Greater Humanity

One of my favorite things to do at camp is to wander around and find groups of girls happily busy with something, and then stop to hang out with them a while. It’s enjoyable because they are always keen to explain what they’re doing, to answer my questions, and generally to chat about whatever is on their minds. This can happen anytime of the day at one of the tetherball courts, for example. There’ll always be a group huddled around taking turns challenging the winner of the last game. The same is true at the Gagaball arena, at the lake when it’s open for free swim periods before lunch and dinner, at the creek passing by the Curosty cabin, on the grassy camp hill, or one of the many porches around camp.

teen girl at camp without her phone

This happened the other afternoon when I sat down for a few minutes on the dining hall porch where three 10th graders (who at RBC we call “Hi-Ups”) were hanging out in the red rocking chairs. We chatted a bit about camp, but things got more interesting when I asked them how they were handling being away from their smartphones.

Since these were seasoned camp girls who have been coming to Rockbrook for 4, 7 and 10 years, I had a hunch how they would answer. Unanimously, they said they loved being at camp without their phones. They were completely sure camp would be ruined if they had access to their phone. “But, why is that?” I asked.

They explained that they generally have a “love-hate” relationship with their phones. At home, they need a phone to communicate with their friends, but sometimes found its demands on their attention to be “exhausting.” Too often at school, they find themselves in a group where everyone is staring down at their phone and not really engaging very much with each other. Too often, scrolling through Instagram is the way they spend every free minute. One brought up the documentary film, The Social Dilemma, and its argument that social media use is unhealthy for individuals (especially young people) and society. They knew their phones were in many ways “bad for them,” and they didn’t like it, but they still “had to” use them.

Being away at camp, they explained, gave them permission to ignore that glowing screen and that insistent ping they live with at home. Camp allows them to avoid those pressures and instead slow down to connect more genuinely with the people and world around them. Here at Rockbrook, they spend their time actually doing things in the real world, finding real people to talk with, discovering chance encounters, and taking control of their days. “It just feels so good to be here, and being away from my phone is a part of that,” one girl wisely realized.

Smartphone use is antithetical to camp, literally at odds with our camp philosophy and mission. Far more than the allure of curated electronic content, camp is about rich experiences, face-to-face friendships, and the sense of belonging inspired by living in a true community. Through caring and kindness, we are building deep connections at camp, unquestionably more meaningful than the narrow, algorithmically idealized version of things served up by any flickering electronic companion. Smartphones isolate you and are correlated with feelings of loneliness, while camp pulls you into a friendly community.

Instead of marketing polish, camp is a place where we can be messy and explore. Instead of limiting what we experience, camp life has a power to unlock deeper layers of our personality, our sense of humor, creativity, curiosity and awareness of beauty in the tiniest detail. You see, all of this— what we might call a “greater humanity” —blossoms camp, but is undermined by internet technology and social media.

summer camp community

These 16-year-old girls, despite being perhaps the least likely to agree with all of this, in fact model it exactly. They have a personal sense that being away from their phone, and the negative consequences it can cause, plays a major role in why they love camp so much.

Toward the end of our conversation, the girls admitted that when they return home, they’ll likely be pulled right back into using their phones “all the time.” Away from camp, they simply need their smartphones as an important tool. Still, my hope for them is that they’ll recall their time at Rockbrook and realize the tech-free world we enjoy here is not entirely impossible to replicate at home. It won’t be easy, unfortunately, because the outside world provides very little incentive for limiting one’s smartphone use. In fact, it’s just the opposite; there are constant pressures to expand our use of these devices.

At least these Rockbrook campers now understand the benefits of taking a break from the internet. They now know that true companionship doesn’t come through their smartphones. Thanks to their time at Rockbrook, they have experienced firsthand how shallow and ultimately unsatisfying a life lived on one’s phone actually is. They know the good news that there’s much, much more to living than what their phones can provide. Let’s hope camp will motivate them in the future to push past what pops up on their screen.

