Meet Wendy Manner, Rockbrook’s new Staff Director!
We’re all very excited to welcome Wendy to Rockbrook’s full-time administrative team. We’ve known Wendy and her family (husband and two children) for years here in Brevard, and when Sofie and her husband Lyle decided to make a change and move to Raleigh, we also knew Wendy could do a great job for Rockbrook.
Her many years of camp experience include attending as a child, working as a counselor, and later holding a staff director position at another camp in New York State. Wendy is also certified to teach parenting classes and serve as a foster parent, which she has done for several children.
After growing up near Cary, NC, Wendy was graduated from Appalachian State University with concentrations in English and Psychology. She and her husband Eric have recently established a local berry farm. Her daughter Cora will be a camper this summer for the first time too.
We are certain you’ll enjoy getting to know Wendy this summer. Meanwhile look out for her enthusiastic voice on the phone when you call the office!
I think I was supposed to write on the events of the day here at RBC, but I wrote about the ones that make those events happen. I just thought that you, as parents, would fully appreciate learning more about these great leaders that your girls will, most certainly, come home talking about.
Let me begin by saying that this blog entry was left to my discretion. Our humble full time staff here at Rockbrook would not choose to be boastful by having an entry written about them. But, Mama B has the password, and I feel this post is well deserved!
As a camp mom, I get to show up and do what comes natural by helping out in situations that warrant a mom’s attention. My duties seem simple compared to the ones of the full time staff around me who work all year and around the clock in the summer to provide the very best camp experience for our daughters. I am amazed every year at the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes requiring countless hours of planning and organization. What appears to campers to be spontaneous activities, really takes hours of planning to make it happen. Every detail of all planned activities here at Rockbrook has been thought out months ahead of time, so that everything runs smoothly down to the daily muffin flavor, bead color, and set of paddling gear.
This is all made possible by a staff that has a passion for Rockbrook Camp. They were all campers and/or staff here previously, which makes their jobs personal. They all have a great love for this camp, and their goal is for our daughters to have the same great experience that they did. They work continuously to make it even better. They each have gregarious personalities and each possesses individual gifts, that when combined, make RBC run like a well oiled machine.
The descriptions below are only a portion of all the tasks that the administrative staff accomplish here at Rockbrook. I took the liberty of interviewing a variety of campers and counselors here this session because when I try to describe such an amazing team, my words seem inadequate.
SOFIE-She describes herself as “a counselor the counselors,” but she’s so much more than that! Her gift is with people, and her spirit is electric. She does interviewing that takes place all year, as she handpicks the young women that will lead your children. And, I must say, this is one of the best staff of counselors that I have ever seen. Their energy is continuous, and their smiles are never ending. The personalities spotted by Sofie have meshed perfectly with one another, and the joyous spirits have transplanted to the campers, providing a perfect camp atmosphere. The counselors all laugh with her and enjoy her company here at camp, but they have the utmost respect for her. She holds them accountable in a joyous way that makes them want to strive to be better leaders. One counselor described her as “the sun,” and I think that’s a perfect description.
GRACE-She can be spotted here at camp with what she calls her “squinty smile,” and she’s easy to identify because it’s always on her face. If you listen carefully, you can also find her by hearing her laughter, which makes her the perfect liaison between the girls and parents.
She’s on top of any situation that may arise with campers, and she does such a beautiful job of communicating with young girls in a way in which they can relate. She also insures that your girls have every opportunity to participate in all their desired activities here at camp, so that their experience is all that they hoped it would be. She has the gift of organization as shown by her assurance that each child is on the appropriate list for the activity that they have chosen, and that the counselors of that activity are anxiously awaiting their attendance. She spends a great deal of time pairing pen pals, which the girls look forward to, and allows new campers to feel connected before their arrival. Cabin assignments are also a crucial part of Grace’s job, as she carefully places each child with a peer group and counselor for each session.
