The Five Essential Qualities of a Rockbrook Girl

All Smiles in Needlecraft“Rockbrook Girl” is a title that we throw around all the time here at camp. We call campers Rockbrook Girls when they help to clean up messes that they didn’t help to create, are friendly to a new camper, or come bounding in on Opening Day with a grin from ear to ear and a fervent (and usually vocal) wish for their parents just to be gone already, so camp can start. We even have a song (“Hooray for [blank], She’s a Rockbrook Girl”), which ascribes that title to anyone at camp that we want to celebrate.

Friendship Bracelet MakerWhat is a Rockbrook Girl? Well—the lazy answer is that you just sort of know her when you see her. This is the answer that I nearly always lean on, since every time I put on my analytical hat and try to sum up the essence of a true Rockbrook Girl into a single, ironclad list of qualities, I run into this roadblock: there is such a wide array of thoroughly different Rockbrook Girls that there is an exception to nearly every trait I deem necessary.

Are Rockbrook girls talkative? Sure, plenty of them are. But what about the two that I saw yesterday, sitting on the Hill, not saying a word to one another, one sketching, the other reading? They looked incredibly happy to be there, and walked off when the bell rang for Evening Program with huge smiles on their faces. So what if they hadn’t said two words to each other through the whole of Twilight? They had enjoyed that hour with one another just as much as the most talkative girls in camp had.

Balloon ArcheryAre Rockbrook girls outdoorsy? Sometimes they are. There are girls who go out on every paddling, rock climbing, and hiking trip that we offer. They want to learn every camping skill that we can teach them, and would happily eschew the allures of air conditioning for the rest of their lives. But what about the ones who like to stay in their cabins with their friends, making friendship bracelets or playing cards? They are no less Rockbrook Girls than the first sort.

You see the challenge. Yet still, I think I have come up with five qualities that sum up Rockbrook Girls, that still manage to allow for the myriad personalities that fit into that category. Some girls show up on their first day of camp, fully equipped with every one of these qualities, ready to take camp by storm. Some gain a little bit more of each of them each year that they come to camp, as Rockbrook helps to shape them into the adults that they will become.

1. Friendliness
Buddies in FolkloreWhether they are talkative or quiet, shy or outgoing, Rockbrook Girls are always friendly to one another. There’s no room here at camp for the cliques and exclusion that you can find at schools, and Rockbrook Girls tend to get that right away. In fact, it’s one of the qualities of camp that they relish most. Rockbrook girls view every person that they see as a potential friend, and will go out of their way to treat those people with kindness and respect.

2. Laughter
Cracking Up in Hodge PodgeRockbrook girls laugh. They laugh when something is funny, of course, but they also laugh at themselves, when they do something silly or make a mistake. Sometimes they just laugh to fill the silences, to make sure that no one is getting too bored. Most importantly, though, they laugh when things don’t go right. They push through frustration and embarrassment, and find the humor in every situation, knowing that as long as they can laugh at it, no challenge is too difficult to tackle. Just the other day, during swim demos, I saw one of our youngest campers jump into the lake, and immediately ask the life guards to help her out. She climbed out of the lake and over to me with a grin on her face. She shrugged, and said “Well, that didn’t go so well!” I reassured her that the cold water can be a shock the first time you jump in, and that there’s nothing wrong with not quite getting it the first time. She laughed out loud, and said, “I’m not worried! I’ll just go again tomorrow.” And she marched off to join her new friends. That, right there, was a Rockbrook Girl.

3. Daring
gymnasitic leapEvery girl here has at least enough daring to leave the familiarity of home, and come to a place as crazy as this for a few weeks. That is impressive enough already. But, while they’re here, this trait can manifest itself in manifold ways. Maybe they go on every trip that we offer without looking back. Maybe they have to stand at the edge of the rock that starts the zip line for ten minutes before stepping off into thin air. Maybe they audition for the play on day one. Maybe they dread the Evening Program skits every night, but join in resolutely anyway, taking on a bigger and bigger role each time. Regardless of the form of their daring—whether effortless, or a quieter, more determined sort of courage—Rockbrook Girls always possess a bit of it.

