A Place of Belonging

It’s not too difficult to see that the girls at Rockbrook this session are having a great time. If you visit camp, all the action is what you first notice: the horseback riding at the barn, the rock climbing at Castle Rock, the kayak roll sessions in the lake, the spinning pottery wheels, clicking looms, nimble scissors, and busy knitting needles. Likewise, your first glance at the photo gallery leaves the same impression. The girls are engaged in so many ways, happily active, smiling and chatting with each other.

That’s all good stuff, but on another level, there’s something remarkable also going on. It’s the culture of Rockbrook. It’s the way the girls treat each other, the assumptions and values that subtly guide them. It’s how it feels to be at Rockbrook, living and playing together in this tight-knit community.

It’s tricky describing this culture because it’s certainly multifaceted and complicated, but one aspect I think worth noting is the sense of belonging girls enjoy at Rockbrook. Almost immediately after they arrive, girls are comfortably in groups around camp, paying attention to each other, including each other no matter what’s going on. Cabin groups provide the backbone of this feeling, but it’s present everywhere. Free from the competitive social and academic pressures of school, this all-girls environment is devoted foremost to the quality relationships we have with each other. Simply put, the culture of Rockbrook, and by extension what it means to be a “Rockbrook Girl,” begins with being “nice” to each other.

summer camp teen friends

Thinking about the traditional “Rockbrook prayer” recited during the “Goodnight Circle,” programming staff member Savannah put it this way:

The culture here at Rockbrook is one of optimism, respect, love, and altruism. The amount of kindness is astounding; people are always seeking out ways to brighten someone else’s day in any manner. Each positive encounter, no matter how small, can always somehow be traced back to at least one aspect of the prayer. The message encourages girls to stand up for what is right, to be their best selves no matter who is watching (or not watching), and to aim towards making the camp community even better than it already is. It allows us to feel a sense of support unlike anything else.

Campers are more than willing to take opportunities to “do a little good” by writing a friend a sweet note, picking up a piece of litter on the ground, or walking a younger camper to her activity. Everyday at camp is filled with these small, sweet moments.

kids playing outdoors at summer camp

I’ve written about why girls love camp, and there are certainly many reasons. But perhaps most importantly, Rockbrook is a place where girls feel they belong, where who they really are (and not who they think they’re supposed to be) matters. At camp, there’s mutual caring. It’s a place where we all value and rely on each other without any reference to our age, our intellect, or our looks. Nobody has to say it, but for these girls, Rockbrook is “a place of their own” where they feel safe and happy.  And that feeling becomes the foundation for all of our relationships at camp, the root of the friendships, and the spark for personal growth.

More than ever these days, young people need certain experiences to overcome the forces of abstraction and isolation they face. Just think, for example, how all that screen time impacts their ability to communicate face-to-face, to engage the inevitable imperfections of the real world (compared to the edited and filtered online version of things), and to be actively creative and confidently engaged. They need a place of belonging where they can practice being more connected to those around them, where they can play, encounter new challenging experiences, and grow.

Thankfully, Rockbrook is such a place.

girls relaxing at summer camp

Growing Together

“Most of us can remember how long the summers used to seem and how long it was from birthday to birthday. When we were five, it seemed we’d never get to be ten, and at ten it seemed it would be forever until we were twenty. So often is it only by looking back at where we have been that we can see we are growing at all.” —Fred Rogers

multi-age camp girls

Camp is often thought of as an antidote to many of the things we miss in today’s society: it provides a slower pace, a place to have real conversations, a time to disconnect from technology and reconnect with people. Even reconnecting with people is unique. With more socializing done online and inside and less within the community, many of us only have strong relationships with people who are within the same age, or are family. At camp, however, we are constantly interacting with people, and building community with, people who are older and younger than us. These inter-age conversations give us so many advantages: we are able to see new perspectives and hear new stories, see how far we’ve grown or where we are growing to, and form a dynamic community where all ages can appreciate what the others are offering.