CHASE-Chase exemplifies the epitome of the Rockbrook Spirit, and I think this is essential for someone planning all the events that your girls attend here at camp. She makes everything “fun,” as shown on your girls faces as they attended a pirate party, World Cup soccer night, pancake breakfast, overnights, vegetable garden cutting, and the list goes on. I can only imagine the preparation it takes to get ready for a party for this many girls with various silly activities and snack choices. She makes it look easy, and the greatest part is, she has the best time of all! She has insured that all the activities are stocked with all the necessary equipment and supplies. A great deal of her time in the off season is spent ordering beads, paint, fabric, clay, string, and all the necessary supplies needed so your daughter can create masterpieces to bring home. Her jovial spirit is evident in everything she coordinates, and a good time is had by all.
SARAH and JEFF Carter-I can honestly say I don’t have any conception of the quantity or variation of tasks this couple accomplishes on a daily basis to run this camp so successfully. If I attempted to describe their efforts, I’m sure I would way under estimate the time and energy it takes to run such an extraordinary organization. But, I can say with confidence, that every detail is considered, every activity researched, every staff member contemplated, and every aspect perfected.
JEFF-Although he may appear to be in the background to many of the younger campers, he plays a profound roll in the experiences of the older campers. As a past Rockbrook hiking instructor, he has a great knowledge and love for the outdoors that he enjoys sharing with the older girls. He provides great safety skills and a sense of security for the girls that are transitioning to counselors, on their three day overnight. One counselor stated “He had a great Rockbrook experience, and he wants to give back so that girls can grow, learn, and pass it on to their campers.” Jeff has a keen awareness of everything that is going on during camp. He’s always there to making sure everything is running according to plan. His state of the art website is work of its own, and he’s constantly seeking improvements to be made each year.
SARAH-Sarah fully appreciates each and every Rockbrook tradition, and she values its meaning. She has worked very hard to preserve the heritage here that she remembers as a child. It is such a joyful experience for her and for the rest of the moms who attended here, to be able to share this with our daughters. Her gentle, calm spirit makes campers comfortable, and she handles all situations with such grace. Whatever circumstance she is faced with at camp, she exemplifies patience, which puts everyone around her at ease. She not only knows each and every camper by name, but she recognizes their distinct qualities. She fully appreciates each of your daughters’ uniqueness, and how they contribute to their cabin community.
When you have owners and staff who are emotionally invested, it drives them to make camp all it can be. Their spirit for camp is contagious, and your daughters will hold on to the memories they have helped create throughout the year. I am grateful that all the girls who attend Rockbrook are the beneficiaries of such a passion, aimed at the creation of a great camp experience!
I had an interesting conversation with a new counselor today. Actually, she was not completely new to Rockbrook, but rather an old camper who had this year become a counselor for the first time. She told me she had discovered “the secret to being a great counselor.” Naturally, I was intrigued, after all, we spend a full week training our counselors before the campers arrive. We talk about dozens of different topics that we know are important to life as a counselor, including health and safety issues, managing cabin social dynamics, special aspects about working with girls, how to teach an activity class, handling homesickness, and so forth. Out of all the content presented that week, I was eager to hear what she now believes is the “secret.”
She said, “You just have to enjoy being with your girls. You have to like them, even love them, and everything else follows from there.” Thinking about it later, there’s a lot of truth to that. Counselors who truly enjoy getting to know their campers, become good friends with them, care for them, are tuned into their needs, support them when they need encouragement, and can easily sympathize with them. When a counselor enjoys her campers’ company, she seeks them out and is quite naturally present to help when needed. With this kind of comfortable relationship, combined with good instincts, certainly some training, and common sense, counselors not only “supervise” well, they also find themselves enjoying their work, laughing and playing with the campers, and really embracing the camp community. And that feels really good. I think this young woman knew she was being a great counselor because both she and her campers were having such a great time. It might not be equally easy to love all of you campers, but that’s the secret to being a great camp counselor.
Mary Alice Martin has returned this summer to teach our girls Yoga. Held in the Hillside Lodge, which is one of the original stone lodges built in the 1920s, the classes have plenty of room to spread out their yoga mats on the hardwood floor. Mary Alice plays quiet, calming music to encourage relaxation while the girls stretch to warm up, and then introduces a series of yoga poses ranging from easy basic positions like the “Child’s Pose” to more complex examples like the “Side Crane” pose. She’ll also sometimes play a game she calls “Freeze Yoga,” where she plays more uptempo music, and when she stops it suddenly, the girls have to quickly perform a different yoga pose. That too is a lot of fun.
