Making a Difference

Hey there! My name is Emily Schmitt and this is my eighth summer at Rockbrook! Six of those years have been as a camper and I’m now in my second year on staff, this year being my first as a full counselor. Last year, I lived the CIT (counselor in training) life and was not sure what to expect this summer because I’d be filling a role completely new to me.

pair of girls on sliding rock NC

I’m on the Middler line, leading a group of girls either going into sixth or seventh grade— so a very transformative period in their lives to say the least. I started coming to camp at this age. I was about to start sixth grade and though I remember a lot about my camper years, details of my activities and the small minutia of camp life have faded from my memory. The main thing I remember clear as day are all the interactions I had with my counselors. They were my world when I was at camp. I was so obsessed that even after my second senior year I made one of my counselor’s names my computer password!  Yeah, I was that obsessed.

I was here for second session this summer and now that we’re officially in third session, which happens to be the session I attended as a camper, I’m getting daily confirmations of the impact that I’m making on my campers— something that surprises me every time it happens. Recently, we had Jugband, where the whole camp gathers together and we sing old camp songs, make silly jokes, put on our best southern accent, and use anything around us as an instrument. I took on the persona of ‘May,’ short for “Mayonnaise,” and soon after my campers started to copy me, and in the back of my mind I knew it was because they were following my lead.

camp life counselor and camper

I’m teaching tennis and riflery this session, and though I am experienced down on the riflery range, tennis is something I am less proficient in, although I’ve played casually before. This was rather daunting for me, but I knew if I was enthusiastic, then the girls would be too. So, when we were signing up for activities, I explained to my girls that I was doing something that made me slightly uncomfortable, but I was going to do it with all I had and encouraged them to follow suit. Many of my campers signed up for new activities like climbing and gymnastics, and I even got one of my girls to sign up for tennis! Another example was during our Animal Planet themed dinner, when I started singing along to the songs that were playing over the speaker.  Soon my whole table chimed in, and we were all singing along to “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.

It’s in the small ways that I know I’m making a difference in these girls lives, like when one of them will randomly give me a hug or they’ll call out my name as I’m walking down the hill, just to wave. Back when I was a camper, I didn’t know or realize that the small interactions I had with my counselors meant as much to them as it did to me. These girls are the reason I love this job and the reason I hope to come back for many more years to help create the magic of Rockbrook and make this place as special for my campers as it was for me when I was growing up.

— Emily Schmitt

Building Community: Challenges and Relationships

oil pastel drawing project

Now that we are into the second week of 3rd session, the CITs and Hi-Ups have had some time to get used to their new roles at camp. As part of the Leadership Ladder, these girls are transitioning from campers to counselors. Part of this transition is extra training throughout the session. This training comes in the form of hands-on experience helping counselors in activities, setting for and cleaning up meals, and spending time with campers. In addition, they participate in training periods led by our Directors and Leadership team on topics such as cabin logistics, learning Rockbrook history, and and behavior management.

Recently, I got the chance to talk with both Hi-Ups and CITs about the activity philosophy at Rockbrook. While walking around camp observing the various activities, we discussed why we do activity sign ups and activities in our particular way. Hi-Ups and CITs all had thoughtful answers to any question posed to them. They took the time to reflect on their own experience as campers, and then start to think about activities at Rockbrook from a counselor perspective. Their maturity, insight, and understanding of our philosophy was impressive!

Girl proud of here bullseye in archery

First, we discussed the concept of “Challenge by Choice.” During the sign up process, campers can challenge themselves or be encouraged by their counselors to try a new activity. Sometimes this is a nerve-wracking moment for campers, who may think: “none of my cabin mates signed up for dance,” “I’ve never been a good swimmer,” or “what if I’m not good at embroidery?” We hope that through these moments campers can learn to be independent and be willing to choose their own adventures. During activities, the challenge is more obvious in some than in others. Increasing your accuracy in archery, reaching the top of the alpine tower, or perfecting your serve in tennis are clear goals campers can strive towards. The craft activities can also be challenging, however, especially if you’ve never thrown on a pottery wheel or used a large floor loom before. In these activities the challenge is more subtle, and can be seen more through the process rather than the finished piece. The counselors facilitate the challenges in appropriate ways so that each camper has her own experience. Seeing other campers trying new things and the constant environment of encouragement and support allows girls to branch out of their comfort zones.

