Passion Trumps Popularity

Teen girls at summer camp

A parent mentioned the other day that she is impressed, and so pleased, that her daughter feels “successful” at Rockbrook. That got me thinking about how and why that’s such a common sentiment around here. What is it about life at Rockbrook that makes girls feel comfortable and successful? And in what way is this special, different from ordinary life?

It’s certainly not because everyone here achieves some distinction, wins some kind of contest, or acquires a superior skill (though these can happen). Not every shot hits the target, every stitch is even, or climber makes it to the top. There are plenty of challenges at camp, activities that require practice and skill development, even social challenges… resolving a disagreement between cabin mates, for example …each that may or may not work out perfectly. With these kinds of “failures” (“opportunities to grow” might be a better way to put it) intentionally built into the camp program, with having the best skills of some sort being insignificant, how do girls feel successful at Rockbrook?

It’s also not because the girls here are suddenly popular, that they have succeeded by joining a cool “in crowd.” That phenomenon —social grouping dictated by who is considered most liked or admired— is simply not prevalent at Rockbrook. Instead our camp community is defined by a more inclusive culture driven by kindness, caring and generosity. Everyone has a place here and feels like they can be their true selves. In this way, Rockbrook really is comfortable. It’s a relief from the popularity contests that affect school life. So if success at Rockbrook isn’t about having a social standing, what is it?

Throwing pottery on the wheel
Girl archer aiming her arrow

I think success at summer camp is about enthusiasm. It’s about passion for what we do and who we are. At camp we find a spirited attitude infusing just about everything: singing show tunes while setting the tables for meals, skipping arm-and-arm down the path to the bathroom, greeting everyone who passes by, laughing hilariously with friends during evening program, stopping to marvel at a spider spinning a web, and diving into all the creative, adventure and athletic challenges of the many activities offered. In all these ways, and in our close relationships with each other, this joyful, enthusiastic attitude is the secret of success at camp. We all, campers and staff members alike, are “successful” here because we have wholeheartedly joined an positive community, one filled with passionate people ready to support and encourage everyone. We are successful through that infectious attitude. At Rockbrook, we don’t succeed by striving to be popular or by acquiring exemplary skills; those measures carry little weight for us. Instead, passion trumps popularity, and enthusiasm outshines talents.

There are many ways that Rockbrook is a haven for girls. Being a place to live a passionate life is one of the best.

Huge Bubble blowing girls

Only the Beginning

First Camp Day at the Archery Range
Careful Stitching at camp

When asked what my favorite day of camp is (an unsurprisingly frequent question around here, considering the sheer number of exciting events that pepper our schedule), I almost always say Banquet Day. The final Tuesday of camp, two days before parents return to retrieve their daughters, thrums with mounting anticipation, as all but the oldest campers (or CA’s, who plan the event) mill about the outside of the closed-off Dining Hall, eager to find out the secret theme of the final Banquet. The girls have all become perfectly at ease with each other and with themselves by these final days of camp—they stroll through the camp that has come to feel like their very own in just a few short weeks, headed for one last dip in the lake, or to polish off the final coat of glaze on their piece de resistance in pottery.

In the evening, all that easiness lifts into jubilation, as the girls laugh through the Banquet skits put on by the CA’s, indulge in the delicious dinner and candy spread across the tables, and dance to the music coming through the loudspeakers. The campers know that this is their last chance to let loose and act goofy before the return to the real world, and you can sense their determination to make the most of it.

The sheer energy that pervades Banquet Day is what gives it the top spot in most Rockbrook girls’ camp memories—including mine. But walking through camp today, stopping in for a while on every activity I passed, I realized that the first full day of camp just might deserve some more acclaim.

Just Hangin' Around on a rope

The girls are nervous, sure, and certainly much quieter than they will be three weeks, two weeks, or even one week down the road. They explore this new space tentatively, poking heads through cabin doors, and quizzing passing counselors on which path leads to Nature Nook, and which leads to the barn. They still have their best manners on, those “please’s” and “ma’ams” that have guided them through long days at school. They place novice hands on looms, clay, and canoeing paddles, and laugh nervously when they stumble through their first tries.

