Open the Gate!

Rockbrook Camp Buddies

Open the gate! It’s time for camp to begin! Yes, as we welcomed our first session campers this morning, we officially launched Rockbrook’s 2017 summer season. The cabin counselors had just finished their week-long orientation and training, and were eager to finally meet their campers. The maintenance crew had just finished up a few improvement projects (more about that later), along with the regular grass cutting and sweeping (so many porches!). The kitchen staff had fired every oven, stocked the pantry and walk-in cooler, and was set to reveal its daily scrumptious surprises. The nurses had stocked the first aid kits (more than 30 of those!), prepped the infirmary ward, and reviewed the health histories of everyone attending this session. Keeping an eye on all of it, the directors checked off a few things on “their list” and answered questions as everyone made their last-minute preparations. We were ready.

With all this preparation, it’s easy to understand how we are all so excited for opening day. You probably got a good sense of that when you drove in this morning and saw the smiling faces, cheering counselors, and bubbling, buzzing activity on the hill. As campers arrived and raced from their cars, the atmosphere built all morning. Once again, about 80% of the campers this session are returning girls who attended Rockbrook in the past, so these families recognized the quick check-in procedure and happily spread throughout the camp helping get the cabins settled. By 10:30am we already had 100 campers in place, and already making a friendship bracelet, taking a hike to Rockbrook Falls, and pairing up with old and new friends to explore the camp a bit. The whole morning seemed relaxed and natural as the camp came alive with all these excited people.

Camp Cabin Mates Arrive

Rick our long-time kitchen manager and head chef wowed us all with his homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch. A few girls chose the gluten-free, vegan version he also made, but everyone seemed more than pleased with their warm, heaping slices of this comfort food… even more so when the temperature dropped and it began to rain while we were eating. That was perfect timing for a little rain to arrived because we could finish our meal and the girls could return to their cabins for their first cabin-meeting while the rain passed. That’s the typical rain event around here; a storm moves through and fairly soon afterwards passes by and we’re back to brighter weather. By the way, if you are ever curious about the weather at camp, we have a fun new way for you to check it. We installed a weather station in the heart of camp that measures temperature, humidity, rain and wind and then reports that real-time data to several online weather sites, the most popular being Weather Underground. Go to this link for Rockbrook Camp Weather information and forecasts on the web. Along with current conditions, there are historical graphs and radar maps there too. If you have an iPad, there is an app that shows all of this data with a slick graphical interface (You’ll need our station ID: KNCBREVA27).

With the rain cleared, the rest of the afternoon and evening unfolded smoothly. Cabin groups toured the camp, enjoyed get-to-know-you games, and learned, or re-learned, several camp songs. An Austrian Went Yodeling! Meanwhile, whole age groups arrived at the lake for their aquatics orientation. There the lifeguards introduced our tag system and explained how our “swim demonstration” works. This year, all of the campers receive color-coded “swim necklaces” that correspond to one of three swimming abilities: Blue, which indicates a swimmer with no restrictions, Green, which requires a life jacket if swimming in the deeper section of the lake, and yellow for those girls uncomfortable in the water and who should stay in the shallow area of the lake with a life jacket on. Our swimming staff is quick to encourage girls to work on their swimming skills and perhaps advance levels, but for everyone the lake is a refreshing, fun experience.

The other important task for the day, again focused on orienting the campers to the camp, our activities, and to each other (!), was to learn about this summer’s activity offerings and instructors. The campers will be selecting their activities this evening, so they must first learn about the options. This brought us all to the gym where the activity instructors presented skits and songs describing the offerings. We all sat in our Crazy Creek chairs on the floor and laughed and clapped for the staff performances.

Camp is ready; the staff is excited and ready, and now the campers are more than ready for the action to begin. Let’s get to it!

Ready for Swimming

Exciting for Everyone

Girls Summer Camp Campers
Girl swimming with goggles

Arriving at camp, as our 2nd July mini session campers did today, is exciting for everyone. For the full session girls already here and half way through their long session, the arrival of new friends, many of whom we already know, is invigorating because it means camp will again kick up a notch with new conversations and new people to play with. For the girls arriving, the anticipation of camp starting —all that pent up enthusiasm and energy— can finally be released. For everyone, today was a chance to reunite with old camp friends… and we saw plenty of full-on hugs to prove that! …or to meet new people that surely will become friends before long. The whole morning was a festival of smiles as the arriving mini session campers smoothly checked in, met their counselors and got settled in the cabins.