4. Helpfulness
Painting With StrawsEvery girl at camp has jobs to do. Whether they have to take out the cabin trash in the morning, clear the tables after a meal, or keep their area in the cabin neat for the sake of their cabin-mates, they are great about remembering their responsibility to help keep camp clean. True Rockbrook Girls, though, tend to go the extra mile. They offer to help a new camper find their way to their activities, they stay behind after craft activities to help clean up the supplies, they walk their friends to the deducky if they have to go in the middle of the night, they lend out their flashlights and costumes and stationery, they sit and listen and offer a shoulder to cry on whenever a friend is upset… there are countless ways that they find to help. This comes, I think, from being very aware that they are a key part of this community. They feel acutely the responsibility that comes along with that, and want to help in any way they can to make our community strong.

5. Confidence to be who they are
SuperstarThis is a hard one. We all feel that urge to change bits of ourselves to fit in and be a part of the cool crowd. Rarely (though it does happen) do girls come into their first year of camp feeling entirely comfortable with who they are, quirks and all. But as they come back, year after year, something begins to change. They find it a little easier to be friendly to new or “uncool” girls. They find it a little easier to laugh when things get tough. They find it a little easier to call on that sense of daring when needed. They find it a little easier to lend a helping hand, even when it might inconvenience them. And, most importantly, after years of being surrounded by friendly, happy, daring, and helpful friends who love and support them in everything they do, Rockbrook girls find it a little easier to show the world their true selves, without apology.

Birds of a Feather— A Mom’s Perspective

Bentley Parker
Rockbrook Camper, Counselor, Camp Mom

The Parker Girls

It had never crossed my mind that new situations involving unfamiliar people or circumstances could be uncomfortable for some, especially friends I knew well. I thought this was a skill acquired by adulthood, one that came with age. I had obviously taken for granted these social skills that I acquired at camp, where I’ve been coming since I was 7, which required me to meet new people and try new things every summer.

A Break on the RangeSynchronized FloatingYoga on Tutu TuesdayJust Hanging AroundHappy CamperI’ve realized I have been mistaken in assuming situations like this were easy for all, as I have often purposely met other moms outside of school, meetings, and sporting events to prevent them from feeling uncomfortable by walking in alone. I’ve recognized that the inexplicable confidence and laughter still comes naturally for me, as I was the only mom who stuck to the dress up plan and showed up to the premier of Hunger Games with pink hair. I’ve come to better understand that the unfamiliarity of people and situations surpasses the comfort zones of many, making the prospect of walking into a room with strangers and making a friend seem impossible.

I’ve now developed an even better appreciation of how these skills are developed as I’ve gotten the privilege to watch your children cultivate friendships and give birth to these character traits here at RBC. I recognize the confidence they develop when they come to camp not knowing anyone and yet leave with lifelong friends. As a mom of 3 girls, these are skills I can’t teach my children. These are skills that I’m grateful they have had the opportunity to gain here at Rockbrook.

I’ve also come to the realization that some of the tightest bonds I’ve formed have been with friends who were “camp girls,” long after our camper days were over. They were instantaneous friendships, because we immediately knew we were alike in so many ways. We had survived screened cabins, appreciated nature, respected various personalities, experienced new things, desired leadership, and possessed camp silliness.

If you are a parent of a camper reading this, let me assure you that you are providing a lasting legacy for your daughter. This opportunity is equipping her with a skill set that may seem invisible at first but that she will utilize throughout her lifetime. There are no words to adequately describe the bond camp creates or the traits acquired here, but the experience speaks for itself. She will continually reap the benefits of her camper experience throughout her life, and it will shape the person she becomes as a grown woman.

Camp birds are of one type of feather, and the bonds of the flock will always keep them together!

“How did we come to meet pal? What caused our paths to blend? ‘Twas fate we came to Rockbrook, and you became my friend.”

The Richness of Our Days

Spirit Fire CampersThere’s a strange time warp that happens at camp, a sense of time that’s accentuated during a long session like the one we are finishing today. It’s peculiar how time passes here because for some reason it seems to both speed by, but also creep along day by day. Oddly you hear both kinds of comments from campers and counselors: “Wait? It’s only Wednesday?” and “I can’t believe it’s already time for Banquet!” My best explanation for this points to the richness of our days, to the incredibly abundant range of activities, surprise events, conversations, and meals we enjoy everyday. Packed into each day are so many things that engage, thrill, and perhaps challenge us. Camp life means making things, being with people, and going places. One moment we might be breathing hard from climbing the Junior Hill, and another we’ll be wringing a few drops of water from our hair thanks to a passing rainstorm. With this much going on— “constant activity” is not an exaggeration —we’re never “wasting time.” We’re filling our days to the brim with nature, relationships with caring people, excellent food, and dose after dose of silly fun.

