Birthday Celebrations at Rockbrook

Each summer we have campers who get to spend their special day at the best place on Earth – Rockbrook Camp! Having a birthday at camp is something unique and only applies to a handful of girls. At Rockbrook, we try to make each birthday special! First, counselors spend time creating a banner to be hung in the dining hall right next to the birthday girl. The birthday girl will walk in, see her special birthday banner, and her face will immediately light up with excitement. The banner also lets all of camp know it’s a special day! Along with the banner, cabin mates usually create a birthday card and sometimes even craft gifts from various activities to give to the birthday girl.

camp counselor floating in lake
Hi-Up counselors Mia (at left) and Grace enjoying the lake for Mia’s birthday!

The next step of the birthday celebration is for the kitchen to bake the birthday girl a cake! Counselors then take the time to put icing and candy on their camper’s cake. At either lunch or dinner, the Hi-Ups will ring their song bell as the counselors walk out with the birthday cake in hand. The dining hall then breaks into a beautiful chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Once the counselors reach the birthday girl she can blow out her candles and make a wish as the dining hall chants “stand up, stand up, stand up!” As the birthday girl stands, the campers chant “tell us when to stop” and then they begin counting. When the campers count up to the birthday girl’s age she will wave her hands signaling them to stop! We then all cheer and the birthday girl and her cabin mates get to enjoy the delicious homemade birthday cake!

Felix the Camp Dog
Camp dog Felix celebrated his 2nd birthday with an agility demonstration and a dog birthday cake!

Today is July 8th, and we happened to have two special birthday celebrations! First was to celebrate one of our fabulous Hi-Up counselors! Mia turned 22 today and was celebrated with a three layered cake covered in candy, along with a dance break at lunch where we all got to dance to Taylor Swift’s song “22.” This evening we celebrated the second birthday of our beloved camp dog Felix! During twilight, Felix showed us all of his wonderful tricks he learned at doggy school. He rolled over, gave high fives, and even jumped over a hurdle and through a hula hoop! The crowed cheered and continued the camp tradition of singing “Happy Birthday.” Felix then got a dog-friendly cake of his own – he really enjoyed licking the icing! We ended Felix’s birthday celebration by eating dog-shaped cookies the kitchen staff so kindly made for dessert!

We are so lucky to live in such a joyful and supportive community here at Rockbrook, where we can celebrate occasions large and small. Whether you hit a certain number of bullseyes, swam a specific number of mermaid laps, or you are having a birthday at camp, there are always fun and exciting celebrations in store.

The Start of Something New

buckskin horse and girl wearing helmet and blue shirt

Now that Second Session has officially begun, campers have eagerly jumped on all the opportunities for fun and adventure at camp. Every day except Sundays, campers take activities that they can choose themselves. Mondays at camp are always full of new experiences because they are the first day of activity rotations. Today was especially delightful because it is the first day of the fist activity rotation, and it is the second day of the whole session.

Every Sunday and Wednesday night after dinner, campers choose their next round of four activities that they will take for three days. Some campers enjoy taking the same activities every time because they want to continue building their skills, they particularly enjoy being with those activity instructors, or they are just big fans of that activity. On the other hand, some campers choose new activities every rotation in order to try the most they can while at camp, since many of our activities are things that are often not available at home. Either way, campers practice decision-making and independence when they pick activities and challenge themselves to try new things.

teaching weaving by the creek

For instance, today in Curosty, our weaving activity, campers sat by the creek and learned how to make baskets that they will be able to take home and use. 

Meanwhile in Yoga, campers not only practiced different poses and breathing techniques, they also learned about yoga philosophy and history in order to ground their yoga experience and relate it to their lives.

No matter the activity, campers are able to take something away with them when they leave camp. Whether it is a freshly honed skill in knot tying, an experience on horseback they’ve never had before, or a new friend they made in needlecraft, each camper heads home with more than they arrived with. The combination of immersion in nature, working with activity specialists, and daily opportunities to build both skills and relationships make activities at Rockbrook a unique learning experience.