These relationships are woven into the fabric of camp. At dance today, for example, there were three juniors and two counselors dancing. The counselors were patient and kind as the campers picked up the moves, each representing their own unique personalities in their renditions. Then, when they took a break, I thought about how naturally the girls and counselors were talking. It was simple: they were talking about movies (the song “Thriller” was playing, which some of the girls recognized from Thirteen Going On Thirty), speculating about the upcoming banquet (a topic that is endlessly interesting), and about the upcoming dance show. Even though the conversations were simple, they were quietly profound; each girl was known, and was able to share her unique experiences with the group. There aren’t many other times that twenty-year-olds and eight-year-olds sit in the same room and talk about their lives and experiences.

camp craft project girls together

This happens all the time, all throughout camp. It’s there when girls are sitting on the dock talking to swimming instructors after swimming in the lake. It’s there when seniors led the Luau on Sunday, welcoming new campers and inspiring their excitement about the activities. Maybe it’s best represented by the Hi-Ups, who have the most structured interactions with younger campers. Yesterday, I helped lead the junior overnight at the Rockbrook outpost, a ten-minute walk from camp. A few Hi-Ups (the oldest campers) were helping me build a fire. One of the Hi-Ups said she had not been out there since she was a junior. When the juniors came to meet us out there, she knew all of their names, and knew what to do to make the overnight incredible. Knowing her was clearly meaningful for the juniors; they all asked her to sit beside her, and the way she knew them made each of them feel special and valued. By getting to interact with people older than them, juniors are able to see role models of who they want to be as they are growing. Yet it was also meaningful for the Hi-Up. At the overnight, she was able to see how much she had grown in her years at camp, to help provide an experience for others that had meant so much to her as a junior, and to enjoy the new perspectives and sense of joy that come from talking to an outgoing and spirited cabin of juniors.

inter-age camp girls together

Counselors have told me they love talking to campers partly because of the way campers ask them to see the world. One counselor laughed as she was telling me about her cabin of juniors who told her they were missing Bobby. She did not want to seem so out of the loop that she did not know who (or what) Bobby was, so she asked a lot of questions about what he looked like. What does Bobby wear? A top hat and a rainbow striped outfit. Could he have wandered off? No, he has no legs and arms, but he could have rolled. What color is Bobby? Rainbow (we just told you that!). It turned out Bobby was a cork the group had decorated. The counselor dove head-first into their mission, and the cabin even made an announcement at a meal about how he had gone missing. In the end, it turned out that he was found in a Crazy Creek, not far from where he was last seen. As I type this, rest assured that Bobby is safe in his box, a nice place, similar to where you may find a charm bracelet, with a nice foam mattress and a construction paper blanket. On the lid, you’ll see “Home Sweet Home,” written in Sharpie. As we grow up, and are inundated by pressures and distractions, it’s rare that we get the opportunity to work together to find a cork in a big camp, and we remember how much pure fun the simple parts of life can be.

In addition to these inter-age conversations that happen between campers and each other, and their young counselors, this extends to an even greater range of people. A great example is Kathy Singer, who was a Rockbrook Camper from 1956-1957, and then came back as a counselor in the 60s. Now, she teaches the Folklore Activity, and she is beloved at camp for her stories about camp and also her stories about life. Recently, campers and counselors started the “Kathy Singer Fan Club,” complete with stickers, a testament to how much she has meant to the camp community this summer.

By continuing to have these inter-age conversations, we are keeping the traditions of camp alive; we are all a part of this larger community, and we take care of each other, knowing that this spirit will continue into the future. We also learn more about other people, the change in times, and how much we have grown. In a world where we are sometimes disconnected from other ages and perspectives, how lucky we are to come to camp and grow together.

swimming with kickboards together in the lake

Third Session Highlights Video

You may remember the wonderful short videos Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks filmed during camp last summer, and how beautifully they conveyed the feeling of ordinary life at Rockbrook. Parents raved about how much they enjoyed these short videos, so we’re excited to say Robbie is back this summer to produce new videos for us! He was at camp filming this past Tuesday and now we have his first production of the third session.

Have a look!

What’s Familiar Inspires

Zipline Course Kid

Ordinarily after the first week of a camp session there’s a subtle change. Like in a song when the key slides up a half step, there’s a modulation of the feeling, a change that’s both an elaboration and a settling. Life at camp begins to take on more energy and feel more comfortable at the same time, and today I really noticed it. By now the girls have rotated through different activities and visited most every area of the camp. They’ve met almost all of the counselors and activity instructors. They’ve learned the rhythm of our daily schedule, looking forward to the activity time, but also the slots of free time, meals and snack breaks. Most importantly, they grown more comfortable with all of the other campers, getting to know them through the constant shared experience of camp life. Our days now are more content by virtue of mutual familiarity (like a family) with everything and everyone living here together at Rockbrook.