Life at camp slows the passing of time because it accomplishes all of this. Adding up the sheer volume of new and different experiences, reflecting on it just a bit, paying attention to its details, we simply have a lot of time to recall. At camp, it’s hard to ignore the daily abundance of novel experiences and that slows down our perception of time. Simultaneously, however, these experiences are also really fun. They’re exciting, stimulating and fully engaging. With the collective spirit of camp amplifying every moment, we’re not having fun sporadically; we’re having a blast virtually every minute of our waking day. Because the abundance of our experience at camp is also an abundance of fun, our sense of time speeds up. After all, time really does fly when you’re having fun. The time warp of camp life, its seeming speed and span, springs from this unique combination.

Spirit Fire Friends
During our closing campfire tonight, our “Spirit Fire,” several campers and counselors stood to speak about what camp meant to them this session, recalling fondly the richness of their days at camp. For many, camp felt “too short” but also “the best summer of my life.” New campers described being nervous about camp at first, but quickly realizing that Rockbrook is a welcoming, encouraging, positive place ready to bring out everyone’s best. Returning campers talked about the incredible friendships they’ve formed at camp and how every summer they return, those friendships become more important to them.

Spirit Fire CandleSitting together like this under the white oaks, circled around a blazing orange fire, the deepest meanings of camp come to the surface.  Camp has brought us all closer together, just as it has challenged us to grow a “little in the spirit of Rockbrook.” The Spirit Fire is a beautiful ceremony in this way, celebrating all that we’ve experienced together. After hearing from the campers and counselors, and Sarah’s reflections on the session, everyone lit a small white candle and slowly formed a line around the lake. We stood for a few minutes looking out at the many reflections of candlelight in the water. It was a marvelous scene, and the perfect way to close the Spirit Fire.

Thank you everyone for your enthusiasm and support over the last few weeks. It’s been a phenomenal session, and we’re so proud how everyone helped make that possible. We look forward to welcoming you back the “Heart of a Wooded Mountain” soon!

Full Circle

Rainy Day View

As my 13th session at Rockbrook comes to a close, the image of a circle keeps coming to mind. The circle of life is ever apparent and intimately experienced when much of your time is spent outside. The circle of cause and effect is somehow more immediate here. A Rockbrook MothHellos and goodbyes cycle round and round, and are felt to the core by most who pass through this space. The rain comes down, then it gently lifts back up to the sky, and then falls back down on the mountains once again. We even sing songs about silver and gold friendships, and we sing them in rounds. “A circle is round. It has no end. That’s how long I want to be your friend.” All of these circles are never ending, just as circles should be. I know this because I have seen these particular circles since my first year of camp, when I was eight years old. The depth and intensity of their colors may vary, but they are part of why Rockbrook keeps calling me home.

“Life is an echo. What you send out comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get.” These truths apply wherever you go in life, but I have realized this summer that this circle is closer and more immediate here at camp than anywhere else that I’ve lived. ReunionsI don’t know if that is because we all live closely together in this beautiful microcosm of humanity, but I know that it happens. Speaking to a friend at the beginning of camp, we pondered on what made a specific person so magnetic and universally loved by all. We noticed that this person offered up her spirit wholly and unguarded. In a world that is often cautious and fearful, her openness and undiluted truth was beautiful to those around her. So she was surrounded by unguarded love and truth and beauty. I saw countless examples of this among people of all ages here at camp. Those who gave themselves fully and without reservation were met with like gifts ten fold. Even those with gray clouds and walls around them early on, were affected by all the positivity and unconditional love around them. They began to give off light, and it shone right back on them even more brightly. And it didn’t take long. Maybe life is more like a multifaceted mirror. Maybe that mirror is round, like a disco ball of light and color.

Until Next SummerThe Thursday before last was the first time I had ever been here for a Closing Day that wasn’t my day to leave as well. This took me out of my own feelings, changed my perspective, and brought into clear focus the intensity and beauty of emotion in that day. I had been there on Opening Day and seen campers say hesitant goodbyes to their parents, (and for many,) happy hellos to their camp friends. Now I was seeing them come full circle, with tearful goodbyes to friends and ecstatic hellos to parents. The emotion was palpable. As I looked through my camera lens, I was moved by the utter rawness of the feelings I saw. The joy was just as intense as the heartache, and it was all being felt at the same time.