Right away, the arriving girls got busy with hikes to Rockbrook Falls, which is one of the larger waterfalls on the camp property. They gathered on the tennis courts to hit a few balls and play a “speed game.”  Some, as another option, chose to stop by the gym to play gaga ball or basketball, while others made their first lanyard or friendship bracelet on the hillside lodge porch. I could tell the girls appreciated getting started with a camp activity in the first few minutes they arrived.

Rick’s homemade pizza, along with more salad than we could eat, made our first meal delicious and familiar at the same time. Tours of camp during rest hour, and trips to the lake for swimming demonstrations, plus cabin meetings (a chance to get to know each other, rearrange trunks and other personal items, and learn important camp rules) came next. It being a hot sunny afternoon, roaming around the camp and finally stopping at the lake for a quick swim felt really good.

Apple on a String Game
Inflatable water Slide girl
Messy Twister Game

What better way to open the camp session, though, than with an afternoon carnival? When the bell rang about 3pm, Chase our program director, with the help of almost 20 other staff members, pulled out all the stops for this amazing all-camp event on the grassy hill in the center of camp. Like all great parties, this event combined fun dance music, several options for snacks, group games, challenge games, and in this case, about 200 excited girls to enjoy everything with.

There were two huge inflatables to try: a 35-foot water slide called the “Wild Rapid,” and an obstacle course that allowed two girls at a time to climb, crawl and scramble through. There was a cake walk organized for girls to earn small cupcakes. One area had girls playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and choosing rubber ducks from a pond, while another allowed girls to “fish” (using a stick with a string and magnet attached) for prizes. Two Hi-Ups enjoyed running a pie throwing station, two more, a beanbag “dunk booth,” and two others a challenge that involved eating an apple or doughnut hung by a string.  We had face painting, yard checkers, a ring toss game, a giant bubble station, and a game of “Messy Twister” (messy from shaving cream and a little body paint) also going on. Pumping across the hill was music by DJ Dawg, who was also teaching dance moves to groups of girls. Snow cones and popcorn kept us snacking too. Plus we had fun busting open several piñatas and scrambling for the pieces of candy that came spilling out.

With so many options available, you could stand on the hill and see happy groups of girls in all directions, each smiling and laughing as they got a little wet, maybe a little messy, and had a blast zipping from area to area. One small Junior camper ran by me, snow cone in hand, shouting, “This is the best day ever!”

Later in the afternoon, some girls chose to take a dip in the lake, while others took a shower before dinner, capping off a fantastic opening day. We’ll start right in with camp activities in the mornings, and soon the first whitewater rafting trip will be going out.

We’ve only just gotten started, and there’s so much to look forward to!

Teen Girls Summer Camp

Eager Energy

camp friends at summer camp

When you gather together this many friends, all packed and ready for an extended “sleepover,” it’s exciting… like this morning when we welcomed our third session campers to Rockbrook, and we were jumping up and down, cheering, and screaming with delight as each camp friend arrived. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect— sunny skies and the cool morning temperatures we’re accustomed to here in the mountains —but what made the morning fun, was how eager everyone was to see each other and get camp started. That eager energy, which I suspect is fueled by months of anticipation, sped everyone through the “check in” process (meeting office folks, browsing the latest RBC gear, and consulting with the medical team) and added muscle to delivering the trunks to the cabins. As girls arrived throughout the morning, there were Welsh ponies to meet (“Cool Beans” and “Cloud Nine”), short hikes to the biggest waterfall on the camp property (“Rockbrook Falls”), Gaga Ball and Tetherball to play, and friendship bracelets to make. For girls starting their very first session at Rockbrook, and for those returning to the place they already know, this was a great day.

Swim test girl jumps in lake

It was easy to carry this energy forward into lunch as we enjoyed another of Rick’s yummy “comfort food” meals— his homemade macaroni and cheese, green beans, and fresh fruit salad, plus a gluten-free pasta dish, and the regular super-stocked salad bars, and peanut butter and jelly station. While eating, the girls had no trouble launching into favorite camp songs, their hands clapping and waving to “An Austrian Went Yodeling,” for example. There’s no shyness here, as everyone was swept into the exuberance. It’s always remarkable how quickly the good feeling of camp springs up.