But as the day goes on, if you pay close attention, you can see those polite shells that the girls have spent the whole school year crafting begin to crack. Smiles become quicker, laughs become louder, and footsteps on uneven mountain paths become surer.

You get to watch as the campers realize (or remember, for the returners) just what they’re in for here at Rockbrook—that this is the sort of place where, if you were suddenly to get the urge to put on a crazy costume for no reason, no one would look twice, and more than likely, others would hurry to join you in dressing up; where, while we place a premium on treating others with respect, no one expects you to tiptoe through those tricky rules of courtesy set up in school; where no one cares about the labels on your clothes, the school crest on your backpack, or the grades on your last report card—they only want to know if you want to join in the tetherball tournament.

By dinner time, the Dining Hall is twice the volume it was at breakfast. Girls excitedly fill in their cabin mates and counselors on what they did that day, returning campers teach the camp songs to the new ones, and the Hi-Ups lead the rest of the camp in song after song, creating a happy din that spreads out from the Dining Hall, all across the still camp.

Ready, Aim... Fire

As energized and as vibrant as the Dining Hall has become in just twenty-four hours though, there is a long way to go yet before we reach the levels of Banquet Day. Over the next two or four weeks, these girls will face experiences that challenge them, that push them past their comfort zones, that make them laugh, make them cry, make them dance, make them sing, make them create, and make them wish that they could stay longer and experience even more.

That’s what makes this first day so exciting: today is the day they get the first sense of what awaits them in the days ahead. But all of that is still to come—today was just the start.

Making a Splash in the lake

Nothing Quite Like It

Confident Camp girls

Ending a session of camp, as we did today at Rockbrook, is a strange feeling of heartache because we have to say goodbye to all these amazing people, but also of deep satisfaction because we know we’ve shared something special over these last few weeks. As parents arrived today to pick up their girls, many saw tears and sadness for having to leave their special place, their camp, their haven filled with some of their best friends and so many fun things to do. Rockbrook is for these girls a place where they can be at peace, with themselves and with the people around them. As I hope you’ve sensed from these blog posts and the photo gallery, we stay busy, and usually pretty silly, most of the time around here, and it feels great. All of us know that there’s just nothing quite like camp. So that’s the other feeling coloring today: gratitude. We are all so thankful for simply being together in this magical place, so thankful for this remarkable community we know and love.

So thank you everyone! Thank you for sharing such wonderful girls. Thank you for supporting Rockbrook. Thank you for being a part of our camp family. We will miss your girls, but also look forward to seeing them again next summer.

A Sense of Wonder

Girl Drawing Class

It’s easy to see how there’s excitement around every corner here at Rockbrook. During the activity periods the girls are happily busy, fully engaged in crafts, sports, and adventure. They’re folding and tying white t-shirts preparing them for colorful dyes, and guiding rackets to tune their tennis serves. They are exercising their bodies and their imaginations riding horses and performing short improvisational skits. Each scheduled activity offers ways to play, to learn and to have fun with friends.

In addition though, there’s an added ingredient at Rockbrook that makes this more than just entertainment or a fleeting diversion, and it has to do with the sense of wonder that blossoms so easily and often throughout our day. These are moments when we are suddenly confronted by delicate natural beauty, like a spider web freshly weighted by drops of dew, or the zing of putting your feet in a chilly stream, or the sharp call at dusk of a Pileated woodpecker, for example. Simply being outside in this beautiful place is wonder-ful. It inspires Rockbrook girls to open themselves to new and fascinating experiences. And when combined with the caring encouragement of their friends and counselors, camp fosters courage and fascination rather than hesitation when encountering the unfamiliar. It teaches girls that the world is an amazing place ready to be explored, that curiosity will enrich their lives with delightful people, places and things. We hope that our time together in “the heart of a wooded mountain” at Rockbrook can be a lasting resource for our girls, a deep lesson about the joys of discovering the wonder of the world.