End of the Session Tournament

Throughout the session, girls have signed up for three different activities in the hopes of traveling to Camp Carolina for the end of session tournament. The first activity with the opportunity to go to the tournament is tennis! Each activity period, girls walk down to the clay courts with tennis shoes on and racket in hand. At the courts they practice their groundstrokes and volleys by playing a variety of tennis games. This year, we also added three new pickle ball courts to our tennis area for a new game for the girls to learn and enjoy.

girl aiming rifle at target

The second activity is riflery. In riflery, girls venture down the front driveway and wait for permission to enter the range. Once there, they have the opportunity to pick their favorite rifle to shoot at the target. Each of our rifles have their own special “sweet spot” and over the session the goal is to figure out the sweet spot in order to hit a bullseye.

The third activity is archery. With hair back, close-toed shoes, safety glasses, and arm guards attached, girls step up to the platform to try and shoot the golden circle in the middle of the target. It’s a huge accomplishment to get a bullseye. In fact, many girls go back to the range in attempt to hit ten bullseyes in order to receive a golden arrow. If a girl hits fifty bullseyes they get a cake and one hundred bullseyes earns a golden bow.

It’s getting close to the end of our camps and the tennis, archery, and riflery instructors are in line to make an announcement at dinner. Most of the girls in the dining hall knows this means the participants of the tournament are about to be revealed! Those who continuously take these activities usually get their chance to travel to Camp Carolina to participate in the tournament.

girls archery tournament

While at the tournament girls have the opportunity to partake in some friendly competition! Often times the girls arrive wearing matching t-shirts, eye black, or bucket hats to show their cohesion. When we first arrived the girls were excited but a little nervous. As soon as they stepped onto the courts and the range they felt excited, confident, and comfortable. Girls cheered on and encouraged one another as they waited for their time to shine.

At the end of the tournament the girls are always concerned with who won but overall the tournament is about the girls stepping outside of their comfort zone and having fun! They love the opportunity to see another camp, cheer on their friends, and to show off the talents they worked so hard at practicing.

tennis camp girls group

An Attitude of Gratitude

Sundays at Rockbrook provide us with a moment to catch our breath. After a very full week of riding horses, weaving on Inkle looms, taking the polar plunge, zipping across camp, and hitting tetherballs, it is welcome (and necessary!) to take a little break. 

girls singing song camp

On Sundays we sleep in a little later and enjoy breakfast in our pajamas.  Afterwards we take some time to clean our cabins, put on our uniforms, and get ready for flag-raising and chapel.  For many girls, these ceremonies are so special because they are a different time at camp, a little quieter, a little more serious.  The silent walk to chapel provides a chance for girls to hear the sounds at camp that are often overwhelmed by happy chatter, shrieks, and singing.  Girls start to notice the birdsong, feel the sun’s rays, maybe even get a sprinkle of rain on them.  After arriving at the rustic clearing in the woods that was selected by campers nearly 100 years ago, girls learn the theme for chapel that week.  Our chapel services are not religious services, but rather quiet, thought-provoking times at camp.  The girls participate by choice, and they may lead songs, read poems, and share thoughts that have to do with the weekly theme.

Gratitude program at camp

This week, our theme was “Gratitude.” Girls quickly caught on to the theme by expressing how lucky they felt to have the opportunity to spend time in this beautiful setting, living closely with so many fun and interesting people.  Many girls recognized that coming to camp has been a gift for them from another person. We read the book “The Secret of Saying Thanks” by Douglas Wood together.  The book helped draw attention to the many simple gifts around us all of the time at camp – from the beauty of flowers, the shade of trees, the silence of mountains, the life of waters.  In closing, the book teaches that a grateful heart is a happy one.  The campers really embraced the teachings of this book.  After chapel one of our campers wrote her thoughts about Rockbrook:

I stumbled upon it by chance; this place that my great-aunt, grandmother, and aunt all loved before me.

And now, there is no sound that I love more than the bell’s peal mingling with laughter,

No sight I love more than a girl tying the friendship knot on a first-year camper’s tie,

No taste I love more than fresh donuts on Sunday morning, broken and shared between friends,

No smell I love more than the last wisps of smoke from a spirit fire candle,

And no feeling I love more than the warmth of a hug that I know means farewell,

But not goodbye.

We still have a few more days before our farewells, and we are grateful for all of these fun and happy moments together.