This familiarity, which can also be understood as a strengthening of our community, ironically leads to new experiences too. Hearing stories from friends inspires you give a new camp activity a try. Fly through the air on the zip line! Noticing a shady rock by the creek inspires you to sit and relax there before lunch one day. Learning the camp songs inspires you to sing them even louder in the dining hall. The lake feels more refreshing than cold, “sprickets” (camel crickets) become more like friendly attendants than intruders, the sounds of the forest at night more soothing than unnerving. With a growing feeling of safety and relaxation, the girls also let more of their true selves shine through. Such a relief, that openness feels great. You can just see it on their faces all over camp, laughing and playing so easily, greeting everyone cheerfully, and growing closer to each other as a result.  That’s right; the deepest bonds of friendship are forming now at camp, and it’s very cool to see.

Kayaking Skit

Saturday is a day of regular camp activities, but before lunch we hold an assembly on the hill (under the old walnut tree). It’s a chance for camp bonding, announcements, recognizing the cabins with the inspection scores, and counselor skits. The sports and games instructors demonstrated, hilariously, how to play volleyball when duct taped together. The kayakers paddled frantically away from a tsunami (bucket of water!), and the yoga instructor entertained everyone by simply reciting several yoga-related puns. It was all good silly fun to remind the girls about the activity options available to them. Each age group cheered and sang their line songs, and the whole camp exploded when when we sang “Rockbrook Camp Forever.”

Happy Ice Cream Campers

The first big surprise of the day happened right after lunch, and to everyone’s delight it was “Biltmore Train.” Before it was the tourist destination it is today, the Biltmore Estate ran a commercial dairy selling milk and ice cream locally, and making deliveries of their dairy in a truck decorated with a train motif (The Vanderbilt family was well known in the railroad business). It soon became a tradition for Rockbrook girls to enjoy Biltmore ice cream, with the girls meeting the truck/train as it pulled into camp. The Biltmore dairy has since closed (It has a more tourist friendly winery now.), but we celebrate the memory by holding an an all-you-can-eat ice cream party once per session. Today we lined up 6 giant tubs of ice cream on tables under the hemlock trees, and our brave counselors wore our their arms hand dipping cone after cone for the campers. Once receiving their cone, the girls raced to get back in line (to the end of the “train”) for another. Under the warm sunny afternoon sky, we all enjoyed a high-spirited, sugar-charged treat.

The second surprise was tonight’s evening program, a disco-themed all-girl dance. Naturally, we all had a great time dressing up for the dance— shiny dresses, tie dye t-shirts, rounds glasses, and head bands setting the tone. Marcus, DJ Dog, set up his lights and sound system in the gym to keep everyone dancing, and we served lemonade and cookies while girls played outside blowing bubbles and making sand art necklaces. For a couple of hours it was non-stop disco, group dances to familiar pop songs, and zipping around the gym to the music. All girls, all fun, all good.

Hippy Disco Girls

Simple Magical Moments

After the arrival of our mini-session campers, I have been made more and more aware of the simple magical moments of Rockbrook, enhanced by the campers themselves: At breakfast, a sea of girls bumped around the dining hall to work together in teams to clean their tables. I delighted in watching campers skip across the rocks to go down the slide for the first time while I lifeguarded. As the sun set, I was lucky enough to hear a symphony of giggles coming from cabins while the girls planned skits for Evening Program. I am so grateful to these new campers to add to such an amazing group of girls for first session!

We celebrated the mini-session campers’ arrival by declaring today as Crazy Hair Day! There’s no such thing as a normal day at camp, and girls sure did flex their creative, confident, and unique muscles with this one… I spotted ponytails, wigs, and frizz thereafter as girls went to the activities they got to sign up for last night.

night camp site

My favorite part of the day was towards the end, however. Last week, two cabins won a special prize that they were finally able to claim tonight… S’mores! After the senior campers wrapped up their evening skits and nightly “goodnight circle” routine, we marched over to Vesper Rock to build a fire. This is the ideal campfire spot, which overlooks our lake and has a view of the senior girls’ lodge. One of the girls who adores the wilderness helped make the fire with little trouble at all. Having been on many off-camp trips and taken numerous nature-related activities at Rockbrook, she confidently delegated tasks to the rest of the group and gave us pointers for next time.

