A Wild West Banquet

People say you never forget your first banquet at Rockbrook. It’s simply like no other party experience, and for a girl who’s spent time at camp, it’s an incredible cap to the fun of the session. Many girls will tell you it’s their favorite event at camp, something they look forward to, and during the days leading up to it, they can hardly contain their excitement.

Understanding why the banquet is such a memorable and important experience for Rockbrook girls is not too difficult. It’s first of all a sensory overload. The CA campers (9th graders) work hard all session long to accomplish this. They select their secret theme on the first day of their session, and then transform the interior of the dining hall into a new environment using painted banners, lights, balloons, streamers, table decorations, and props. A real opportunity for creativity! These girls then dress in costumes taking on different personalities or roles. They create a playlist of music to complement the theme, and ask the kitchen to cook special foods and snacks to serve.

All of this creates the scene of the party, but what makes it fun is having all your camp friends attending, all the people of camp excited to celebrate their session together, with music, dancing, great food, entertainment, and sweet treats. When friends this close get together, it’s an especially fun event.

It’s so exciting when it’s time to enter the dining hall (which has been hidden all day by sheets hung over the windows while the CAs decorate and prepare). All the campers and staff members, dressed in their camp t-shirts, crawl through the porch to emerge into a line of the dressed CAs and the wildly transformed dining hall. It’s such a great feeling to be surprised like that!

cowgirl costume camp girls

Tonight’s banquet had the title, “Welcome to the Wild West.” It featured girls dressed in black with bandanas hiding their faces— definitely “robbers.” There were two girls dressed as sheriffs on the hunt for those robbers. Cowboys dressed in boots and hats, and square dancers dressed in frilly skirts, performed skits, pausing at times for choreographed dance numbers also.  The CA counselors dressed as green desert cacti and performed a dance number as well.

The music was “wild west” related too: “Cotton Eyed Joe,” “These Boot are Made for Walkin’,” and of course, “Old Town Road” were all included, along with a great mix of popular dance hits.  Likewise for the food: “tumble tots” (Tater Tots), “sugar cubes” (apple cubes), “cacti” (green beans), “hay bales” (cornbread), really delicious barbecue chicken, and blackberry cobbler for dessert.

We ended the banquet like we have for decades at camp: singing the song “Rockbrook Camp Forever.” The girls stood, arm-in-arm, singing as loudly as they could, “friends true and faithful.”  Filled with emotion, the girls ended up singing the song multiple times (with no claps at the end)! Thank you CA girls for a wonderful banquet. The whole camp had a fabulous time.

Totally Groovy

70s party decorations
camp 1970s costume party
Donna and the dynamoes camp girls

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

Banquet of Games

Tonight our ninth grade campers, known at camp as our “CAs,” unveiled the surprise theme for their party to celebrate the session. They’ve been planning since the first day of camp when the group selected this theme, carefully keeping everything a secret from the other campers (and most of the staff!) at camp. From the food, music, costumes, choreographed group dance performances, brief skits, to a truly amazing array of decorations, these girls considered every detail. We call this party at the end of the session, this over-the-top dance party, the “banquet.”

Game night party decoration

The banquet theme for this first session of 2019 was “Game Night.” They focused on board games, card games, and a few electronic games to select their characters, food and of course the entire dining hall’s decorations.  Using mostly paint on paper and cardboard, we saw posters and props for Checkers, Clue, Chutes and Ladders, Boggle, Parcheesi, Stratego, Rummi-Kub, Operation, Monopoly, Blokus, Uno, Barrel of Monkeys, Connect 4, Twister, Apples to Apples, Candyland, Spot it, and Pictionary, as well as Tetris, Pac-man, and Just Dance. With this many games represented, it was amazing to see the variety of designs, and colorful drawings that covered literally every inch of wall space in the dining hall. In every direction, the girls saw larger-than-life depictions of their favorite games.

camp pacman costumes
girls' costumes like Clue characters

This session has a record number of CA campers, 28 in all, so this was a wonderful theme to accommodate lots of characters. For example, from the game CandyLand we saw Queen Frostine, Miss Mint, Princess Lolly, Grandma Nutt and even Plumpy. There were characters from the game Clue: Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, Miss Peacock, Miss Scarlet, Mr. Green and a Detective. Mario and Princess Peach were portrayed. The Queen of Hearts, the Monopoly Man, the Operation Man, Just Dance characters, Pac-man and his pursuing ghosts also made an appearance, while all of the counselors transformed themselves into different color dice. What a crowd!

