The Fun Themselves

On a regular day, the girls wake up around 8am at camp. They get dressed and tackle their cabin chores before making their way to the dining hall for breakfast at 8:30. Today it was a cool 60 degrees when we woke up, so a cozy long-sleeve fleece or sweatshirt felt great. That’s pretty typical of the June weather at Rockbrook.

Some days, however, groups of girls will get up early because they are heading out of camp for an adventure. Today, a group of 36 campers, plus their counselors, met in the dining hall at 7am for a quick breakfast of bagels, fruit, cereal and yogurt. They were a little groggy, but also excited, because they were going whitewater rafting on the Nantahala river. This is by far the most popular trip we offer. It’s open to Middlers and Seniors (5th grade and older) and almost every one of them goes at some point during their session.

goofy teenage rafters
big whotewater rafting

We ran two groups down the river today, one before lunch and one after, 84 people all together. Both trips hit the water with clear perfect weather and with boats full of high spirited friends for 2-hours of whitewater excitement. The rapids of the Nantahala all have unique characteristics that make them interesting and fun. There’s Patton’s Run, Delbar’s Rock, The Whirlpool, and the big finale, the Nantahala Falls. It’s a complete blast for girls to come this close to the power and intensity of fast-moving whitewater, to be bounced in (and sometimes out of!) the rafts while being splashed by the cold, cold water of the river. I always say, though, that the biggest reason rafting is so much fun is that you’re doing it with your friends. It’s the social aspect of rafting, the hilarity of being splashed together, the screaming with delight when your boat hits a wave— this creates the kind of fun that’s uniquely thrilling and memorable.

As I watched these trips unfold, taking photos along the way, I was struck again by just how unique this experience is for your girls. It’s not the rafting per se, the specific river we’re on, the RBC guides, or the weather. What’s unique is the fun created by the girls being together. Their friendships, relaxed way of interacting, and their silly enthusiasm amplifies the experience. Rafts from other rafting companies float by silently, while the Rockbrook rafts scream, and wave, and sing, and pose for the camera. There’s almost constant laughter, conversation, and wide-eyed exuberance. The adventure of the rafting itself initiates the experience, but it’s really just the context for the girls and their relationship with each other to flourish. It’s a joy to see it in action.

all camp dance evening

Something similar took place after dinner when another all-camp Evening Program brought us to the gym. It was time for our “Monster Mash” dance. Our theme for the day was “Not Scary Halloween,” which means “Let your costume imagination run wild!” There was a carton of milk, a hippie, Annie (from the musical), a taco, a pickle, a leopard, a kiwi, several princesses and fairies, and so many things in between. Our local DJ, DJ Marcus, was here with his lights and sound system, and our Rockbrook girls showed up ready to groove. Here too, they created the fun themselves. Together they jumped and sang. They literally let loose— hair, arms and legs flying around in all directions. They encouraged each other, modeled different dance moves, and joined line dances like “Cotton-eyed Joe.” The culture of camp makes being together like this generate energy, fanning the flames of excitement in ways that are impossible to duplicate elsewhere. Camp makes it possible because it encourages everyone here to relax and be themselves, be kids without academic or social pressures. It’s welcoming and relentlessly encouraging. It inclines everyone toward connecting with others, with nature, and with real-world activity. There’s simply a unique power when you combine all of this. And yes, it’s this power that makes anything we do at camp fun. Magic!

north carolina summer camp girls

Already Loving It

You may have heard of the special event at Rockbrook called the “Banquet.” This is an all-camp party held at the end of each main session. Our 9th grade campers— the “CAs” —plan and present the banquet, and since it is their project, they also decide what will be the event’s central theme. This is crucial because it is the focus of every part of the Banquet: the food, decorations, costumed performers, choreographed dances, and treats for the campers. Also, the theme is kept secret until the unveiling of the event. It’s just more fun to be surprised!

very silly camp kids

Today, this session’s CAs picked the theme for their Banquet. As you might guess, 23 girls can think of a lot of different themes, and that selecting one could be a challenge. To narrow down their list, we leave camp— for privacy —and then take a hike, discussing all their ideas, weighing what sounds best for the group. Today we began with about 50 different possible themes, but after an hour of walking and talking, one idea was the clear favorite. It was almost a unanimous decision with everyone pitching in ways to make the theme even better, and getting excited about how they’ll be involved in the preparations. What did they pick? You’ll find out in a few weeks!