So as this session comes to a close, I take solace in knowing that the circle keeps going around and we will be in this place again. I hope to hold tightly to the truth that what I experience is simply a reflection of what I am putting out there. I take with me a deeper understanding of how connected we all are. Sarah read us the words of Chief Seattle at our first chapel this session. His words illustrate this interconnectedness far better than I ever could: “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Dolly Robertson Herron
Camp Mom

Summer Flowers

No “App for That” Here

Camp Rafting Kids Jubilant

It’s a common policy for summer camps to ban electronic devices used for entertainment like portable video players, games, Internet devices, and most any kind of flickering screen. And Rockbrook is no exception. While we do allow campers to have personal music players for use during rest hour, we don’t want our girls to be “plugged in” while at camp. For us, taking a break from technology is an important part of camp life. In fact, we believe powering down all the screens, eschewing all those apps, can make a profound impact on the girls at Rockbrook.

You might think that summer camps are only recalling the simpler life of earlier days, that we are akin to Neo-Luddites, rejecting modern technology in the name of tradition. Camps have always represented a return to nature, a trip to the wild-er-ness out and away from civilization, and this meant giving up certain modern conveniences. Given how many things at summer camp are described as a “tradition” —the closing campfire, the songs, even something mundane like the arrangement of different age groups in camp, for example —it is possible that some camps factor out technology, at least initially, because they want to preserve the tradition of “not needing all that.”

Camp Girls CLimbing and Goofy

Fueling that sentiment is the rapid acceleration of technology in our modern lives. As new alluring technologies arrive making life more convenient and efficient, summer camps proudly serve as a refuge from the “digital age.” Most parents already have a hunch that their kids spend too much time consuming electronic media (One study showed an average of more than 50 hours per week!), so camps are happy to provide a break from “all that,” just as they’ve always done. But beyond the benefits of a traditional simple life, what do camp girls really gain from avoiding their electronic gadgets for a few weeks?

I’ve mentioned a couple important benefits before, namely that camp proves how turning off your technology makes life richer and more fun. It provides first hand evidence that engaging all of what camp offers— the real friendships, the physical activity, and the chances to explore and discover the natural world —actually doing things (stimulating and utilizing all our senses), outshines the flat electronic entertainment of even the best smartphone. It’s a lesson we hope can be carried home and applied in the face of boredom.

Kid By the creek making a basket

In addition, though, there is new research suggesting that modern technological shortcuts, digital communication, and electronic entertainment can be detrimental to youth development. In their book, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World (Yale, 2013), Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, argue that being “app-dependent” can adversely affect young people’s developing sense of identity, their ability to become close to other people, and their creative powers.  Drawing on the well-known work of Erik Erickson and his stages of psychosocial development, this book raises concern that technology, while certainly enabling in important ways, can too easily become a crutch, thereby stunting the development of these crucial human skills.  Kids need time to work out who they are in relationship with the world. They need diverse opportunities to meet and interact with other people, to get to know and appreciate them. Young people crave fresh experiences, and thrive when they can solve problems and feel the satisfaction of a creative achievement.

Excitement and Fun of Cold Mountain Water

Gardner and Davis are presenting a cultural critique, issuing a warning that when children have easy and pervasive access to computer and phone apps, their fundamental human development is impaired.

Thankfully, there is camp. There is a place without apps and without technological shortcuts to communication. There is Rockbrook with all is natural beauty, ripe with unexpected opportunities to discover something new and experience it intimately— to really feel it, to get both lungs full of its smell. There is a community like this where the people care for each other, laugh and play together, and are enthusiastically creative.  Rockbrook encourages girls to explore who they really are, to be their true selves, and provides just the right environment to then form really deep friendships. Just look at the photos in this post, and you’ll see what I mean.

Unplugging from technology at camp— There’s no “app for that” here —doesn’t make all this happen, but if we allowed girls access to their screens, we’d undermine our goal to help them grow personally, socially, and imaginatively.  Quite intentionally, and for really good reasons, camp is a haven from all that.

The Bond of Camp Experience

All Good in the Neighborhood

TelephoneWhile reading through the newest American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine, one article in particular caught my attention.  The article, CAMP: The Old Neighborhood for a New Generation by Jolly Corley, suggests that with school schedules more intense than ever before, it may be that kids are more intellectually stimulated than previous generations.  However, today’s youth may be missing out on learning valuable life skills.  Skills such as conflict management, problem solving, leadership and decision making.  Skills which are learned most effectively through free play.  Corley suggests that today’s generation needs unstructured play time more than children of past generations.