Nighttime was in full swing when we got the fire started. The campfire was our only light source as we sang some favorites: Little Willie, the Cider Song, Midnight Train, and Take a Little Bit of Ginger. As other girls prepared for bed, they enjoyed their nighttime snacks, listening to a silly story told by one of their fellow campers.

Meanwhile, another lucky group of younger campers hunkered down to listen to a bedtime story by one of our beloved Directors, Sofie. I know that they had fun listening to her animated style, and I’m thrilled that we get to keep making memories with these girls through their cabins’ very own special treats. Next on the agenda, we have older campers lined up to stargaze on the hill with a telescope on a clear night soon and the oldest campers plunge into the cold lake early in the morning.

wet camp counselors
star wars sign

             

In the more routine days of camp, without big events like Jedi Training Academy or Nickelodeon Surprise Night, I’m reminded that girls are learning what it means to find joy in simple moments and true quality time with friends. I can’t wait for more magic to unfold tomorrow and throughout the session, via little and big surprises, silliness, and being unapologetically present.

Rock and Brook

Set here in the mountains of western North Carolina, the topography of Rockbrook is really something special. Within its 220 acres, the camp includes amazing natural features including prominent rock outcroppings, waterfalls, creeks and the French Broad River. If you haven’t seen it already, watch this video and then scroll through the posts in this archive about our area in North Carolina. You’ll be impressed by the natural beauty of the camp property and its surrounding area.

After learning more about the camp topography, you’ll quickly realize that when Henry P. Clarke, the father of the camp’s founder Nancy Barnum Clarke Carrier, named this property “Rockbrook,” it was a particularly apt name. Situated between (and below!) two rock landmarks (Dunn’s Rock and Castle Rock), with numerous boulders scattered all around the camp, and as three named creeks (Dunn’s Creek, Rockbrook Creek and Hanty Branch) and several smaller tributaries of the French Broad river carve rocky courses through the camp, the terrain here is very much both stone and water, rock and brook.

camp kid zip line ride

Our camp program benefits from these topographical features in a number of exciting ways. There are excellent hiking destinations for example: the magnificent mountain view from the top of Dunn’s Rock, the spray to be felt at the bottom of Stick Biscuit Falls, and the mysterious “Kilroy’s Cabin” found only by bushwhacking for more than a mile through the woods. We have 5 different climbing routes on Castle Rock to tackle, and down below, a nice sandy eddy we can use to launch or take out canoe trips on the French Broad River. A particularly cool example, though, is our camp zip line course since the zips are built between boulders and over creeks. It takes about an hour to do the whole course— 3 zips and 3 challenging adventure bridges —and it continues to be one of the more popular optional activities we offer. The last zip is the fastest and goes right past the office building at the top of the hill giving everyone on the porch a front row seat to see the aerial poses, wide-eyed grins, and hear the yelps of delight multiple times each day.

gaga ball game

Equally popular this session, though for different reasons, has been Ga-ga Ball. Played down near our gym in a special octagonal court of 30-inch high wooden walls, GaGa is a form of dodgeball that’s nicely fast-paced, and well-suited for multi-age groups of girls. Three people or thirty people can play, so it’s a great “pick up game” for the girls during their periods of free time each day (before lunch and dinner, and during Twilight in particular). The object of Gaga is to avoid being hit in the legs by a soft ball as it bounces around inside the court after being hit (not thrown) by the players. It takes quick reflexes to jump out of the way as the ball bounces wildly off the walls of the court and the other players alike. Once hit, a player hops out of the court dwindling the number of girls still playing. As the game progresses and one person is left (the winner), the game is over, and everyone can hop back into the court to start a new game. Perpetual play!