Second, we discussed the relationships that are able to flourish at camp. Taking activities is just one of the ways that the social and emotional needs of campers are supported at camp. The Hi-Ups and CITs all commented on the benefits of signing up alone for activities in addition to signing up with a group of your cabin mates. On one hand, campers get to make new friends amongst their age group. On the other, they get to become closer with the other girls in their cabin. One Hi-Up mentioned how she would be too nervous to sign up for tennis by herself, but if she signed up with a friend, she would be more willing to take that risk and try something new. Either way, campers get to make new friends through their shared triumphs, failures, and laughter in activities. Plus, they are able to meet counselors from other lines, who may inspire them to sign up for an activity they otherwise wouldn’t take.

Through activities, campers and counselors of different age groups get to interact in a low-pressure, high-encouragement environment. Pottery, yoga, jewelry making, play rehearsal, horseback riding—these are just the channel through which our community is created. This safe, supportive space for genuine relationship-building is what makes camp unique, and is why campers come back year after year to see the friends and counselors who have impacted them along the way.


—Jenna Lilly

A Huge Helping of Goofy

camp child parent

Today we welcomed another group of eager, excited girls to Rockbrook as we opened the August Mini session. There’s something really special about driving into Rockbrook, early in the morning at the start of a camp session. It’s a reveal of sorts. The gravel driveway slowly winds up the hill from the main road, and then suddenly there’s cool stuff to see: the archery field to the left, the lake to the right with the green and blue water slide on the far end, stacks of colorful kayaks and canoes, and at the crest the hill, a mob of cheering enthusiastic counselors. It feels like you’ve entered another world, and in many ways you have. So many things are inviting and intriguing right away, but it’s obvious also that the people here are good folks. The returning campers already know it, but the energy of camp— friendly, supportive, adventurous, with a huge helping of goofy —is definitely special. These campers have been waiting all year (and all summer) to experience this energetic fun, so finally we can all start. Finally!

flag raising at camp

While these new girls were arriving, the full session campers began their day like other Sunday mornings with a late breakfast (egg and sausage burritos, yogurts, cereals, and freshly delivered Krispy Kreme doughnuts), our traditional flag raising ceremony (led by the 10-grade campers), and chapel program (this time discussing the theme of “Gratitude”). Afterwards, these girls also had a “choice period,” an opportunity to sign up for a hiking trip to Castle Rock or Rockbrook Falls, a flower picking expedition in the garden, or time in the jewelry-making activity area.

The first event involving the whole camp was an “assembly on the hill,” as we call it. This gathering under the walnut tree on the hill is a chance for everyone to sing a few songs, watch a skit or two, meet the various directors at camp, and hear announcements. The Hi-Ups led everyone in learning a canoeing song, complete with hand motions. The Line Heads awarded, “bend-a-back,” camp spirit, and manners beads, and also announced which cabins would be recognized for having the highest overall inspection scores (winning the “mop award”). For the benefit of the new campers primarily, Sarah also reminded everyone of the boundaries of camp and how our lightning warning system works. Rick’s amazing homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch fueled us up for the swimming demonstrations, quick camp tours, and cabin meetings that came afterwards in the early afternoon.

The main event of the day was an all-camp festival that tapped into different science-related activities, experiments, challenges and games. We held the event right in the center of camp with the different activity stations positioned about, and counselors and Hi-Ups staffing each spot. One challenge was to make a working parachute from a large coffee filter. Another was to build different organic molecules using toothpicks and tiny marshmallows. At a different station, the girls were challenged to build a boat (or anything that floats) using aluminum foil and popsicle sticks. Another group made green sticky “Oobleck” with corn starch and white glue.

A particularly fun challenge was to use only rubber bands to crack open a watermelon. The girls would stretch rubber bands, one by one, around the middle of the melon, gradually adding more pressure. As a couple of cracks began to form after approximately 200 bands wrapped the melon, the group of girls huddled around screamed with delight when the melon suddenly exploded into bits leaving a sticky ball of rubber bands behind.