I’ll say it again. Thank goodness for camp, a special place where children enjoy themselves, experience the profound delight of true connection, learn and grow beautifully.

summer camp friends and counselor

A Hilarious Blast

The Sunday schedule at Rockbrook begins with a welcome chance to sleep in. Everyone arrives at the dining hall around 9am, where we enjoy a special treat of donuts along with our breakfast. Later in the morning, everyone changes into their camp uniforms for a flag raising ceremony that includes reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing “America the Beautiful.” We all line up around the flagpole on the hill where the Hi-Ups present the flag and raise it. Then, the whole camp silently walks down the lower line to a special area of the camp with rows of benches for everyone to sit. This area we call “Chapel.”

summer camp chapel gathering

The chapel gathering is not a religious service, despite the name implying that. Instead it’s a celebration of our camp values, camp goals, and more general themes we can all embrace. It provides a chance for us all to slow down and reflect a bit on what’s important about our camp experience. Each week a different age group of campers presents the Chapel program, selecting a theme. Past themes have included, community, adventure, kindness, respect, happiness, and nature, for example. Today’s Chapel theme was “Individuality.” The Middler campers sang songs related to the theme; “This is Me,” by Demi Lovato, was one today. They also take turns speaking about the theme and its importance. One camper today said it was good to celebrate each individual, but “that doesn’t mean any one person is better than another.”

Each Chapel gathering is also a chance for Sarah to talk about the theme. She ordinarily does that by reading a children’s book that is somehow related. Today she read, Weslandia, by Paul Fleischman. This is a story about a boy named Wesley who creates his own civilization in his backyard using a mysterious plant. It’s really a story about the power of imagination and the importance of being true to oneself even if it means being different. The story illustrates how it can sometimes be difficult for kids to be proud of their individuality, but community and cooperation help make it easier. All great themes for Rockbrook!

A little rain during rest hour helped cool things off before the main event of the day: an afternoon color scavenger hunt followed by a color blast shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide! That’s right, three events in one! The first had cabin groups dashing about camp looking for counselors hiding. The groups had to collect “colors.” Each counselor hiding was wearing a specific color, and once found the girls collected that color.

girls being silly with shaving cream
playing with shaving cream

The shaving cream fight that came next was a hilarious blast. Wearing swimsuits, everyone met down at the grassy landsports field. With cans of shaving cream ready, and counselors stationed with colored powder, the girls arrived and immediately knew what to do. Spray those cans and smear liberally on anyone nearby! This quickly turns into a mad, chaotic scrum of splattering shaving cream, squirting foam, and slippery white coatings slowing growing on everyone. Specks of green, pink and blue color added to the scene.

This is less of a fight than a collective event. The girls “helped” each other empty their cans of shaving cream, helped each other with their new foaming hairstyles, and helped each other cover even more of themselves with the spray. Cooperation to make the whole event more fun!

There was fun pop dance music blasting, but you could barely hear it over the shrieks of laughter and chattering go on. This is messy camp fun, the kind of deep affirming silliness that feels great to embrace.

With water hoses spraying, it only made sense to slide down a big sheet of plastic. Everyone was already slippery, so even better! Take a look at the photo gallery to get a sense of just how much crazy fun we all had.

Once again, the secret to all of this, the “special sauce” that makes this so much fun, is the friendship that permeates this community. It’s a widespread kind of feeling too, something that goes beyond your “best friend.” Everyone’s friendly at camp, so everyone’s receiving the positivity of being among friends. You could see it today, as there was no holding back who you sprayed. When you can laugh with anyone, anyone can get sprayed with shaving cream. All so good, and so much better here at camp.

kids having fun with shaving cream

I Found the Gnome

There I was walking up the driveway from the lake after taking a dip in the warm sun. I looked to my left and spotted a friendly familiar face peeking out from behind the ferns. I ran over and announced to my friends that I had found the gnome.