summer camp party girls

The food included “game piece” fruit kabobs, “puzzle” chicken nuggets, “pizza spinners,” and checkerboard brownie/blondie cakes for dessert. The program included several dance performances, alternating with the entire camp jumping up to dance and shout to popular songs.  Just imagine 300 people all singing (as loud as they can, by the way) “shake it off,” “party in the USA,” or “meet me in the middle!” Now imagine all those people packed into a room, with even more excitement and exuberance bubbling up from the friendships strengthened over a couple of weeks together.  Add to that, loud music, eye-popping colorful decorations and costumes, and the kind of party food and snacks (i.e. sweet stuff!) kids love, and you have a REALLY fun party. I asked one camper between dancing how she liked the banquet, and without a split second of hesitation, she threw her arms up and yelled, “It’s awesome!”  There’s no doubt about it.

camp baquet costumes

The Badquet Banquet

camp party dancing
cabin group party pose

Tonight was the biggest celebration of the whole session. After weeks of planning and preparation, our 9th graders finally revealed their surprise theme for the end of session banquet, and this was a good one. They called it “Badquet” because the theme was “villains,” a fun mashup of odious characters from different television shows and movies.  It turns out, there are a lot of “bad guys” to include, so the girls not only painted many well-known characters, they dressed as different characters too.

Here are just a few: Swiper, Lord Farquaad, Scar, Moriarty, Maleficent, Dr. Doofenshmertz, The White Witch, the Wicked Witch of the West, Medusa, Cruella de Vil, and Mother Gothel.

The theme tied all these characters together by imagining that they all were “Lost in Space” and encountered several green, 3-eyed aliens, played by the girls’ counselors.  Soon there was a heated “dance battle” between the aliens and the villainous ones. It wasn’t clear who “won” the battle, though soon the entire dining hall was up dancing together. In between serving the different courses of the meal, the characters entertained the rest of the camp with several choreographed dance numbers.

Camp party girls

The food was classic  banquet fare with inventive names: Moonbeam mozzarella sticks, Meteor Mac-n-cheese, Saturn’s onion rings, Alien chicken fingers, killer fruit kabobs, and cosmic brownies for dessert.

Everyone agreed the decorations were some of the best ever shown at a banquet. Each painted panel had fantastic details and very realistic proportions and colors. Many of the live action characters were also represented on the panels, like James and Jessie of Team Rocket for example.

The final part of the banquet is a tradition where the 9th grade girls (CAs) sing a song to their counselors thanking them and expressing their connection with each other. The counselors likewise sing a song back to the campers. The 10th grade girls and their counselors follow with the same. A few of the girls were a bit teary at times and laughing with big smiles at others during the songs. These girls been through a lot together, working side-by-side painting almost 90 paper panels and implementing all the details of their special surprise party.

One CA told me that this was her favorite year of camp so far, and since she’s been a Rockbrook girl for 7 years, that’s an incredible endorsement of what came from this group effort. The collective focus on this one complex project brought the girls even closer together and, as we saw tonight, had beautiful, really fun, results.

full cast badquet

Stranded at the Drive-In

Final banquet girls friends

Ask any of the older campers at Rockbrook if they remember their first banquet, and they’re bound to answer with a wholehearted “yes!” A Rockbrook “banquet” is an all-camp party held at the end of each session. It always has a surprise theme selected by our CA (9th grade) campers, who also design, plan and implement the details of the party.  The banquet is a huge celebration that combines amazing decorations, special fun foods, performers in costumes (the CA girls and their counselors), skits, music and dancing— all revolving around the theme.  Usually, there are about 20 CA campers working on this over the course of the session, so you can imagine how elaborate it can all become.