Today was also the first full day of camp activities, with the girls fanning out across the camp to tack up horses, snap on a climbing helmet, take careful aim at an archery or riflery target, grip their tennis racket, shape hunks of clay, dip a paintbrush, twist a crochet hook, and so much more. We had the littlest Juniors flying through the trees on the zip line course. All 32 horse down at the barn had at least one rider today. Every craft area unleashed waves of creativity. The girls laughed and learned. They ate their first warm muffin (mint chocolate chip was today’s flavor.). They checked their mail after lunch and relaxed in their bunks during rest hour. This day was moving!

Tonight’s dinner was a picnic on the hill. Rick prepared a hotdog meal for us, including both beef and veggie dogs, buns, homemade coleslaw, pickles, baked beans, and all the condiments. For dessert, the kitchen baked delicious lemon bars. So good! The weather was perfect on the hill with bright sunshine, low humidity and a light breeze. Once the girls had their plates, they spread out to different areas of hill to sit and eat with groups of friends. It was a happy and relaxed scene.

summer camp campfire song

A little later, the Evening Program was a fun all-camp campfire. Here too, we announced a theme and invited everyone to come dressed in a costume. At camp, everyone knows that costumes make anything more fun. Tonight it was a Appalachian Mountain theme, something we call a “Jug Band.” Sarah came dressed as her alter ego “Sayree,” the fiddling, granny with a pet (rubber) rattlesnake named “Fish.” With a guitar, Ukelele, and fiddle playing along, the Hi-Ups helped lead everyone in a program of songs and skits. The campfire crackled and bathed us in wood smoke, while we laughed, clapped and sang into the evening under the big white oak trees nearby.

This was a wonderful way to finish up our first full day together at Rockbrook. I can already tell this group of girls loves camp. There’s kindness and enthusiasm coloring everything. There’s a beautiful mix of familiarity and excitement for what might be new. There’s already a sense of community that, no doubt, will only grow stronger over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned; this is going to be good!

summer camp silly costumes

Ineffable Power

At times I feel like I’m preaching to the choir when I write these blog posts about Rockbrook. I believe many of the people reading already know that there’s something special about camp, that the girls love it and look forward to it all year long. They already know about the priceless benefits of camp for the children lucky enough to experience it. For something that’s been around this long— more than 100 years! —there must be a power at work. But for the benefit of our new friends, let me preach a minute.

summer camp cheering kids

Today, as we opened our second session, this ineffable power appeared again. We could see it on the faces of arriving campers when they popped their heads through the open sunroof of their car. It was bubbling up when campers squirmed in the backseat, antsy to get out of the car and get started. It almost threw off sparks when two camp friends screamed and ran toward each other to hug after being apart since last summer. More subtly, new campers could sense this special power when they met their smiling counselor and immediately felt included in the cabin group. It took very little time for everyone to zip off with a group of friends, eager to catch up and begin exploring the camp.

This power springs from one thing really; it comes from the people at camp. It’s not the fun activities, the adventure trips, the amazing food, or the beautiful camp setting that creates all these feelings. No, camp boils down to the people, to the friendships and positive relationships that are fostered here, and to the Rockbrook philosophy guiding them. Many of the older campers realize this. We could change almost everything else about camp, and as long as our friends were with us, it would still be magical. They will tell you; what they most look forward to about camp is being with their friends.

using a camp chair as shelter from the rain

The first all-camp event provided even more proof of this. We gathered under the big walnut tree on the hill for a quick assembly. As we met some of the key people at camp, learned and sang a few camp songs, and were welcomed to Rockbrook by Sarah, the group seemed surprisingly comfortable and excited at the same time. They were quick to clap and cheer, to jump up and sing louder when their line song began. This session seems to already have that special enthusiasm for camp. And wow! It’s only getting started and is bound to get stronger.