Reading in chapel program

1st Session Video Note – Part Two

Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks spent another day this week filming at Rockbrook, quietly roaming the camp with his camera capturing some of the action. And now we have this fascinating 2-minute slice of life at camp to enjoy.

Take a look! There are moments of pride, heartfelt affection, joy, determination, and of course sheer exuberance. It’s hard not to smile while watching it.

The Spirit of Rockbrook

Every year, Rockbrook sends out a publication entitled the Carrier Pigeon, which has, in the past, featured poems, photos from the summer, camp memories, and cabin photos. The Carrier Pigeon is sent out during the off season, so that campers can have “mem’ries of Rockbrook all winter long.” Tonight, our campers had the chance to write down their own memories, poems, or drawings to submit for the 2019 Carrier Pigeon. To spark their minds about Rockbrook and what makes camp special, today each of the three lodges had a poster board with a different question for campers to answer:

1. What makes Rockbrook a special place?

Campers walking through the woods

Even before you open your eyes in the morning, the natural environment of camp calls out in the form of leaves rustling, frogs croaking, birds chirping, and rain falling. Everywhere you look at camp, you either see the lush forest, ancient rocks, or the shimmering creeks. This close interaction with nature that campers have every day is unusual for many compared to life at home, and it allows campers to have a deeper sense of place and connection to the environment than they otherwise might have. Connection to other people also makes Rockbrook a special place. Since technology is limited at camp for campers and staff alike, we are able to have more face-to-face interactions and are able to build genuine relationships with the whole community. According to our campers, Rockbrook is special because they can be apart from their friends for a year, but pick up again the next summer as though no time has gone by. It is our mission for campers to walk away from camp with some of their very best friends, but we also hope they return to camp to continue building their connections to people and place.

2. What is your favorite Rockbrook memory?

groovy glasses on camp counselor

While many camper and counselor memories connect back to the special place and relationships of camp, some memories can be of things that are uniquely Rockbrook. For instance, trying out for the camp play for the first time and getting the lead role, or frolicking in the stream at the bottom of the hill. 

Many campers look back fondly on Sliding Rock and Dolly’s cabin day trips, as well as other off-camp trips like rafting the Nantahala. Another favorite memory and time of the summer is the Fourth of July, when camp turns into one big birthday party celebration for America, replete with field games, face paint, costumes, barbeques, and fireworks. Throughout the summer, campers are able to make memories small and large that will stay with them for their whole lives.

3. What makes a Rockbrook Girl?

In addition to being a good friend, a Rockbrook girl is kind and loving to others. She is open minded, honest, and always willing to bend her back to help a friend without asking for credit. She has a great, positive attitude, and is not afraid to embarrass herself, even at a camp-wide dance. This spirit of love, kindness, and carefree living is what we strive for at Rockbrook, and is embodied by every camper that comes to the heart of our wooded mountain. Living in community and having the time to try new things naturally instills these traits in campers and counselors alike, fostering a close-knit culture of supportive, empowered females that stays connected until next summer when camp starts again.

camp friends hugging

Camp as Our Constant

Change, change, change. It feels every stage of life brings more and more change. When I was feeling a bit overwhelmed this year with all the change around me, one of my peers offered me some (unsolicited) advice:” Change is the only constant in the world.” Although I beg to differ, I do know a place that will always be more constant than change in my life.

camp weaving girls

Exactly a year ago, I drove away from Rockbrook Camp for Girls and towards Ann Arbor, MI to start medical school. My life became busy with deadlines, schedules, exams filled with what seemed like endless memorization. To make things even more hectic, my schedule was different every week and change became my new normal. Needless to say, it’s been a busy year with so much change, and it seemed that as the year went on, I realized I didn’t take time to reflect on who I was and whom I was becoming.

When I made the choice to come back to camp this session—even just for 10 days—I wanted to make sure it was for the right reasons. I have spent so much of my year worrying about my own needs and filling my own cup that I wanted to give back to a place that gave me so much. Many of my camp friends and campers would not be present during this session, so I was nervous to come back to a place where so many of the people that made it special were no longer there. With those friends and campers that were at camp this year, I knew it would be important to avoid showing up with expectations of what I wanted my short time at camp to be. In a happy turn of events, my short time here has turned into so much more than I ever expected. When I arrived, I was expecting camp to feel different, and yet, camp hasn’t failed to bring the incredibly familiar.

knitting girls

As soon as I caught a whiff of the camp smell, it felt like I was home. It felt like for the first time in over a year, I was able to hit pause and look around. The crunching sound as we walk through the rocks at camp, the beautiful wooded mountains in the background, the chilly lake waiting for campers to jump in— how I took these simple sights for granted! In addition to these consistent sounds and scenes of beauty, I’ve realized camp brings other timeless qualities to new and old Rockbrook girls that make this place a home base for so many of us.