Of course, a “mad science” event would be incomplete without eccentric costumes— wild teased hair (or wigs!), lab coats, safety goggles, beakers and lab notebooks. Snacks and music helped keep the mood festive while the girls zipped among the activity options. The event was a nice opportunity to play outside together, be a little silly, and perhaps learn a little science along the way.

Tomorrow, we’ll have all the activities filled with enthusiastic campers, ready to give everything a try. It will be a full day of action.  Stay tuned!

laughing camp girls

Sensational Living

camp girls emerging from water slide

Many of the inventions of modern society are made, in part, to shield us from the natural sensory experiences of the world. Our climate-controlled homes keep us from having to bundle up on a particularly chilly morning, our insulated cars keep us from experiencing the smells (good and bad) of the city as we commute to work, our many electronic screens train our eyes to stay focused on them, so we end up hardly seeing what happens right in front of us. A hot meal is delivered to us by the click of a button on an app, our headphones keep us from having to engage with others on a crowded elevator. We are “comfortable.”

These inventions are not, on their face, bad. Many have incredible value when it comes to meeting basic needs in an increasingly stressful world where our time is at a premium. And, of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking advantage of some of the luxuries available when you want them. However, as they slowly but surely become accepted as the new normal in our society, the gap between ourselves and the natural world to which we belong also inevitably widens.

catching tadpoles at summer camp

At camp, as we intentionally move away from many of the comforts we may take for granted in our lives at home, we begin to gain a new awareness for our senses. Colors quite literally appear brighter and more vivid once our eyes adjust to life without a flickering screen two feet from our faces half the day. Uneven terrain starts to feel comfortable and familiar under our feet after we trek up and down the Rockbrook hill enough times. Dolly’s Ice Cream starts to take on a whole new taste….. well, who are we kidding? Dolly’s always tastes amazing!

Admittedly, even at Rockbrook today we have more modern comforts in place than our great-grandmothers did in 1921. (Nowhere can this be seen more clearly the look on a camper’s face who has just stepped in to the air-conditioned office to ask a question). But, in a world increasingly committed to sanitizing and streamlining our existence for the sake of convenience and efficiency, camp gets us back in touch with the physical world and reminds us of our innate connection to it. Instead of grabbing a bite “because it’s lunchtime,” lunchtime happens because we’re genuinely hungry and ready to eat. Instead of going to sleep “because it’s bedtime,” by the end of the day we’ve used all our energy and are ready to rest. This re-framing allows for a more authentic connection and understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

Our senses can be the source of many of our greatest discomforts, but also our greatest pleasures. If you aren’t willing to catch a whiff of a skunk every once and a while, you may never get to inhale that first whiff of campfire smoke or fresh mountain air on top of Castle Rock. In our opinion, it’s a trade-off well worth making.

—Alyssa Calloway

barn camp girls

A Rainy, Sunny, Silly Night

Riflery is another activity that has been a part of Rockbrook since its founding almost 100 years ago. Learning the safety protocols and techniques for target shooting was a camp skill of sorts, something everyone learned, just like hiking, swimming and weaving, for example. Even today, most campers enjoy making their way down to the shooting range to fire our .22 caliber rifles. The girls shoot prone, aiming at their targets 50 feet away. The goal, of course, is to center their shots and hit a bullseye, being accurate with 5 shots per round. Getting all five shots within the concentric rings of the target is really good shooting. Every center shot earns the shooter a place in the bullseye club and her name announced in the dining hall.

beads necklace

Take a look at these painted ceramic beads, strung as a necklace and proudly worn around camp. They represent several ways this camper has been recognized as exemplary. The counselors nominate campers for these beads, and they are announced during the weekly assemblies. The one that says “Bend-A-Back” is awarded to campers who are seen helping another person around camp, or assisting the camp in some way, like picking up a stray piece of trash. “Ps & Qs” recognizes a camper for outstanding manners, usually in the dining hall. The central bead with the cardinal on it is especially meaningful. It’s the “Spirit” bead and it is given to those campers who are simply great Rockbrook Girls showing their love and enthusiasm for camp.