The rest of the day was filled with a yummy homemade mac-n-cheese lunch, swimming demonstrations, name games, camp tours, activity skits, cabin meetings, and selecting activity schedules. It was a good full day. Tomorrow, we’ll launch into all the activities, get out of camp for some adventure trips, clap and sing over delicious scratch-made meals, and continue building the friendships that define this unique community.

It really is true: “There’s a power to camp.” We’re all very excited to dig in and show you what that means!

summer camp swimming girls

As Close as Possible

As we go about our days here at Rockbrook, having a blast with all the dress-up shenanigans, singing everyday multiple times, and finding ourselves laughing and smiling more than ever, it’s easy to forget the deep emotional undercurrent that fuels all this excitement. Spend a little time here, among these great girls, and you’ll soon sense there’s something special brewing, something much deeper and meaningful than the fun you see in the photo gallery. I believe it can all be traced to the power of kindness, caring, and generosity that defines our camp community. These positive vibes are what we mean by the “Spirit of Rockbrook.” They are a force that takes hold, brings us closer together, and makes life at camp the haven we all love.

summer camp buddies together
binded summer camp friends

This became especially clear tonight during our closing “Spirit Fire” campfire, the ceremony that’s closed every camp session at Rockbrook since its first in 1921. Dressed in our red and white uniforms, we gathered inside the Hillside Lodge instead of outside in the drizzly weather. We were able to all squeeze inside in front of the massive stone fireplace and its blazing fire, with the girls arm and arm, heads on shoulders, all as close as humanly possible.

The program alternated between singing traditional songs like “In the Heart of a Wooded Mountain,” and individuals standing to reflect aloud on their experience over the session. They poured their hearts out, talking about the friendships they’ve made and the newfound confidence they’ve discovered during their time at camp. One senior-aged camper described Rockbrook as the only place where she’s felt so much love from everyone around her. With emotion in her voice, soon many of us found ourselves choked up and in tears. The speeches all marveled at how good it feels to be at camp, how everyone here is kind and supportive, how you can be your true self without fear of being judged, and how friends made at camp are special.

Tears and softly checked crying became contagious as we thought about our camp days this summer ending and we realized we would soon have to say goodbye. This was our last night together.

camp candle ceremony

Sarah spoke last and expressed her hope that we would recall our time at camp throughout the coming year, that we could find ways to live the “Spirit of Rockbrook” at home— to be a little more kind, more brave, more silly, and an easy friend to those around us. She said she was proud of everyone and how much they’ve grown in the short time together at camp.

The program ends with everyone sharing part of the Spirit Fire by lighting a small white candle. Sarah and the other directors first light their candle from the fire, and then pass it along to each camper’s and staff member’s candle. Ordinarily, everyone would circle the lake, but tonight the rain led us to make a circle of candlelight on the hill. With a little drizzle still falling, we sang a final song before heading to our cabins for the night.

The whole evening was a beautiful celebration of the session, and the joy we felt being here at camp together. Everyone has grown a little and we hope has deepened their Rockbrook Spirit. I think you’ll see it in your girls, and you’ll be proud too.

summer camp closing ceremony

A Knight to Remember

It’s the night I’d say everyone at camp looks forward to. It’s the kind of once-in-a-lifetime event that can’t be recreated and is remembered by some for the rest of their lives. It’s a community celebration, a culmination of detailed plans, and a recognition of the many friendships formed over the course of the session. It’s banquet night, the unveiling of the surprise party and themed dinner presented by our 9th grade “CA” campers.

This session’s banquet theme gathered Renaissance characters and scenes transforming the dining hall into a fairyland of woodland folk, royalty, and city folk. The girls went all out decorating every inch of the walls in the dining hall with painted scenes. They strung ivy and small lights overhead in the rafters, along with streamers and stars. They arranged the dining hall to make a wide open dance floor in the center where they could perform skits and choreographed dances.

girl surprised by camp party

One of the most exciting moments comes when the campers enter the dining hall and first see the CA girls dressed in their costumes. With fun, upbeat music playing, the counselors enter first, followed by the campers from oldest to youngest. The CA girls create two cheering lines and welcome everyone to the banquet in character. Unveiling the surprise, the costumed characters, plus the elaborate decorations filling the dining hall, makes for an amazing entrance. Everyone smiles, and can’t believe their eyes. Especially for the youngest girls, it’s a wonder-ful thrill to be met like this. And with a theme like this, it was truly magical.