Casey with Lawrence the gnome

What is the gnome you may ask? The gnome first came to Rockbrook back in the 2000s as a fun game introduced by a Hi-Up. She had brought a ceramic gnome to camp and announced after lunch that she was going to hide the gnome and the rest of camp had to find it. Whoever found the gnome was then tasked to share where they found it before hiding it themselves. Since this game started, we have had a few different gnomes (sadly, ceramic gnomes can break easily when dropped.) Currently, we have Lawrence the meditating gnome.

There’s nothing quite like finding the gnome. Out of my nine years here at Rockbrook Camp, this was the very first time I (or anyone in my cabin) had found the gnome. I felt so proud, I couldn’t wait to announce to the entire camp that I had found it.

I recently interviewed a few lucky individuals who also shared the experience of finding the gnome during their camp career. Current Hi-Up Susanna shared, “when a girl in my cabin found the gnome I was very prideful.” When asked how she would feel finding the gnome herself she immediately added, “it would be a sense of accomplishment and completeness to my camp experience.” When asking long time camper/counselor Mary Holland if she had ever found the gnome, with such sadness she said, “not finding the gnome has been a true source of pain for me.” I then asked her what feelings would come to the surface if she had found the gnome. She replied, “finding the gnome would be the best day of my life. All I want is to find Lawrence one day.” Mary Holland, we wish you the best.

summer camp gymnastics class with gnome

When it was my time to hide the gnome I had to focus on what was important to me when the next person found where I hid Lawrence. How tricky did I want it to be? Did I want to make them laugh because of the location he was in (such as placing him in a pipe by the creek?) What area of camp did I want to hide him?

Out in the field, I asked camper Reagan from M7 what she thought was most important when hiding the gnome. She replied, “in a dense area where people may not think to look…but not in a spot where it’s impossible to find him.” Reagan summed it up so well! When hiding Lawrence, he has to be outside of any building, he must be within camp boundaries, and he must be slightly visible so he can eventually be found! Sometimes Lawrence has gone weeks without being found because he was hidden a little too well.

I decided I wanted Lawrence to be found in a serene spot that would make someone giggle when they noticed his little blue hat sticking slightly above the plants. After hiding him, a camper found him later that day on her way down to the garden. I smiled happily as it was her turn to then hide the gnome.

junior dance class with gnome

Second Session Video Snapshot

If you ask most people about what it’s like to be a kid at summer camp, even if they’ve been themselves, they’ll struggle to describe life at camp. There’s just so much more to it than any single account can provide. Photos are better, but they too don’t really do it justice. Photos miss 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 video snapshot of this session ready for you to see.

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

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

A Multitude of Moments

Every session, I visit each age group’s lodge during a morning assembly to chat with the campers about what makes Rockbrook different from “the real world.”  Campers right away pipe up that people are kind, everyone is included, and that camp events are a lot of fun.  But when we delve deeper, we talk about how to ensure that people are kind, how it can be hard to be nice to people you live with after three weeks, what to do when we make mistakes, and how important it is to do the right thing, even if it is hard, and even if nobody is watching.

I’m always encouraged at the end of these visits, by the sincerity of the answers. And I love it when I see moments of these chats in action.  Like tonight in the dining hall, when I spotted a senior camper helping our youngest junior refill her serving bowl. Or the middler that I spotted cleaning up cups on the hill after a picnic yesterday.  Or the CA camper who walked a younger camper all the way back to the barn this morning because she forgot to leave her boots there. Each day at Rockbrook, there are a multitude of moments for campers to practice and to develop being a kind and caring person.

The program at Rockbrook is designed to give campers increasing independence. As they grow older, so do their responsibilities around camp, with each step helping the camp run smoothly.  Our leadership program for our 15-, 16-, and 17-year-old campers was developed many years ago, and it is still incredibly effective.  These oldest campers see the direct result of their efforts in the experience of the younger campers, from the silly campfire the Hi-Ups led on Monday night to the sparkling plates the CITs cleaned tonight to be ready for tomorrow’s breakfast.

A former Rockbrook counselor put it this way:

I like to think that we become our best selves at Rockbrook because the people around us believe that we can be our best selves.