Camp Yoga group pose
girls cooling their feet while doing yoga

Here are a couple of photos taken of our Yoga classes taught by Mary Alice. They ordinarily meet in the stone “Hillside Lodge,” but can be held anywhere in camp where those purple mats can go… like here, for example, when the group decided cooling their feet by the creek would be relaxing. With a little quiet instrumental music in the background, Mary Alice guides the campers through a series of Hatha Yoga postures and controlled breathing. For many of the girls, these classes provide welcome moments of mindfulness and focused attention far removed from the ordinarily high-speed pace of camp life. In this way, they too can foster a sense of wonder for the girls.

Camp kids whitewater rafting trip
Camp Kids smiling in whitewater raft

Throughout the day we took about a third of the camp, almost all of the Middlers and Seniors who had not yet gone this session, whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River over in Swain County. This is quite a logistical challenge when it includes 76 campers, 6 staff members, 7 whitewater guides, 6 bus drivers, 1 Rockbrook director, lunch for 100 people, and all the whitewater equipment for the trip itself. But we have plenty of experience making it happen, and all in-house without hiring a third-party company to handle it. The trip itself is a combination of electrifying rapids, like the “Quarry Rapid” that has several large waves in a row, and calm sections where there’s time to chat with everyone in the raft, maybe start a splash war between boats or the girls can test their nerve with a quick leap into the (very!) cold water. It was a gloriously hot day, perfect for rafting, and the girls had a ball laughing and screaming all the way down the river.

This last photo is another great example of how Rockbrook is helping to foster a sense of wonder for your girls. For generations, girls have been struck by the natural splendor of Rockbrook, even describing it in one of our traditional songs as a “Fairyland of Beauty.” Spending time here in this ancient forest, among powerful trees and other bristling plants and critters, it feels magical, almost like everything is the work of tiny, winged fairies. Tonight after dinner, Pam our talented gardener, hosted a “Wings and Bling” garden party for any girls interested in making a fairy house, or a potted arrangement of flowers. Using bark, moss, flowers, polished stones, bits of cloth, Mardi Gras beads (from tonight’s fun “birthday night” dinner), and anything else the girls felt inspired to include, the group made a entire Fairy village. Such imagination and creativity! Later, two campers, with complete sincerity, suggested that the Fairies would enjoy a bedtime cookie and we should leave a bit for them in their village. All, so so wonderful.

Garden Fairy Village

It’s Like a Rocket

Rockbrook Collage

Less than a week! Rockbrook will open in just 5 short days, and boy are we excited! (Have you seen the countdown timer on the sidebar lately?). Throughout the spring as we’ve planned and prepared for our 2013 summer season, as we’ve finished building projects, organized activities and special events, we’ve gotten more and more eager to get started. This past Sunday was the start of our week-long staff training session. There are about 60 of these college-aged women who are now at camp because this summer they will be cabin counselors, outdoor adventure guides, equestrian instructors, craft specialists, and sports coaches. Add to that several nurses, the entire kitchen crew, and maintenance staff, and you can imagine the buzz of activity suddenly energizing the camp.

In addition to the directors and the staff members, we’re hearing from campers too, many of the girls who are bursting with glee to finally get to camp. Here is a collage, made by Eva, that conveys this feeling of excitement. It’s impossible to not feel excited when Rockbrook is so much fun “it’s like a rocket,” and is “addicting” like the “sweet and spicy” taste of “cinnamon.” Whether in 1962 or 2001, or this year, Rockbrook is a place to make new friends and do new things.

Can you feel it? Are you ready for camp?

An Experience to Last a Lifetime

Camp is fun.  There are shaving cream fights, muffin breaks, kayaking trips, Dolly’s visits, hiking overnights, funny skits, and so much more.  However, camp is about way more than the present experience. The entire Rockbrook experience is meant to last us a lifetime.  It is about building character traits that will help us later in life — confidence, independence, individuality, and so on.  It is about being with nature.  Camp is about making friends who won’t leave our side.  The spontaneity, the adventure, the laughter and the FUN found at camp will stay with us long after we leave the Heart of the Wooded Mountain.