sliding rock children

Tonight we took our full session Seniors to Sliding Rock. We started out with a fun picnic of hotdogs, watermelon and chips up in the forest, and afterwards made our way to the natural water slide to give everyone a chance to take the plunge. It’s a huge thrill for the girls to sit down in the chilly water at the top and scream as they make the slide down to the pool at the bottom. Just as we all finished our first slide down the rock, it began to rain, so we made a quick dash back to the buses and vans. Fortunately, everyone had a chance to slide at least once before the rain. Of course, a stop at Dolly’s Dairy Bar completed our night with a delicious cone of ice cream. After they finished eating, the girls had a wonderful time singing camp songs to all the other Dolly’s customers. To everyone’s surprise on the way home, we spotted a complete rainbow in the sky over Brevard. It was a rainy, sunny, silly night in the mountains of North Carolina.  So fun!

girls camp uniforms

3rd Time’s the Charm

After a warm welcome from counselors on opening day, our campers were eager to dive into all the action of camp! Today everyone began their first rotation of activities. Twice a week, campers get to select what activities they would like to take for the following three day rotation. Over the course of a full session, a camper could try every single one of our 22 activities. While that makes it seem like camp is jam-packed and busy, our daily schedule actually has free time built in throughout the day. Free swims and twilights allow the campers to have extra time at the lake, time with their friends, or just a chance to shower! We want our campers to learn and experience new things at Rockbrook, dive deep into the camp community, but also have the time and space to explore on their own.

When campers take activities, they get to have time with campers and counselors from other cabins. All our cabin counselors teach along with a few specialists, who help with some more technical activities. For example, pottery, curosty (weaving), and folklore (mountain crafts) have specialists because these crafts require more skill, experience, and safety precautions. Campers are able to form relationships both in and out of the cabin because our counselors teach activities. Plus, the girls get to learn more specialized, unique crafts they may not learn at home thanks to our talented activity specialists.

upside down climbing girl
Hanging out at the alpine tower.

In addition to signing up for archery, jewelry making, and swimming, campers can audition for the play and take play practice as an activity. If you have been following the blog so far this summer, you already know the play this year is the Little Mermaid! The play is one of the most eagerly awaited events at camp, because the campers and play directors work all session towards their performance on the final day. Today, auditions began at 2nd free swim in the Hillside Lodge, and campers were lining up on the porch waiting for their chance to try out. At camp, anyone who tries out for the play gets a part—all you have to do is sing a song of your choice! The more the merrier is how we see it at camp; especially with the Little Mermaid, you can never have too many fish!

Our first full day of camp ended with excitement in the dining hall. After announcements, we played a round of Spin the Wheel! On the wall near the door to the kitchen in a white board wheel on which there are written various prizes. If a camper or counselor is lucky enough to be the last one standing after several elimination rounds (i.e. stay standing if you are wearing a friendship bracelet), then they may spin the wheel. Today, Senior 4 won Dress a Director, so tomorrow they will announce which director they want to dress up and when. Spin the Wheel is just one of the many fun surprises awaiting us this 3rd session. As they say, 3rd time’s the charm!

To conclude our blog, please enjoy this haiku from our Waterfront Director, Audrey:

First full day at camp 

Play auditions—sing a song!

Spin the wheel, spin the…

teen girl friends at camp
Enjoying free time with friends and flowers.

Answering Questions

Today we all felt the thrill of opening a new session of camp. The Rockbrook cabin counselors, specialist activity instructors, and directors all assembled for the third time this summer to welcome a new bunch of enthusiastic girls to the “heart of a wooded mountain.” It was a gorgeous morning, cool and foggy, when we opened the gate for cars to make their way up the gravel driveway, and the check-in process to begin unfolding. Once again, there was more eagerness than uncertainty, more excitement than apprehension, on the girls’ faces when they arrived for their session. These girls weren’t hesitating though; they were ready to jump right into life at camp. As the sun warmed up the morning, and the last few parents made their way back to the parking area, we could finally get things started, our patient anticipation finally satisfied. Camp!

Girls dressed as twins at summer camp
laughing swimming girls

The rest of the day we started answering questions, all kinds of questions. Already, we learned where our cabin was located, who were the other girls in our cabin (a mix of old and new friends!), and who our counselors would be for the next few weeks. At the assembly on the hill, we met this session’s line heads, directors, Hi-Ups, and camp dog Felix. We learned, or had our memories clarified, about the camp song, what to do when we hear the camp bell or the lightning warning horn.