camp girl dancing

Tonight’s Evening Program allowed us to dress up, be silly, and go a little wild on the dance floor. We held an all-girl “glow dance” down in the gym. Without much encouragement, the girls dressed in tie dye t-shirts and other colorful costumes. We pulled out neon face paint to add dots, swirls and stripes of color to their looks, and when we handed out a few hundred glow sticks, dimmed the lights in the gym, and began pumping out upbeat, popular music, we had a fun dance party.  No boys, no pressure, no judgment: there was just unbridled excitement and glee as song after song got the girls dancing.  And these girls know how to have fun in the groove! —lots of jumping to the beat, well-rehearsed dance moves now and then, and plenty of hands-in-the-air, singing-along choruses.  It was another great camp event celebrating the fun of being together, feeling happily relaxed and pulled into an activity so thoroughly that you forgot most everything else and time flew by… so good, and just how we all like.

All girl glow stick dance

Positively Euphoric

Summer Girls Camp Arrivals

Arriving at camp late in summer, as did our August Mini Session campers today, is a unique blend of excitement and relief. You could see it on their faces as they drove up the driveway this morning, and as they first met their counselor— bright, wide grins despite a twinge of nerves, and almost a feeling of liberation from the agony of waiting for camp all summer. So much waiting! Finally, these girls have arrived and we can get started with camp, all the friends, different activities, and fun surprises of life at Rockbrook.

Once the arriving girls got settled in their cabins, they joined the full session campers rotating through a sampling of camp activities. Tying friendship bracelets, playing tennis or gaga ball, hiking to Rockbrook Falls, picking flowers in the RBC garden, and making a wind chime or headband— there were plenty of ways to get busy right away… meeting people while learning about camp.

Burgers (beef and vegetarian) and fries, plus fresh cut cantaloupe and salad for lunch settled us down just as it filled us up. Rest hour then gave the new girls a chance for a quick camp tour, a stop at the lake for a swimming demonstration, and time for a cabin meeting before the main event of the afternoon.

Pie Throwing Girl
Inflatable Water Slide

And it was fantastic! With counselors and help from the Hi-Ups (our 10th grade campers), we threw an all-camp carnival right in the center of camp complete with different snacks, group games, fun dance music, silly challenges, and small prizes for everyone. With camp completely full of girls now, we created lots of options to give everyone plenty to do. Blue skies and a few light clouds floated by above while the girls spent to next two hours wandering from game to game, stopping to snack, dance and play as they liked.

Water balloon sling shot
Snow cone girls

Setting the tone right away was our favorite DJ Dawg back again to pump great dance music across the hill. For snacks (probably the second most important element at a party!), we had coolers of lemonade, a popcorn popper popping nonstop, and a very popular snow cone station. It was a hot afternoon, so we made several water events available too: a 35-foot tall inflatable water slide, a “dunk booth” beanbag challenge, loads of water guns, and a sprinkler to run through if the girls got too hot. Another game had the girls launch water balloons using a slingshot contraption. A second inflatable was an obstacle course that pitted two girls against each other as they crawled, climbed and scrambled through… while laughing hysterically.  There was an area where the girls played Pin the Tail on the Donkey, another where they “fished” for rubber ducks from a pool, and another that challenged them to eat a doughnut or apple tied to a string. We had yard checkers, a giant game of Jenga, a ball toss game, and a corn hole game. There was a giant bubble station, three staff member offering face painting, balloon animals being tied, and two brave Hi-Ups running a “pie” (whipped cream on a pie tin) throwing station.  Apparently, you smell like cheese after being splattered thoroughly with whipped cream. Another messy game that the girls loved was Twister, only made more difficult with the help of shaving cream and a little body paint on each spot. Messy and fun.

Messy twister game
Giant Jenga game outside

In every direction on the hill there where happy girls entertained by the games, enjoying dancing, cooling off, getting a little messy, and having an excellent time at camp. It was pretty hard to take it all in! Looking around, it was clear at least that this was a great way to open up the session. It got everyone involved, the full session girls meeting and playing with the mini session campers, and helped set the tone (positively euphoric) for the coming week.