That’s why banquets are so memorable.  There’s the element of surprise, and the sheer amazement arising when the girls finally enter the dining hall to see how it has been transformed according to the theme. It’s a transformation that changes almost every interior surface: painted posters covering all four walls, tablecloths and table decorations, lights, streamers and balloons on the ceiling, and even posters decorating the floor at times! With characters dressing in full costumes dancing about, the music combines with the decorations to create a whole new environment. It can be almost mind-blowing for young children when they first see it. Then, between skits and choreographed dances performed by the CAs, it’s a loud, excited dance party for everyone. Soon, we’re all hot and sweaty, thrilled to be having this kind of high energy party with all of our camp friends.

campers dressed to perform at banquet

Tonight’s banquet, our first session 2018 banquet, was entitled “Stranded at the Drive-in.” Essentially a movie theme, the girls selected favorite movies and dressed as specific characters as they presented music and dances from particular films. We saw characters from Grease, Clueless, Shrek, Mean Girls, Monsters, Inc., Annie, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Incredibles. Take a look at the photo below to see all the CAs in their costumes. They were so well done! The tables had red movie ticket stubs scattered about. The wall posters were colorful detailed representations of other films like Moana, Up, Tangled, Cars, Inside Out, Wonder Woman, Finding Nemo and Gone with the Wind. …films that most of the other campers would know. With the theme, the girls decided to serve movie popcorn, along with chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, corn dogs, and fresh fruit on the side… ice cream and brownies for dessert.

What a great banquet! Dancing and singing together at the top of our lungs, I’m sure every single person had a complete blast.  It will probably take some work to wash all the glitter out of our hair, but I suspect this banquet will be unforgettable.

CA group for drive in banquet

Role Modeling Collaboration

On Monday I was so impressed with our older girls. The CA campers hiked in the Dupont State Forest to pick the theme of the end-of-session Banquet. As a lucky and eager bystander, I saw girls go into the adventure with an open mind, include everyone in the process, and come to a consensus that they were able to literally jump for joy about.

The drive over to the forest starts off with a pep talk from our Director and trip leader, Jeff Carter, who explains that the campers should mention as many ideas as possible during the drive. The counselors in each of the vehicles act as scribes and record everything— no matter how silly, far-fetched, or seemingly unpopular the ideas.

This brainstorming session is one of my favorite parts, because the process immediately becomes hilarious with fake themes, such as “Cheese” or “Potato Banquet.” (I heard one idea of the “Non-Banquet,” where they would decorate the walls with paper and just paint the paper with what is usually behind the paper on a normal day. Breaking away from tradition, there wouldn’t be soda or candy served. We all agreed, however, that this wouldn’t be funny after about 10 minutes in real life…)

It is through the laughter and lack of filters that the girls generate very legitimate, good lists of ideas! We arrive in the parking lot of our hike and begin to share the lists that were split between the vehicles, thrilled that the final decision might be hidden on one of the sheets of paper. Here, the counselors read out their lists, and, after indulging in their first reactions, the girls start to narrow the list before setting off onto the trail. (Unfortunately, the fake themes are crossed off.)

As we hike up to our final destination, top contenders for the theme start to emerge. I hear girls hearing one another out as different voices discuss pros and cons of each proposed theme. Other ideas fall to the wayside that many girls were betting on before hearing others’ thoughts. Most importantly, outgoing girls resist the urge to dominate the conversation, and everyone works to be equally involved, respectfully taking turns to speak. If you ask me, I think that many people in this world would learn a lot from these girls and how’ve they’ve learned to come to decisions.

Without giving the theme away, I’ll tell you that the theme will allow the girls to have their personalities reflected in each aspect of Banquet Night. It gives them wiggle room to create a new world in the Dining Hall, without inundating them with too much work. In talking to them afterwards, they’re most excited about seeing how their creativity will make the theme unique, spending time with one another on the project, watching the younger campers’ reactions as they enter the Dining Hall on Banquet Night, and, of course, celebrating their success with pizza and ice cream afterwards.

A Marvelous Culmination

Sometimes it’s fun to show off your skills in a competition. Ordinarily around here, we don’t hold contests to determine who is the best at something, since we’d rather pay attention to the fun of what we’re doing than to keeping score. But we’re still building our skills along the way, improving our shot in archery and riflery, our rock climbing ability, and our weaving technique for example.

Camp Rifle Tournament
Camp Tennis Tournament

Tuesday, we got a little more serious because we invited the boys from Camp Carolina over for three friendly matches pitting our girls against their boys in tennis, archery and riflery. In recent years, our girls have traveled to Camp Carolina for these tournaments, so we were especially excited to host.  To show it, the girls were ready with painted banners decorating the courts and shooting ranges, along with matching team outfits— custom t-shirts, all black for the riflery girls, white with big yellow tennis balls for the tennis team, and grey for the archers. The final tally gave the boys a slim margin of victory in both archery and riflery, while the girls ended up winning in tennis. If your daughter participated, I’m sure she’ll be proud of the outcome either way.