In the banquet we found a King and Queen, crowned and robed. Dressed in long gowns, there were seven princesses, complete with tiaras and glitter. Woodland nymphs with pointed ears and flower headbands, plus four colorful fairies roamed about. There was a Satyr with horns too. From the town we met a jester, 3 milkmaids, a witch, bards, and knights. We watched a plot unfold where a princess was eaten by a dragon, the knights on a mission to save her, the witch helping with spells, and a dance battle to defeat the dragon. Later with the help of the fairies, they were able to return home. Each act of the plot included fun dances performed by the characters.

The fare served also aligned with the theme. They presented “Jousting Sticks” (fruit kabobs, mini corndogs, and mozzarella sticks). The main course was “Dragon Legs” (chicken legs) with “Dragon’s Blood” (gravy), “Medieval Mash” (mashed potatoes) and “Victorious Veg” (peas and carrots). For dessert, there were “Kings Chalice” drinks (root beer floats) and “Fairy Wands” (cake pops). With some candies added as table decorations, this was a feast.

Throughout the evening, between each act of the skits, and while the meal courses were being served, everyone enjoyed dancing and singing along to favorite pop songs. This was a chance to sing as loud as possible and dance with complete freedom with your camp friends. Smiling and laughing like never before, mostly because everyone by now feels so at ease at camp, this was pure exuberance. Whenever a new song came on, the whole dining hall jumped up and danced. It was about as much fun as you can imagine. Banquets are like that, and this was a fantastic example.

rockbrook camp renaissance

First Session Video Snapshot – Part Two

Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks visited camp again this week to film and has produced another short video for us. He spent the day filming, worked his editing magic, and now we have this wonderful snapshot of camp life. The video does a beautiful job of depicting the mood at camp this session… so much action and so many happy girls!

Click below to watch the video…. and let us know what you think.

Deep Childhood Joy

Let’s talk about a shaving cream fight. This is a special event that brings all the campers together, no matter what their age. It’s equally popular with all age groups too. So when we announced that there would be a shaving cream fight tonight during our “twilight” time, the girls roared with excitement. At the sound of the camp bell, everyone interested in joining in the messy fun would meet down at the landsports field dressed in their swimsuits.

We were ready when the girls started to arrive— about 150 cans of plain shaving cream, a couple of water hoses, some fun pop music pumping, and a big sheet of plastic for a slip-n-slide (because that’s fun too when you’re already slippery!).

The point of a shaving cream fight is not complicated, and the girls somehow know instinctively how to go— spray the contents of your can of the white slippery foam both on others and on yourself. Then race around smearing, wiping, splattering and rubbing the shaving cream into everyone’s hair, on their backs, and ultimately everywhere. Beyond that, the goal is to have fun, be silly and enjoy the wild mess of it all. It’s as simple as that.

There are no teams, and this is not a competition where we pick a winner at the end like some games. So it’s not much of a “fight” really. It’s more of a group event, almost like a dance, since it’s just as much fun to be attacked as it is to splatter others. Part of the fun is surprising someone, sneaking up to them and planting a blob right on their back, shoulder or leg… as you race away grinning, and secretly hoping, but also looking out for, someone who will do the same to you. There’s no score: just the fun of playing the game.

By the way, have you ever noticed how not keeping score makes playing a game more fun. That matches up perfectly with our camp philosophy.

The whole event is absolutely hilarious! Once the spraying begins, you can’t hear anything except shrieks of delight and laughter. We all (yes, counselors and directors too!) quickly begin to look pretty funny, our hair sticking up, with white beards and mustaches, if not completely foamy. There was one little Junior tonight whose entire head was one blob of shaving cream!

camp shaving cream play

A shaving cream fight feels liberating too. It’s a little mischievous and outrageous, but still sanctioned, even celebrated at camp. It’s a harmless way to go a little crazy, while at the same time laugh and play with your friends. Outside of camp, you’ll never see girls having this kind of deep, affirming fun, the kind of laughter that makes you pause to take a breath. A shaving cream fight like this taps into the deepest kind of childhood joy. Among friends, there’s nothing like it. Just ask your camper when you get a chance.