This photograph of Sophia conveys beautifully the total delight of our giant water slide,”Big Samantha.” After crossing the dock on the far side of the lake, over the bridge near the waterfall, and climbing the tower steps, it’s a nice long ride down the slippery tarp material before being launched out into the lake. Some girls will hold their nose before hitting the water, and others just fist pump the air and scream their heads off! Either way, it’s a short swim to reach the ladders by the dock, and an easy walk back around to slide again. We open the water slide during both free swim periods (before lunch and dinner), giving all of the girls who passed their swim “demonstration,” even the smallest juniors, plenty of chances to take a ride. For some, that means multiple times each day!
I try not to talk about the weather much in these posts (After all, there are so many more interesting things going on!), but it has been a wonderful week with sunny warm days, the occasional afternoon thunderstorm, and cool evenings.
Finally, I wanted to highlight this photo taken down at the Rockbrook Rifle Range. I just love the smile, the pink hearing protection, the rifle named “Annie Oakley,” and the feeling of relaxed assurance it conveys. Learning to shoot a real .22 caliber rifle can be a little daunting, but these Rockbrook girls are taking to it wonderfully. Odds are you’ll be hearing about the bullseye club very soon.
There’s a remarkable energy at camp right now, a current derived from almost constant action, powerful enthusiasm, smile-filled interactions, and boundless opportunity for fun. It’s an energy that has sparked to life in the context of camp— the different creative, adventure, and sports activities, the awesome food, and the beautiful wooded setting Rockbrook enjoys —but has its deepest source in what our staff members contribute to the daily lives of your girls. And that’s what’s so impressive! This summer’s staff, our cabin counselors and special activity instructors, are down right fantastic, easily the best bunch of friendly, genuinely caring young women we’ve ever assembled. Several hundred people applied to work at Rockbrook this summer, so Sofie, our staff Director, was able to be very picky and select only those applicants that shined. And making the whole staff even better, these new hires joined a large group of veteran counselors (30% new and 70% returning overall). Combine all of this with the fact that these staff members now have (at least) 2 sessions of experience from earlier this summer to draw upon, and it’s simple to explain why this is such an outstanding bunch.
The campers are midway through their first set of activity selections that began on Monday. This means they have now mastered basic skills, are making progress on craft projects, and feeling more confident in their abilities. For example, the archers and marksmen are scoring hits closer to the center of their targets. The climbers are scaling more difficult routes up the Alpine Tower. The knitters are adding new colors to their woven cap projects. The kayakers are now comfortable performing a “wet exit.” There are smoother tennis (and teatherball) serves, bigger splashes from cannonballs off the lake diving board, and louder screams of delight flying by on the zip line. Each step, of course, only intensifies the satisfaction and fun of what we do everyday.
For 75 campers and a dozen staff members, today was a day of big adventure because we went whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. About half these began their trip Monday evening by spending the night at our outpost camp over near the river in Macon County. With their clothes, sleep bags, brushes (hair and tooth), and spays (bug and sunscreen) packed, and in some cases with pillows and stuffed animals tucked safely underarms, the girls enjoyed having dinner together and then sleeping in one of the three platform cabins at the outpost. In the morning, we met our raft guides and prepared for the trip by fitting helmets, PFDs, and paddles, learning about how to stay safe in whitewater, and the basic strokes for paddling our rafts. The trip down the river lasts 2 hours and is the perfect river for a young, beginner because it includes several named rapids but also plenty of calm stretches for splashing, singing, clapping “high-fives” with paddles, and even jumping in for a quick (very quick, given the temperature of the water) swim. Today the weather was ideal too— hot and sunny, to balance that cold water.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like on these rafting trips, but this photo helps. Take a look at the faces of these girls. They are having an absolute ball! They’re screaming, laughing hilariously, and being splashed and bounced around like never before. Part of the fun is just being in the raft together, but when suddenly you hit a rock and someone falls backwards into the raft (or out into the river!) with her feet sticking high in the air, it’s uproarious fun. Like all good outdoor adventure activities, whitewater rafting feels edgy, gets your heart pumping, but is controlled and safe in the end.
Back at camp, one girl turned to me as she was getting off the bus and said, “Thank you for an awesome day. That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had.” Wow! That’s about as good as it gets! Thanks. I had fun too.