After a shortened rest hour for cabin meetings, the different age groups came down to the lake for a quick dip to demonstrate each person’s swimming ability. For clear safety reasons and as part of our American Camp Association accreditation, we want to make sure everyone is comfortable in the water before jumping off the diving board into the deep end, zipping down the water slide, or going out of camp for a whitewater rafting or kayaking trip. All of the lifeguards and all of the directors are involved in these “swim demos,” some in the water, some handing out the swim tags and swim bracelets, while others answering campers’ questions, or just helping them through the process. The mountain stream that feeds our lake is notoriously “invigorating” (or “feezing,” depending on your point of view), so it can take a little coaxing and encouragement to build up each swimmer’s nerve before jumping in off the dock. Today was no different; the girls screaming just before they hit the water, but also having a ball with all their cabin mates ready to take their turn.

For years now at Rockbrook, we ask our campers to select their own activity schedule twice each week, having multiple chances to try different things while they’re here. We’ve found that giving the girls themselves (rather than their parents beforehand) this responsibility, this independence, helps bolster their confidence. It helps them realize they can make a good informed decision themselves and enjoy the outcome.

camp assembled girls smiling

Late this afternoon, after a quick assembly on the hill with songs, introductions and skits, we organized a fun camp tour for the girls to orient them to the different activity areas. The tour brought them everywhere in camp, stopping along the way to meet the instructors, see demonstrations, hear songs and enjoy skits about what each activity offers. They met the climbing staff at the Alpine Tower, the kayaking instructors at the lake, and the ceramics counselors in the upper studio. They tromped out into the woods to visit the Nature Nook, down the path the the riflery range, and back up to Hiker’s Rock to meet the WHOA (“Wilderness, Hiking, Outdoor Adventure”) leaders. The whole event was a great way to learn both where everything happens at camp but what each activity has planned for the session. Some of those weaving projects look pretty cool! Now understanding all of this, the girls were ready to choose their first set of activities tonight before bed. In the morning, we’ll launch right into everything. We’re set!

Today was the day when we reacquainted ourselves with camp, or for some, when we first began to know “the Heart of a Wooded Mountain.” I can tell this will be a great session. We’re going to laugh, play and sing (a lot!), share meals, reconnect with nature, and get to know each other really well. Stay tuned; we’re excited!

good camp girl friends

Heartfelt Euphoria

Counselor and Camper happy together
Girls happy at summer camp

Lately, it’s been tour season at Rockbrook, with families, often 2 or 3 at a time, visiting to learn more about camp. Over the last week, I’d say we’ve had more days than not with tours scheduled. This is great because we are always pleased to show off a little of what makes Rockbrook special, and to hear what prospective families find remarkable. For example, tour groups are often surprised that “everyone is so friendly around here.” It’s true, walking around camp creates a chorus of greetings, waves and smiling faces, no matter what time of day. Also though, a parent today commented that everyone at Rockbrook seems so “genuinely happy” and this got me thinking again about why this is the case. Everyone knows that camp is a happy, fun-filled place where girls can spend their days enjoying activities, being with friends, and playing outside in a beautiful setting. But I don’t think happiness at camp can be traced simply to these kinds of outward characteristics, to the activities, the camp facility, the quality of the food, or even the experience of the directors, though certainly all of these are important ingredients. Also, the kind of happiness we’re talking about here, the kind that brings out the best in kids, can be elusive elsewhere. Outside the haven of Rockbrook, even when every material need is met (and sometimes luxuriously met), the pure joy we find at camp can be missing. And that’s what stands out; there’s a heartfelt delight (even euphoria!) at camp very different from the mere pleasures and comforts of ordinary life.