Museum Banquet

After weeks of planning and preparation, Tuesday night the CAs (9th graders) unveiled their surprise banquet theme to the rest of the camp. Entitled “Another Night at the Museum,” the theme transformed the dining hall into an amazing collection of Art, Culture and Natural History museum displays. The CAs dressed as elements of these displays: Roman and Egyptian figures, a dinosaur, living paintings (e.g., A Girl with Pearl Earring), Albert Einstein, tourists who visit a museum, and the counselors as security guards. The campers arrived dressed in their red Rockbrook t-shirt and were thrilled to see all the painted posters lining every inch of wall space in the dining hall, and then amazed as the CAs performed a series of skits and dances where the Museum characters came to life and interacted with everyone. There was music and dancing, candy to enjoy, and a real celebratory feeling. It was an incredible fun evening for everyone.

Camp Giant Peach Play

This afternoon the whole camp (and a few invited parents and guests) gathered in the gym to watch a performance of this session’s musical, “James and the Giant Peach.” Adapted from the children’s novel by Roald Dahl, this play tells the story of an orphan boy, James, who befriends several magical insects, and despite his cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge, embarks on a journey to New York City inside a giant peach. Fantastic and offbeat, it was fun to see how much the girls enjoyed acting the parts and singing the songs of the show. During a brief intermission, the dance classes presented their end-of-session choreographed shows. The whole afternoon was really entertaining— a marvelous culmination and artistic celebration of the session. These girls have talent!

Closing our session tonight was the ceremonial campfire we call “Spirit Fire.” This is another of the long traditions at Rockbrook. The campers and staff dress in their uniforms and gather around a great campfire set on the large rock (“Vesper Rock”) overlooking the camp lake for a program of traditional songs and personal reflections offered by counselors and campers from every age group. Tonight the fire looked gorgeous glowing orange amid the crowd of red and white uniforms, huddle closely. As the sun set and the woods around us grew bluer, then more grey before turning black, we could hear the waterfall splashing into the lake and the crickets chirping all around. In this beautiful setting we heard speeches recalling how Rockbrook has become important to these girls, the friendships formed, and the many ways we’ve all grown over these last few weeks. Sarah talked about the importance of finding moments during our busy lives to slow down and reconnect to those around us, like we do here at camp. She encouraged the girls to keep a journal throughout the year to record important experiences and to provide a quiet moment now and then for reflection.

We hope time at Rockbrook has a lasting positive effect on the girls who attend and settle into the culture of this place. The feeling that comes from joining this kind of caring community can make a powerful difference in these girls’ lives, enlivening and recharging their deepest humanity, strengthening who they are long after camp. It’s been a pleasure this session to witness so many wonderful examples of this transformation. Thank you everyone for helping to make it possible.

Candle Light camp Girls

A Brave Day

Today marked the first day of activities for Second Session! After receiving a warm welcome from counselors and fellow campers yesterday, new and returning Rockbrook girls got a big dose of “new” today– activities, responsibilities, places to sleep, places to go, morning chores, and more. I was reminded today that, with all of this unfamiliarity, the girls show so much bravery.

For example, I had the privilege of working with the archery instructors today. Dutifully learning each safety command and step, junior campers used bows as big as they are. They worked hard for their results and cheered for each other from behind the firing line. One girl hit the target on her fifth try, smiling to say, “Wow– That’s a satisfying sound!”

The much older CA campers challenged themselves today, as well. All 30 of them collaborated and took a leap of faith to choose a theme for their end-of-camp Banquet. (No, I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to wait and see…) When they returned to camp, they got started on talking through logistics and planning how to make their vision come to life.

The oldest campers, the Hi-Ups, dove into their many day-to-day tasks for the first time: Just to mention a few things,they assisted counselors in teaching activities, set all of the tables in the dining hall for every meal, rang the bell throughout the day, and walked other campers to the harder-to-locate barn for horseback riding.

Especially at the beginning of each session, younger girls overcome things that scare them a bit at first. Older campers and counselors learn how to give back to a place that has given them so much and find joy in learning how to create the magic for others.

Somehow, across the board, people don’t stop growing at Rockbrook– It’s a place that feels like home but keeps you on your feet with more and more to discover.