Is there something to learn from a shaving cream fight? Perhaps. It’s certainly proof that letting loose with your friends feels really good— laughing with abandon, not caring how silly you look, embracing the energy of it all.

Here we know each other so well, it’s easy for these Rockbrook girls to relax into who they really are. This community of support and encouragement opens up a quality of experience that’s hard to match. Even in something as simple as a shaving cream fight, that connection makes a real difference. No wonder this feels so great.

shaving cream fight at summer camp

First Session Video Snapshot

Most people have a hunch about what it’s like to be a kid at summer camp, but when anyone tries to describe life at camp to those who have not experienced it, the picture is dim at best. Even when you ask girls who attend Rockbrook to describe it, they often struggle to convey why they love it. There’s just so much more to it than any verbal account can provide. Likewise, photos don’t fully do it justice. Photos are better perhaps, but what about the emotion? The action, the laughter, and chatter of a vibrant group of kids?

Fortunately, we have some video as well. We’re happy to say Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks is again working with us this summer to produce short videos each session.  He came to camp recently and now has his first edited short of 2023 ready for you to see.

Take a look! We love how it captures the feeling of camp this session.

P.S. Be sure to have the volume turned up. Hearing camp is amazing!

A Candy Land Carnival

Today the June mini campers arrived. Wide-eyed with anticipation and excitement literally bursting through the sunroofs of some cars, it was clear these girls were eager to start their summer at camp. Our drive-thru check in process unfolded smoothly with each stop only taking a couple of minutes. Driving around the lake and finally reaching the top of the hill, the counselors jumped and cheered, adding to the festive atmosphere of the day. The full-session girls carried on with their Sunday morning schedule of flag raising and Chapel gathering, but they too were excited to see more camp friends arriving. By noon, a brief spot of rain came through, so instead of out on the hill, we gathered in the gym for a quick assembly. This was a chance to welcome everyone, have a few introductions, and sing a couple of songs.

I asked a few of the arriving campers how they felt, and while most said they were excited, several also said they were nervous. I tried to reassure them that being a little nervous on opening day was very common, even for seasoned, returning campers. Like the start of anything, there’s uncertainty involved, and if you care how something will go, it’s just natural to feel some nerves. Being nervous is just that, so once we get going and begin to dissipate the uncertainty that came before, everyone begins to feel better. At camp, feelings of nervousness fade fast as soon as we begin— finding our penpal, meeting our counselors, setting up your bunk, getting a sense of how kind everyone is at camp, seeing that there are all kinds of girls here and that it’ll be easy to fit in, hearing the enthusiasm in the camp songs, even tasting something yummy and familiar, like the mac-n-cheese we had for lunch.

homemade camp donuts

The main event of the day happened after rest hour, just as the rain stopped. It was a Candy Land Carnival down on our grassy landsports field featuring two large inflatables, games, music and special food.

First the food. It was an excellent treat of freshly made mini donuts for each camper. Our local donut-making food truck, Jenny’s Mini Donuts, had come and was busy pumping out the treats. The campers took turns by cabin groups coming up the pink truck and deciding if they preferred cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar on their donuts. As you might imagine it took quite a while to make donuts for 200 campers and 60 staff members! But they were delicious, and definitely worth the wait.

Meanwhile, the carnival games and inflatables entertained everyone. Both of the inflatables involved a pool of water. The girls had come dressed in their swimsuits, and since the sun had come out, the afternoon heat made the final splashes feel great. One inflatable was a steep slide into a pool about a foot deep, and the other was a side-by-side obstacle course where two people raced through the course to the pool at the end. This was a little challenging, but doing it with another person made it more fun, and more entertaining to watch.

For both inflatables, crowds of girls gathered around to cheer for each person as they splashed into the pools at the bottom. Campers raced campers; counselors raced other counselors. Everyone got in on the fun. I’m certain lots of girls jumped back in line multiple times! A little messy and a little wet, they raced and raced.