The best part about this familiarity is that I’m not the only one who feels it. A few days ago, I met an alumna from many years ago who described the sense of comfort that walking through camp brings her; she knew Rockbrook as the place that helped her know who she was and who she always wanted to be. So relatable! Just a few hours later, I heard the same words from some teenage campers on the senior line. They talked about how much they wanted to bring their camp self to their lives year-round because they knew that here they are their best selves.

zip line camp girl

How exactly do we become our best selves? While I think there are many answers, I have a hypothesis: Camp reliably brings us routine and, in that routine, so much comfort. This comfort gives us the space to be our best selves. This is a place where we build each other up and we begin to judge our successes based on the success of our community and not our own personal success. By investing in each other, we inevitably become the best version of ourselves.

How did I get so lucky? In a world that seems to never stop bringing change, it is so nice to know that we have Rockbrook to remind us of who we are. I get to have a place to come back to that will—without fail—always remind me of who I am and can be. What a gift. Thank you Rockbrook for another great summer. Thank you for all the new and old friendships. Thank you for always being more constant than change and never failing to be exactly what I needed.

—Maria Santos

camp girls together

Forgiving Each Other Daily

friendships and community at summer camp

If you ask most people why they come to camp, the friendships and community will probably be high on the list. Rockbrook’s entire focus is on relationships; it’s the foundation of everything else. Even teen camp girls talk about how their friendships at camp are different than other friends: they get closer more quickly. There are many reasons for this: the ability to be oneself without the same judgment that they experience at home, the prevalence of real conversations that are uninhibited by technology, the idyllic setting and the slower pace of life at camp are all apart of it. Yet there is also a part of it that we do not talk about as often, but I think it may be one of the most important lessons we learn at camp: the ability to have differences and disagreements, and to learn how to compromise and forgive one another.

Living together is mostly fun: we experience the connection that comes with being part of something bigger than ourselves, to get to know others from different backgrounds, to experience laughing so hard our stomachs hurt when someone reflects on their “high, low, funny.” Yet living together can also be uniquely challenging, and I don’t think we really would want it any other way. We are asked to consider the group’s needs before our own, to refill the basket of bread if we were the last ones to get a piece, to go along with a skit idea even if it wasn’t our first choice, to do chores for the good of the cabin. We learn how to work together in order to achieve a common goal.

According to Tuckman’s stages of group development, these sacrifices are less challenging in the beginning of a group’s time together, what he terms the “forming” stage. This is where everyone is still getting to know the others, and everyone is careful of everything. Making the small sacrifices is easy for the first few days; then, it gets more challenging, what Tuckman calls the “storming” phase. This is when we know each other well enough to express our individual needs, to talk about what we could do better. Frequently, people shy away from the storming phase, but it’s actually a great sign in group development. Storming means that we trust each other with our personal needs, can loosen up and feel more at home, and in having more challenging conversations, we are able to move into deeper levels of friendship. Then, we get into norming, which is the stage when we move past the storms and learn to live with each other in this closer, deeper space.

summer camp girls ready for a skit

Of course, during storming, conflict can arise. We will all face conflict so many times in our lives, but what makes camp special is the way it prepares campers to resolve conflict in a safe environment with lots of support. A common time for conflict to arise during storming is while planning skits, or while planning an event like today’s Miss RBC. Miss RBC is an event that is a spoof on a beauty pageant, where all cabins perform a “talent” (usually a song or a skit) for the rest of the camp. Then, at the end, the representative from the cabin who won is crowned “Miss RBC.” The event is so joyful to watch, with cabinmates proud of each other for their finished product. Yet until then, it is challenging to come up with a concept, get the entire cabin to agree on it, and practice until it is where you want it to be. Everyone wants their idea to be heard and understood, and wants to have just the perfect role. When this doesn’t happen, sometimes conflict arises. We continue to ask campers to plan skits and Miss RBC, though, partly because it presents them with a challenge. In tackling that challenge and reaching a final product, campers learn a multitude of intangible lessons about the challenges and possibilities that come from working together.