With summer drawing to an end and so many kids returning home from summer camp, Talya Minsberg writes in the New York Times about What Parents Don’t Get About Camp. The piece is partly a fond memory of life at camp for both campers, who “find the joy of growing and exploring on their own,” and as a staff members, who are the “warmest, silliest, most fun (and responsible)” people they can be. It’s one author’s recollection of how summer camp is a magical place bubbling with experiences for positive transformation. The article hints at the features of camp life that make it difficult to describe, that make kids’ stories from camp seem so inadequate— the close friendships, the freedom and independence, how hilarious things were —but in the end suggests it’s OK for parents and noncamp friends to not fully understand “camp.” You have to experience summer camp, to really “get” it.
And since camp is “a place of their own” (as Rockbrook’s mission recognizes), it’s perfectly natural, even preferable, for others to mistake what camp really is, to grasp only a faint sense of what it means to the campers and staff members who live it. We have to agree; it’s hard to describe the magic felt from living like we do at Rockbrook (despite our attempts to describe it all summer long), but that’s just part of it, and in the end, a very good thing.
Everyone likes taking pictures, but at a place like Rockbrook where there is something wondrous or beautiful at every turn, it’s exciting to try and capture the experience in photography. The photography activity, or what we call “Photo Phun” around here, gives the girls a chance to explore and take— no make pictures all over camp. Jane, the lead instructor, starts them out by explaining how to use the digital cameras and when to select certain settings given what they’re shooting. She teaches them the basic notion of adjusting shutter speed and aperture relative to the amount of available light, for example, and how changing these settings affects the depth of field and motion effects. With this background, the girls will often head out to explore, looking for “cool photos.” To focus that sometimes, Jane will challenge them with a scavenger hunt where each photo has to have a different main color, or a represent a different letter in the alphabet. She’s taught them about stop motion photography and light painting as well. See why we call it “Photo Phun?”
You probably can also see why having a skilled, energetic and enthusiastic activity instructor is so important to the success of something like this. For Photo Phun to really be fun for the campers, Jane has to be both a skilled technician who really knows her stuff about photography, but also a creative teacher who enjoys working with kids. Rockbrook is full of great activity instructors like this. They instinctively know how to take something maybe a little technical, like archery, tennis, horseback riding, or rock climbing for example, and present it to the campers in a way that’s safe and informative, but also inherently fun. There are a few tricks to this that we present during our staff training week, but we also work hard to hire counselors who “get it” instinctively. Pull together a bunch of people like this, young women who love what they do, creatively and imaginatively, and who sincerely love being with kids, and you’ve got a sense of what makes the Rockbrook staff special.
Beyond the scheduled activities offered each day, it’s often the simplest things that mean the most to a girl when she’s here at Rockbrook. Playing tetherball on the hill at twilight, sitting in the sun on a huge rock by the lake, or racing your flip-flop down the creek— these can be the best memories of camp. Of course, the most important ingredient in everything at Rockbrook is the people, the incredible community of spirited folks who share camp together. They form the core of these memories. Certainly Rockbrook is a beautiful place and the activities are excellent, but it’s your cabin mates, your counselors and all the other support staff (Rick, Alison, Clyde, Elaine, Richie, Katie, Will, the many Directors and so many others) that truly make these little moments that add up to be “camp.” The magic of camp starts with people.
Tonight after dinner we sent word for everyone to dress up and come down to the gym for a surprise evening event. The girls must have been saving up costume elements because we saw amazing wacky wigs, goofy glasses, colorful dresses, boots and hats in any combination (There are some great photos of this in the gallery). When they arrived, they found the gym transformed into a game show, with our friend Bill Grimsley ready to host a trivia question and answer game using his podiums and scoring system. He randomly selected contestants from the audience, pitting girls from the same line against each other. Some of the questions were about Rockbrook, and others about pop music, TV and movies. Occasionally he would announce a “challenge round” where for extra points the contestants performed a task like hula hooping, or for the counselors, eating something “not so appetizing” like canned pig brains in gravy. Ugh! Of course, the audience thought this was hilarious. Prizes, like a giant cookie cake, went to cabin groups, and at times when the contestants were stumped and the audience knew an answer, the whole crowd won a little treat. Silly and oh so good!