Waterfall Camp Kids

So what’s the secret?  What is it that happens at camp that might be implemented or encouraged at home and school to make our kids more “genuinely happy?”  While not the whole story, I think Rockbrook succeeds in this way because it is foremost a community of caring people who appreciate and respect one another. The girls here know that they belong. They know that wherever they go in camp— to their cabin, to an activity area, to a picnic or an assembly on the hill —and no matter who is there joining them (an old friend or a new face, camper or staff member), they will be enthusiastically welcomed, sincerely encouraged, and fully supported. The deep happiness felt at camp blossoms from the positive relationships formed among everyone who is a member of our community. Free from competition and criticism, the way we interact here is uplifting and in important ways liberating. We talk about the power of community a lot, and this is yet another of its rewards.

Rock Climbing camp kid

Much like you and me, children need to feel liked. They need to feel that they are appreciated and that they are essentially good. This makes them keenly aware of how others, other children (their peers) and adults (parents, teachers, and camp counselors, for example) respond to them. It’s when these responses are affirmative and approving, as opposed to grumpy, demeaning or even just spiritless, that the magic happens. Put most simply, a child will begin to find genuine happiness when she feels those around her are likewise genuinely happy to see her, to be with her, and to love who she really is. Perhaps surprisingly, this kind of happiness derives not from what we do or what we have, but from who we’re with. If they are caring and kind, “sweet” and reassuring, enthusiastic and encouraging, we will find happiness. This kind of collective spirit, so beautifully embodied by Rockbrook, is a powerful force.

And it’s something that builds upon itself in a community.  Beginning with our staff and then with our campers, caring inspires care, kindness calls forth further kindness, and happiness leads to the happiness of others. We can already see that the girls this session are helping each other in this way. As they grow closer, support and encourage each other, as they become more comfortable with each other, and as they feel genuinely appreciated, the fun of camp intensifies. It’s no wonder that the girls love it here.

How do you show you’re happy when your kids are around?

Cooperation and Imagination

girls dancing together at summer camp

Juniors dance! The dance activity, which meets in the Lakeview Lodge, is popular for every age group at camp. Partly this is because Lindsey has come up with different, age-appropriate, dances for the Juniors, Middlers and Seniors, but also because the girls are really learning some cool moves. One wall of the Lodge is lined with mirrors making it easy to watch as Lindsey demonstrates a certain dance sequence, and for the group to watch themselves as they try it as well. As they master each dance move and string them together, they’ve got a great show. In fact, during the intermission of the camp play performance, each age group will perform their dance for the rest of the camp.

Today was another day that included several tours of camp, families who visited Rockbrook to tour it so they could see the camp and meet some of the people here— the directors, the counselors and the campers. It’s always a delight for us to show folks around Rockbrook. Families are certainly impressed by the camp’s buildings (the stone lodges for example) and grounds, and they are excited to learn about the wide variety of activities we offer, but it’s particularly nice when they pick up on the feeling of life at Rockbrook. My favorite comment today was, “Everyone seems so happy and friendly.” It’s true; as you walk around camp, you can’t get far without someone greeting you and saying hello. It’s just easy to make friends here, so that makes Rockbrook stand out as being friendly too.

The equestrian staff organized a fun event for the campers that combined, like a lot of things around here, music, dancing, dressing up and a heap of imagination. It also, however, included some horses because it was a pop music “air band” and “lip sync” competition based on different horses playing the parts of pop stars like Katy Perry, Lady GaGa and Taylor Swift. The girls dressed the horses with paint, ribbons, beads, braided tails, glitter and even lipstick, and then came up with a dance for each. The campers then were the backup singers for each artist (horse!) as they performed for the “judges” (Audrey and Sarah). It was very fun for the girls and very cute to see.

Campers decorate a horse

After dinner tonight, we played a camp-wide game of “Clue.” Like the board game, there was a mystery to solve that involved the players, in this case all the cabin groups, moving from room to room collecting clues. For us, the cabin groups tromped all over the camp looking for clues. They went to the tennis courts, the gym, the store, the different lodges, and so forth. At each place a character from the game (a counselor dressed as Mrs. White, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, etc.) would first require the cabin group to accomplish a task like inventing an RBC cheer, or everyone telling a joke, or untangling a human knot. After successfully completing the challenge task, they were given the clue that would send them on to the next location. Ultimately, after performing all the tasks and solving all the clues/riddles, the groups were led back to the dining hall for prizes and treats. Wow, what a game! It required great cabin group cooperation and imagination, and got the whole camp moving. Big fun on a Saturday night.