At home, when we are faced with a conflict, we may go hide in our rooms or get away from the situation. At camp, we have to address it, and though this is challenging, it also teaches us that conflict is okay and empowers us to learn how to resolve it and compromise. Here is a place where, if conflict becomes overwhelming, girls will go find their counselor, and their counselor will model a calm and fair way of resolving it. It’s a place where we learn how to deal with some of these conflicts ourselves. And it’s a place where we learn how to be forgiving.

I once had a professor who told our class, “I truly believe that we are forgiving each other daily,” and I think this applies so aptly to camp life. We all have to make compromises every day when we are all living together, like waiting for the girl who is running late to archery or letting a cabinmate have the lead role in the skit. Yet we are in a place that reminds us that, even when it’s hard, we should always look for the best in others. So we learn to forgive, to be friends even after we have been frustrated with someone, to put into perspective what is a big deal, and what we do not need to spend our energy on. We learn that we are worthy of being loved even when we make a mistake or hurt someone else’s feelings. It is through conflict and forgiving each other that our friendships deepen and grow in our ability to solve problems, and keep patience and perspective.

skit performance of girls cooperating

Every night before bed, girls say the Rockbrook Prayer, reciting in part, “Forgive us if we are unkind and help us to forgive those who are unkind to us.” In this quietly profound hope that we say together, we end our day with a fresh slate, a new beginning for the next day. We take responsibility for the humanness in us and accept the humanness in others. This is such an important part of growing up and being a good person, and living together in community enables us to practice conflict resolution and compromise a lot, to figure out how to graciously respond when we are frustrated with each other, or when we don’t get exactly what we want. That’s what it means to be part of something larger than ourselves, and we are so lucky to have a place like Rockbrook that allows us to care so much about our community that we are willing to forgive and compromise with them.

Seeing Past Failure

kid on pottery wheel

It is OK to fail.

I repeat: it is OK to fail.

This is not something we hear everyday, or something we ordinarily tell children. For most, we’re not looking for failure; we want success! But if thought about differently, this is advice we don’t hear enough. Getting that C on your math test or missing the bullseye in Archery may seem like the end of the world, but they don’t have to be.

I majored in Comedy Writing and Performing in college. Junior year, as part of my studies, I spent a semester at the Second City, a well known institute for comedy in Chicago famous for turning out comedic stars like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. An important lesson we were repeatedly taught during my time there was that not only is it OK to fail, but you have to fail. You have to go in front of an audience and try your stand-up or sketch act and it has to at least fail a few times so you can figure out what is funny and what is not. Failing, in comedy, is how you find your voice. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, it was the most freeing thing for me to hear that failing now and then was a good thing.

The American composer and music theorist John Cage had this to say: “Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.” For him, especially in creative endeavors, what seems like a failure in truth contains the seeds of learning as long as one is determined enough to “do the work.”

weaving on lap loom

That same lesson can be applied to camp. Accepting failure is especially important when, as a camper, you are learning new things all the time, whether it be in an activity or in learning to live within a community for the first time (communication! compromise!). Learning something new means expecting and accepting mistakes. It means you are going to fail once or twice or a few times before successful habits and skills come to be.

I teach Curosty, Rockbrook’s weaving activity, where girls are learning something new just about every time they enter the cabin door. For lots of campers, it’s their first time ever seeing a loom, let alone using one. For some, the act of weaving by hand is a new feeling completely. For them to expect to be perfect at it, not make a single mistake, from the get-go is a ridiculous expectation because they usually never are. They’ll have to tie and re-tie knots on their bookmarks a few times. All the potholder loops will pop out when they’re casting off their work. And there will usually be gaps in their first reed basket. But that’s the best way to learn: by failing. Correcting failure, seeing past it, always leads to growth. With the right attitude, moments of failure can blossom into real learning.