There was about an hour of free time before dinner that allowed the girls to take a shower and clean up. Later, everyone signed up for their first set of activities so in the morning we can launch right into action.  We’re just getting started and looking forward to the coming week!

photo props girls at camp

CA Campers Write

Girl's Tie Dye Pride

It occurred to me recently while scrolling through the online photo gallery that despite our two photographers taking hundreds of photos each day (one day this week, we posted more than 1800!), it’s pretty common for us to miss a lot of the action going on at camp. Partly that’s because everything is going on simultaneously and the photographers can’t be everywhere at once. While some girls are aiming rifles at paper targets, others are aiming basketballs at hoops. Some are riding horses, while others are painting and drawing. There’s weaving in Curosty, and ziplining in the woods above the office. Taking great photographs of girls making tie dyes, for example, means we’re missing others doing yoga or climbing Castle Rock. This also explains why you might go several days not seeing a photo of your daughter; the photographers simply missed her during the activity periods, and during her free time (just before lunch and dinner, and during “Twilight” right after dinner), when she may have spent time laying low, they were elsewhere. I know that can be frustrating, so feel free to give us a call if you want the photographers to make an extra effort to find your girl!

Small Girl Kayaking
Small Girl Zip Lining

Another limitation of our photo gallery is that it never does justice to the adventure trips that go out every day. Our photographers mostly stay in camp, so we rely on the trip leaders to snap a few photos of the girls as they are kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, backpacking and canoeing. As you can imagine, it can be tough to guide an adventure activity while also taking pictures of it. The photo gallery shows that different outdoor instructors are inconsistent with that, since this week alone we’ve had all of these trips and more offered to the girls. Day hikes, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, even a waterfall scramble for the older campers— there have been some amazing outdoor adventure options available. The online photo gallery, while providing an fun peek into our daily life at camp, is simply not complete. It comes close at times, but we’re always up to more than you see there.

The other day, several of our CA campers, who are girls who have finished the ninth grade, took some time to write down how they are feeling about camp. I thought it would be interesting to hear a camper’s point of view, so I asked them, “What do you want people to know about your experience at Rockbrook?” Here are a few of the responses.

Hiking Waterfall Rock

“CA year at Rockbrook is one of the most highly anticipated. I decided to go for a full session this summer so that I could get the whole camp experience. The past few weeks have gone by in a blur of paint, glitter, adventure, joy and excitement. I have been able to bond with all of my cabin mates and create new memories that I will remember forever. These girls have seen me in my most natural state, and I think there is extreme comfort in the fact that there are people here that don’t expect you to be anything other than that. Being older, I also find that talking to counselors is much easier. They have become my friends (as well as family). I do miss home a lot, but the people at Rockbrook keep me from being sad about it. Rather than feeling upset and homesick, I’m simply excited to share my experiences and adventures.” —Kendall

Rafting Girls Camp

“Anxious whispers filled the room as my teacher distributed our writing prompt for the dreaded English final. I tapped my fingers on my desk, awaiting the task that was before me. A small white slip was placed in front of me that read “What is your heaven on earth? Explain.” It seemed like a complicated question, but my answer was simple. Rockbrook is my heaven on earth because when I’m there I don’t have to worry about anything in the world and I can be my true self. Rockbrook is a place where memories last forever and you create friendships that will last a lifetime.” —Reegan

“Rockbrook Camp has helped me so much through the past years. It is my safe place from a crazy outside world. The people here understand me more in 4 weeks than my friends back home. No matter where we all go, I know we will see each other again and remember our glorious camp memories.” —Emily

“This year I am a CA, and it has been the best year yet! All the girls are so nice and love our counselors so much! We have shared so many amazing moments and laughs, and we are only half way through the session. I’m so blessed to spend this time with my favorite people!” — Anna

Memories that will last, made with people who know and understand each other, a heavenly escape from the outside world… Living together, gloriously free from worries. These girls love camp.

Finally, I can’t help but post these two photos from our Twilight activity tonight, an optional shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide. Dressed in their swim suits, and ready with a can or two of shaving cream, girls of all ages raced around our landsports field, squealing with delight as they covered each other in slippery white foam and laughing uncontrollably because they looked so hilarious with their hair sticking up. Then when slicked down with shaving cream, the girls could really fly down the plastic slip-n-slide, crashing and spraying through the water as they went. The whole event lasted a little less than an hour, but it was an incredible display of uninhibited joy. Love it!

Messy Shaving Cream Girls
Slip and Slide Laughing Girl