At Rockbrook, our mission is:

“To provide a haven for girls,

RBC's Mission

a place of their own,

RBC Mission

where they can explore the beauty of nature,

RBC Mission

try new things,

RBC Mission

enjoy carefree summer living,

RBC Mission

and make some of their very best friends.”

rbc mission

Ditch the playground- come to camp!

come to camp
We’re not afraid to get our hands dirty

An interesting article written on the Tennessee Today webpage sheds light on the importance of playing outside.  A University of Tennessee research team recently conducted a study to determine whether children who play on traditional playgrounds or children who play in natural settings are more active and/or more creative.  It turns out that children who play in a natural setting are both more active and use their imagination more than they do while playing on traditional playground equipment.  In fact, the children who participated in the study played nearly twice as much in the ‘natural playscape’ than they did on the regular playground.  This came as no surprise to us at Rockbrook.  We love playing in nature!

playing at camp outside
Run girls, run!

So what is it about nature that inspires us to play more than we would on a playground set?  Maybe it’s the freedom that we have to use our imagination and get creative.  Maybe it’s being able to decide what to do on our own.  Maybe it’s the excitement of the unknown.  Whatever it may be, we believe that the landscape that surrounds us fosters Rockbrook’s mission to allow girls to explore the beauty of nature and to try new things.

playing in the creek
We love to play in the stream!

Playgrounds are great and all, but who is ready to ditch the swing set and monkey bars and head into a fairyland of beauty? We can’t wait to play outside with you all this summer! To read the full article about the mentioned study, click here.

A S’mores Infographic

We’ve written before about how to make a s’more, and even discussed the history of s’mores, but now the folks over at REI have put together a cool infographic explaining what s’mores are, a few tips about making them, and some great ideas about variations you can try (adding peanut butter, for example). Take a look!

An infographic showing how to make a s'more

Girls Can, Too

Girls Can, Too

Tony said: “Boys are better!

They can…
whack a ball,
ride a bike with one hand,
leap off a wall.”

I just listened
and when he was through,
I laughed and said:

“Oh, yeah! Well, girls can, too!”

Then I leaped off the wall
and rode away
With his 200 baseball cards
I won that day.

-Lee Bennett Hopkins
Poet, anthologist, and teacher

At camp, girls can, too. Unlike our poetic heroine, Rockbrook girls don’t have prove anything to anyone… they just can, too. They can…

Rope Swing girl at camp

Roll a kayak
Make a bracelet
Ride a horse
Climb a rock (with one hand)
Score a goal
Weave a basket
Plant a garden
Shoot a Rifle
Balance on a balance beam
Hike a trail
Build a Fire

Show the world, “Girls can, too.”

The Ineffability of Camp

Girl shooting archery at summer camp


With summer drawing to an end and so many kids returning home from summer camp, Talya Minsberg writes in the New York Times about What Parents Don’t Get About Camp. The piece is partly a fond memory of life at camp for both campers, who “find the joy of growing and exploring on their own,” and as a staff members, who are the “warmest, silliest, most fun (and responsible)” people they can be. It’s one author’s recollection of how summer camp is a magical place bubbling with experiences for positive transformation. The article hints at the features of camp life that make it difficult to describe, that make kids’ stories from camp seem so inadequate— the close friendships, the freedom and independence, how hilarious things were —but in the end suggests it’s OK for parents and noncamp friends to not fully understand “camp.” You have to experience summer camp, to really “get” it.

And since camp is “a place of their own” (as Rockbrook’s mission recognizes), it’s perfectly natural, even preferable, for others to mistake what camp really is, to grasp only a faint sense of what it means to the campers and staff members who live it. We have to agree; it’s hard to describe the magic felt from living like we do at Rockbrook (despite our attempts to describe it all summer long), but that’s just part of it, and in the end, a very good thing.