Camp is a safe place for this kind of learning too, because, no matter what, you know you are supported and encouraged by your friends and the entire Rockbrook community. Camp experiences keep us all experimenting, all discovering, and all failing now and then along the way. We’re all in it together. If there’s any place to fail and fail safely, it’s here.

girls summer camp campers

Lost and Found

Camp tetherball buddies

On the bulletin board where announcements are posted, you’ll see the lost and found list. As the name suggests, campers update the list about belongings they have lost or found while at camp. Sometimes the list gets pretty specific (“If anyone sees a sock that is blue with cooked pink shrimp on it, please return it to Middler 6!”), and we read the list aloud frequently to make sure that girls return with everything they came here with. When the list was read today, though, there wasn’t anything on the lost list. In fact, there were only items on the found list. I thought this was beautifully poetic—it represented the ways in which the community was looking out for each other, even before anyone realized they had lost something.

In many ways, this idea seeps into our everyday lives at camp. In coming to camp, we lose things, or more accurately, are without things. We have the basics in our trunk: a flashlight, a book, some clothes, and some friendship bracelet string, but we are without some of the more present items of our existence: our phones, our computers, the familiar environments we are used to. Yet camp girls come back every year, and daydream about it all throughout the year. I think that is because they have found so much more at camp than they have lost. They find strength in them that they never knew was there before, they find that they have a lot in common with people from different backgrounds, they find the capacity in them to be giving and authentic—the found list is much longer than the lost list.

zip line kid

Throughout camp, the exchange between lost and found is seen every day. Today, it was announced that there was going to be a trip on the camp zip-line course. The zip-line goes throughout the back side of camp, taking girls across waterfalls and through the trees. This trip is generally offered multiple times every day, and is always wildly popular. As this was the first activity day for many girls, today was a particularly popular day to sign up for the trip. Because the trip was so popular, it was impossible to get everyone who wanted to go today on the trip (they’ll definitely have more opportunities to go, though!). A trio of juniors who arrived yesterday were all in line for the trip. When two of them drew cards that meant that they could go, but one of them could not go, the two who were chosen to go on the trip gave up their spaces, saying that they would go another time when their friend could go. This beautifully exemplified this lost and found principle. Even though they lost going on the trip today, they found a way for them all to go together another time. More than that, though, they found a deeper sense of friendship and the joy that comes from being a loyal friend and the maturity that comes with compromising one’s own bliss for the good of others. They gained much more than they lost.

county costume kids

At camp, we see this in other ways too. Sometimes, what we lose is not as tangible as a sock or even a zip-line experience. A lot of the time, it’s our inhibitions and the things that prevent us from having fun and being our true selves. The other day, we were having an evening program called “Jug Band.” Jug Band is an old-fashioned campfire that incorporates Appalachian culture and silliness. Everyone brings an “instrument” (like rocks or brooms) and sings songs such as “Mountain Dew” and “Wagon Wheel.” Jug Band is incredibly fun, but is also incredibly silly. On the night of Jug Band, a middler cabin lacked their usual enthusiasm for the event. They were hesitant about going, and did not want to dress up. Their counselors, however, started playing on instruments (trunks and tennis rackets) and making up songs. Before long, the entire cabin was joining in the fun, creating their own band! By the time they showed up to Jug Band, they were some of the most enthusiastic and spirited campers at the fire.

In their cabin, the band kept practicing and writing new songs. The band’s name was “Saurkraut,” (the spelling is intentional) and tonight during twilight, Saurkraut had their first performance. They created tickets that they handed out to everyone (some of the tickets were even autographed: ‘Saurkraut! Rock out!’) and one of their hit songs was “Do You Jam, Bro?” The band was a hit, and the reviews were raving, “That’s the best thing that’s ever happened at twilight!” When inhibitions were lost, Saurkraut was found. Creativity, a greater sense of community, identity, and the ability to let our hair down—these are the things we find here at camp.

The other thing about lost and found at camp is that we learn to live without the things we have lost. We realize we can live without that sock, that we can thrive without our phones. But when things are found, we gain a new appreciation for them. We want to keep what we’ve found safe, we know it in an entirely different way. I think that’s how the intangibles at camp work, too. We find this authentic version of ourselves, someone who knows how to compromise and get along with others, who seeks the best in others, who isn’t afraid to get her hair wet. When we go home, we have a new appreciation for this version of ourselves, and we live differently, as we continue to stay found.

girls camp group