One of my favorite things about Rockbrook is how much trust it places in the people who live here. We trust our juniors to get to activities on time, create fabulous skits each night, and even refill food from the kitchen. We trust our middlers to be kind to each other, be role models for the juniors, and to embrace the crazy adventures of camp. We trust the seniors to be real leaders, our CAs to plan an amazing banquet, and our HUPs to make sure we all wake up on time.

From ages six to sixteen, we believe in each other to laugh often, love kindly, and be there for one another. It’s no wonder we find it easier to be our best selves — when two hundred people believe that you can do it, we find ourselves proving them right.

We know the campers can do so much, and we depend on all of them to make each day run smoothly, to help take care of camp and each other. And they do!

summer camp teenage friends

As Rich as It Comes

It’s hard to overestimate the amount of activity that occurs in a single day at Rockbrook. It’s even a little mind boggling when you take a detailed look into how the activities, trips, special events, and ordinary moments around camp weave together. Perhaps this multi-layered complexity isn’t surprising when you consider the number of people involved— about 220 campers (almost a record!), 65 cabin counselors (a few more than normal), plus directors, adventure staff members, activity specialist instructors (horseback riding, ceramics, weaving, gymnastics, gardening, woodworking), and all of the support staff in the kitchen, health center, photography, housekeeping and maintenance crews. Every one of these people are engaged everyday, contributing to the community feel of camp, helping and being helped in countless ways.

Go anywhere in camp on any day and you’ll be amazed by the sustained action there. Naturally, the kitchen is buzzing all day long, from 6am when the baker arrives to begin work on the day’s surprise muffin flavor, until about 7:30pm when the evening crew finishes cleaning up and getting things ready for the next day. Likewise for the housekeeping and maintenance crews: they start early and go all day. It’s really true for most everyone at camp. Of course the campers are zipping from one thing to the next, and the staff are teaching and guiding throughout the day. We’re all busy almost all day, from waking up to laying down at night. Life at camp is full!

This life is not low-calorie; it’s as rich as it comes.

Recognizing this richness explains why our daily rest hour is so popular. You might expect some degree of resistance from campers who are asked to climb into their bunks for an hour each day, and when they first arrive at camp, there is a bit of that, but once we match the rhythms of camp, everyone yearns for that mid-day rest. Going up and down the hills of Rockbrook, back and forth to the cabin to change clothes (out of riding pants and into your swimsuit, for example), plus the physical aspects of many activities themselves— flipping in gymnastics, climbing the Alpine tower, paddling a canoe, whacking a tennis ball, or shooting a basketball, and so on —all add up to an active morning. After lunch, everyone needs a nap! Counselors and campers alike.

Today was something we call “Cabin Day.” This is when we take the afternoon and allow each cabin group to do something together. Ordinarily, each camper selects and individual schedule, scattering cabin makes across the many activity options. So cabin day is an opportunity for cabin group bonding, enjoying an afternoon together.

The variety of cabin day activities today was impressive. Groups took short hikes on the camp property to Rockbrook Falls for playing in the water, and Castle Rock for soaking in the long view of the French Broad valley. Some had played a series of relay games at the landsports field. Others devised complex protections for an egg drop game. There was a gagaball tournament, an archery clinic, and a diving board trick show. Other groups worked jewelry making into their time together.

summer camp tennis kids

A few Junior cabins took trips to a local farm to pick flowers and get up close to the resident bunnies and chickens. They also were happy to learn they would be stopping at Dolly’s Dairy bar on the way home, completing the outing.

All of the Mini session Middlers and Seniors spent their evening enjoying a classic mountain thrill: a trip to Sliding Rock. Almost 100 of us arrived ready to slide. With our lifeguards in place at the far end of the pool, the girls were thrilled to slide two-by-two down the 60-foot natural water slide. The water is 55 degrees, and with the sun setting behind the mountain, sliding was as exciting as it was chilly. These girls too made a visit to Dolly’s. There’s something about a rich ice cream treat that makes it the perfect way to end a night out of camp. Rich upon rich! We all love it.

Sliding rock grils screaming

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