One of the candy-related games was a life-sized Candy Land game spread across the grass. Teams of girls would “roll” a giant inflated die and move along a colorful trail of rubber mats. Like the board game, certain squares had effects whenever a team landed on them. For example, if you landed on Gramma Nutt’s square, you would have go back 5 squares. But if you landed on Missy Lolly’s square, everyone won a lollypop. The first team to reach the end of the squares also won a small candy treat.

Another of the games challenged the girls to toss inflated donuts onto a cone, which ended up being much more difficult than it sounds. Luckily, the girls could try as many times as they liked until they succeed to land a toss. Similarly, one game involved tossing beanbags at a target trying to get a toss through a small hole. That one too took some practice to conquer.

Throughout the event, the girls sang and danced along to some fun pop music with a few candy-related songs mixed in. “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow, and “Lollipop” by the Chordettes made a appearance, for example.

Under the sun, with friends, great food and music, games to play and treats to win, it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, and an even better way to launch our June Mini session.

summer camp carnival kids

Essential Nourishment

The community spirit of camp is something we really value at Rockbrook. It resides at the heart of our mission and is the aspiration of our philosophy. All of our core values— kindness, cooperation, compassion, care and generosity —serve to create, enhance and maintain our sense of community at camp. We know that these values lead us toward connecting with the people around us, toward the power of friendship. These values, once embraced and widely practiced together, form a collective spirit that’s immediately welcoming and supportive. Feeling truly accepted and valued for who you really are brings people closer together. Camp has this power to forge community, to connect and bolster everyone here.

The feeling of being part of a camp community, as well as other communities, is wonderful. It feels really good, I believe, because as human beings— and this is especially true for children —we yearn for this kind of connection. We all have a fundamental need to belong to something greater than just ourselves. Unfortunately, American life ordinarily provides this kind of experience only rarely. Aren’t we usually focused on individual achievement, advancement and accumulation? Isn’t life often a race for access to personalized and curated comforts? Aren’t we typically oblivious, dis-connected, to the majority of people around us?

I’ve speculated before that this is one reason why kids love camp; it serves as an antidote to modern life. It provides something our children need that’s difficult to get in their regular lives. Put simply, Rockbrook is “a place for girls to grow” because it provides them essential nourishment in the form of community. They will tell you camp is “fun,” and that they simply “love it,” but I think it’s this community spirit that’s really at work.

This afternoon we switched up our regular activities and instead offered an array of new options. The girls who were already signed up for horseback riding, zip lining, and pottery (three of the most popular options around here) kept those, but everyone else could choose something completely new. We called it “Choice Day Saturday.” Different counselors led the activities. There was an epic scavenger hunt that sent small groups of girls dashing about the camp. The was an activity where the girls painted positive messages on rocks and then positioned them around camp to be found. One group of girls found themselves turning a crank to make ice cream. Another found themselves dancing and sweating to a Jazzercise class. Some of the senior girls chose to attend a self care spa that included calming music, herbal tea and easy yoga. One counselor led a jam session where the girls could bring any instrument or play one of our ukuleles. Casey led a group playing pickleball. A few enjoyed doing water color paintings, while another made flower crowns. There was also a candle dipping activity and even a lively game of bingo on the dining hall porch. It was great fun to have all these options.

boy and girls at fun camp dance

Tonight marked the highly anticipated return of the Camp Carolina Dance. After a few years of missing this event for COVID reasons, this is bound to be a highlight of the session. Our younger campers, the Juniors and Middlers, remained at Rockbrook, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the CCB boys. Our CITs served as DJs. Led by the counselors, the kids enthusiastically danced and grooved to pop songs and classic line dances like the Cha Cha Slide. For those not interested in dancing, or if they just needed a break, there were games outside like gaga ball and tetherball. Cookies made a nice snack for everyone along the way.

Simultaneously, the Senior girls and Hi-Ups were able to show off their dance skills in the Camp Carolina gym. Some added glitter to their faces, while others came dressed in full costume. The girls brought an undeniable energy to the event and were thoroughly excited to let loose on the dance floor. They jumped and danced for two exhilarating hours, only pausing briefly for sips of water. It was an intense, sweat-inducing, and incredibly thrilling night.

Back at camp, everyone took a bit longer than usual to settle down for the night as they were still excited and engrossed in conversations about the dance. With fun like this, that’s to be expected!

girl at camp dress up eveing