At lunch, we had our dining hall questions answered: Where does our cabin sit? What can we find on the salad bars? Where are the vegetarian and gluten-free options, the peanut butter and jelly station, the extra fruit, and supply of milk? What happens when the Hi-Ups ring their bell and begin singing a funny camp song? Who makes the announcements at the end of the meal, and what is that wheel on the wall? How do we clean our tables and take care of the dishes at the end of meals?

Our afternoon was filled with tours of the camp, a chance for everyone to take a dip in the lake to demonstrate their swimming ability, and an assembly in the gym for a series of counselor skits presenting the different activities available at camp this session. We found out how refreshingly cool the lake feels, where the activities meet around camp, and which staff members will be teaching the various activities. It was exciting to learn, for example, that the camp musical this session will be the Little Mermaid and that auditions for specific parts would begin on Monday.

Parents may have questions too— How do I send my daughter an email? Where can I see the daily photos of camp? What do I do if I receive a troubling letter about her feeling homesick at times? All of these questions (and more!) are answered in the parents section of our Web site, but you can always give our office a call to talk with someone too.

It’s been a great opening day, the girls already adjusting to the rhythms of camp. All of this energy ready to launch, we’re set for an excellent few weeks!

sunny day swimming at camp

Totally Groovy

70s party decorations
camp 1970s costume party

Can you dig it? Yesterday’s banquet really showed us how girl power can be a peace-loving, psychedelic, disco party of good vibes as our 9th graders unveiled their surprise theme: “That 70’s Banquet.” Weeks in the planning, the girls dug deep into the style, music, and slang of the 1970s to decorate the dining hall, dress in amazing costumes, and perform choreographed dance numbers for the whole camp. Every inch of wall space was covered with painted posters depicting iconic 70s references: Charlie’s Angels, Scooby Doo, Queen, Disco Dancing, Elton John, Richard Nixon, ABBA, and Wonder Woman, for example. The walls were a rainbow of tie-dye colors, with balloons, lights and streamers strung through the rafters.

With the girls dressed as different artists, we saw amazing performances by Freddie Mercury, Josie and the Pussycats, Donna and the Dynamos, along with Go-Go dancers, hippies, and roller skaters. The girls served dinner throughout the party: “peaceful popcorn,” “groovy grapes,” “trippy tortellini,” “chill out chicken,” with “watergate water.”

Naturally, the whole evening was also a chance for everyone to dance to 1970s music, with a few contemporary pop hits mixed in. There were moments were I’d guess we had more than 200 campers and counselors all up dancing and getting down. It was a totally groovy night!  Completely far out!

Little Mermaid Camp Musical

This afternoon, we all were thrilled to watch the performance of “The Little Mermaid.” This was a huge endeavor, to produce from scratch a complete musical. About 50 campers participated in some fashion to paint scenery, design costumes, perform a singing or speaking role, join the ensemble or work on the tech crew. The girls rehearsed during their drama activity time over the session, honing their parts, and now putting on an incredible show. They seemed so excited to be performing, having a great time on stage. Lindsay brought the house down when she sang “Part of Your World” with everyone stunned by her singing talent, and Ella, playing Sebastian, likewise impressed the crowd with her version of “Under the Sea.” In just a few short weeks, these girls put on an spectacular show!

Finally, we closed the session with our traditional campfire ceremony, what we call our “Spirit Fire.” This was a beautiful time together, all dressed in our uniforms, huddled shoulder to shoulder around a warm, glowing campfire.  We sang some of the more thoughtful camp songs, heard short speeches about what Rockbrook has meant to us over the session, and simply held tightly to our camp friends by our side.  It was an emotional time for most of us, knowing that we would be saying goodbye in the morning. It’s hard when something this good, something this important to us, has to end for another summer.

