faces

Camp girls faces buddies

A Middler-aged camper asked me the other day, “Isn’t it hard to get Seniors to come to camp if they can’t have their phones?” I reminded her that all campers, no matter how old they are, and in fact the counselors too (except in the staff lounge), are not allowed to have a cellphone at camp, but I think I know what she meant. She knew, maybe from experience or observing older girls at home, that cellphone use is almost constant, that most of us, once we have a personal smartphone, tend to use it all the time… text messages, social media posts (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat!), telephone calls, and email. Once it’s in our pocket, the buzz of electronic notifications punctuates our daily experience. This perceptive young girl was suggesting that the allure of that buzz might be powerful enough to prevent girls from attending camp.

It’s a great question when you think about it, “Why are teenage girls willing, albeit reluctantly perhaps, to give up their phones for several weeks?” Would you be willing to do that? Think of all the news you would miss, and the people who couldn’t contact you! I suppose there are young girls out there who do not attend summer camp because they feel they simply can’t live without their phones, just as they might believe they can’t do without their mother’s home-cooked meals or an air-conditioned private bedroom, but there are hundreds of girls who do make that sacrifice.

Here’s why. I believe it’s because they, perhaps unconsciously, know being at camp is much better than whatever their cellphones (and other electronic forms of entertainment) provide. The sacrifice is “worth it.” Their community of Rockbrook friends provides a book of faces far superior to Facebook. The daily flood of enthusiasm for creativity, adventure, and outdoor action outshines every Instagram image. The camp songs, the heartfelt conversations, the nightly “Highs, Lows and Funnies” in the cabins, the cheers and support from everyone around you arrive faster than you can type 140-character tweets. A girl could snap, and pin, and “like,” and “share,” all day long and she wouldn’t come close to feeling the authentic joy camp provides. Without flickering intermediaries, camp is real life, fully lived with real people, expressing real emotions. It’s a life too easily forgotten while staring at a screen, but for those girls willing to trust themselves and find the confidence to engage those around them, camp is also a really good life. Some claim it can’t be beat! …completely phone-free.

Whitewater Rafting Camp
Sliding Rock smiling girls

For about a fourth of the camp, today’s adventures included whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. With our second group of July Mini session girls eager to raft and a few of the full session campers who had not yet gone, we put together two multi-raft trips, one that began the night before with camping at our outpost property located near the river in Swain County, and the other that ran in the afternoon following a picnic lunch at the water’s edge. The morning trip saw a little extra excitement as a passing thunderstorm forced the crew off the river for a few minutes. Fortunately, we had a warm, dry bus (It was trailing the trip on the road paralleling the river.) ready nearby where we could all take shelter during the storm. When the coast was clear, the rafts were off again to finish paddling the river.

Rafting for Rockbrook girls is big fun. It’s a nice combination of high adrenaline adventure (wearing cool gear!), lighthearted silliness with your friends in the raft, and hilarity as each bumpy rapid and splash of the frigid water (53 degrees!) erupts wild screams of delight. It’s even better when someone unexpectedly falls out of the boat and everyone, while laughing of course, scrambles to pull her back in. Rafting is also a chance for the girls to chat and sing with each other as they paddle, posing for photos and greeting everyone passing by in other boats and onshore. You can imagine how this much exuberance gets people’s attention, and since we’re the only girls camp authorized to raft the Nantahala (We’ve had a USFS permit since the early 1980s), it’s not uncommon for us to hear, “That’s the rafting camp.”

When it comes to having a full camp day, our mini session Senior campers know how to do it! For them, following today’s rafting, we ate a quick pizza dinner, and then turned right around for an evening trip to Sliding Rock. It was fantastic. We arrived just after another rainstorm so we had the rock all to ourselves. The girls had a blast sliding down the 60-foot natural water slide to the pool at the bottom, often with hands in the air and screaming all the way down. Everyone slid as many times as they wanted, until as it was getting dark, we loaded up the vans for a short ride to Dolly’s Dairy Bar. A cup or a cone of “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion” or another flavor was the perfect way to top off the evening. Back at camp about 10pm, the girls took no time heading straight to bed. It’s been another full— definitely great— camp day.

Ice Cream Camp Girls