This has been a wonderful session… really great girls, kind, generous and enthusiastic. It’s no wonder the friendships formed here are so strong, so genuine, and so meaningful.  It’s no wonder these girls love camp.  Thank you everyone for being a part of this magical community.

camp girls with braids

Cherishing Our Time Together

This is the moment at camp when the energy everywhere becomes absolutely electric. The campers are enjoying their last rotation of activities and everyone is clinging to these precious opportunities to make their beautiful crafts, reach new heights, hit bulls eyes, be with the horses, go on the zip line, or learn to roll a kayak. The ceramics have been glazed and are in the kilns being fired. The bird houses, tie-dyes, and weavings are being finished up, rinsed out, and tied off. Campers and counselors are squeezing in last rehearsals before their big performances on Wednesday. At just about every minute something is culminating in completed creations, hard-earned accomplishments, and mini-celebrations. Truck loads of campers went off to Dolly’s Ice Cream Bar today to celebrate swimming enough laps to become “Mermaids,” and for running enough miles to make “Rockbrook Runners.”

Camp Girl with ping pong paddle and ball
Ping pong is a fun indoor option for tennis when it’s too rainy to play on our clay courts!

In the dining hall at dinner, the excitement from the thrills of today gave way to crackling anticipation for tomorrow. Sharp shooting campers will be competing in Riflery, Archery, and Tennis Tournaments with the boys from Camp Carolina. Campers will finish up their last day of the activity rotation. And tomorrow night we will all get to experience the long-awaited CA Banquet! The fun and mystery of this favorite end-of-session celebration is already beginning as the CAs wrap the dining hall in sheets to conceal the hard work of their Banquet theme and decorations as they set up. The dining hall will remain cloaked from view until they are ready to welcome everyone into the dining hall for their big surprise dinner event tomorrow night.

The cheers and squeals of excitement continued to echo over the hill side past sundown as campers shared their last evening programs together with their individual Junior, Middler and Senior lines.

It’s so hard to imagine how much is packed into a session here at Rockbrook. And theses last few days of our camps, the air everywhere is utterly sparking with enthusiastic activity, friendships in full bloom and a collective commitment to cherish every split second of every last moment together.

Boundless Creativity

camp girls wearing white uniforms

Today at Rockbrook, campers and staff alike showed off their talents to the enjoyment of all. It is always a joy to see how girls take every opportunity they can to share their artistic and creative side with others. This Sunday these talents were musical, inspiring, thoughtful, physical, silly—the imagination of campers never ceases to amaze!

Every Sunday morning, campers come to the dining hall for breakfast in pajamas. Afterwards, everyone dons their “whities,” or red polos if they are staff members. Next comes flag raising on the hill, and then the whole camp community walks silently to Chapel for some singing, thoughtful remarks, and reflections. Today’s theme was “Gratitude,” which comes at a perfect time in the summer, allowing us to pause and reflect on all the wonderful things that have happened this Second Session. It was a special Chapel program because all of the Junior Line plus their counselors sang a song together, accompanied by camp mom, Marie, on the guitar. As the Junior Line was serenading, campers and staff were given pens and little papers to write down one thing that makes them feel grateful. The answers to this question ranged from concrete items like family, food, and pets, to more broad things like friendship, wildness, and peace. All these grateful notes were collected after chapel, and hung up on the dining hall porch as a visual reminder of the diverse, exceptional community at camp, and the multitude of things we can be grateful for in our lives.

Camp girls hand motion song

In the afternoon, campers had the chance to show off more than just their singing ability at our RBC’s Got Talent show! This is an event put on by our hard-working CITs, and it gives every cabin a chance to display a special talent.

camp jazzercise

A Senior cabin performed a Jazzercise routine using dance moves related to camp: move your trunk, going down the slide, running on the trails. We saw an angry grandma, a crazy babysitter, and a little mermaid who would rather be a bird than a human! One cabin made their own rendition of “Copacabana” in which every camper was featured, and another cabin showed off a talent of each camper—including reciting 100 digits of pi! The energy in the gym was contagious, and campers enjoyed watching and performing for their friends, knowing they were supported, encouraged, and applauded no matter what.

The ability to not only be yourself at camp—but the craziest, silliest, funnest version of yourself—is a special feature of Rockbrook that cannot often be replicated at home, school, or in extracurriculars. We love seeing the boundless creativity of campers, because it reminds us that they are both taking full advantage of the space to feel free at camp as well as the loving community that surrounds and supports them.

CIT counselors