look up!The best place to practice these life skills is camp.  While American neighborhoods used to be the perfect setting for free play, this is no longer the case.  The old neighborhood was a place “where kids were free to play from the time they finished chores until they were called inside for dinner.”  An old neighborhood was one where children played free of adults, with kids of all ages, and often made up their own games and rules.  A neighborhood which still very much exists at camp.  This neighborhood is one that allows campers to practice developing soft skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

going herping!Every day at camp, campers are able to play with one another free from the interference of adults.  These interactions enable them to develop interpersonal skills that the typical school environment may not allow them to.  For example, a group of campers may decide that they want to play tennis during their free time.  Without adults telling them what to do, it is necessary for them to decide how to split up.  Will they play doubles or singles?  Who will be on each team?  Once the game gets going, they are in charge of regulating it.  Was that ball in or out?  Allowing campers to work these things out on their own will help them build lifelong skills in decision making and conflict management.

different ages on floatIn addition to these skills, campers are also able to learn leadership skills through play with different age groups.  Free play with younger children provides an opportunity for older children and adolescents to “practice nurturance and leadership.” Coley also explains how playing with older children can help younger ones to “problem solve in ways that are more sophisticated than what they are developmentally capable of if left on their own or playing with children of their same age.”  The soft skills that children gain through free play are necessary for those who are going to see success later in life.

different age girlsNever has the camp experience been as important as it is today.  Gone are the days that children can roam around with the neighborhood kids playing pick up basketball games and hide-and-seek.  Their schedules are rigid, their school work is more demanding than ever, and many parents fear leaving their children without adult supervision.  This is where camp comes in.  Camp creates an environment similar to the old American neighborhood, and it’s a safe one.  Children practice skills such as problem solving, conflict management, and leadership through free play with other children of all ages.  Most importantly, they don’t even realize that they’re doing it.  They’re having the time of their lives, and they’re growing exponentially.

Fondness and Caring

Camp Friends girls cute
At breakfast this morning, which was our last gathering of the session, Sarah stood to deliver a few last minute announcements and reminders. This is typical, but as she looked out at all the girls and their counselors this morning, she was suddenly overcome with emotion, got a little choked up, and had to pause briefly for a breath. During that moment, there wasn’t a peep from any of us, all 275 of us, because we too felt it, a strong sense that we have something very special here. We’ve forged a strong connection with each other, a fondness and caring that feels so good. It was a sweet moment showing that for everyone, not only the campers, but the counselors and directors too, Rockbrook is a wonderful, kind community. It’s a remarkable place, magical in so many ways, where we can share these great feelings of affection.

We’ve had an extraordinary session. So, thank you! Thank you for being a part of the Rockbrook community and for sharing your girls. We will miss them. We’ll all miss each other. And when next summer returns, we’ll all celebrate again.

Independence Through Choice

Although girls naturally foster a sense of self-esteem and independence merely by being away from home at a sleep-away camp, Rockbrook goes out of its way to create the camp structure that best allows for girls’ growth and autonomy. One of the best ways Rockbrook allows for the self-direction and experimentation necessary to create a sense of independence is by giving girls the opportunity to design their own camp experience.

Girls camp knittersOne aspect of Rockbrook that sets us apart from other camps is that rather than sending our campers to pre-assigned activities, we ask them to choose which activities they’d like to take themselves. Twice a week, counselors go from cabin to cabin with clipboards displaying the choices for each of the four activity periods. Each camper gets to pick the four activities she desires, and her counselor fills them out on an activity schedule card.

Girls Camp Bead CraftGirls, especially teenage girls, can often struggle with making decisions and expressing assertiveness. Rather than making the intimidating choice to express an opinion, they might instead opt to feign indecisiveness. This can be attributed to a variety of social pressures girls might feel; they could be worrying about making a decision that might upset others, or that making a choice could reflect poorly on them, making them look “dumb” or “weird.” Since each and every girl is asked to choose her own activities, free from the influences of family and friend groups from home, Rockbrook’s system of activity choice allows girls to enjoy the empowerment that comes from designing their own camp experience in a way that also preserves them from the anxieties created by peer pressure.

Girls horse campAlthough sometimes campers do not at first get to take their “ideal” schedule because an activity has been filled to maximum capacity, we go out of our way to ensure that each girl takes her most desired activity at least once by the end of the session. On Fridays we offer an extra “choice activity” to accommodate for the girls who have not yet had an opportunity to take some of the more popular activities here at camp.

In addition to picking their own regular daily activities, girls can also choose to sign up for special activities such as overnight backpacking trips, day hikes, and kayaking and white water rafting trips to nearby rivers.

One of the benefits of staying for a longer session at camp, such as our 4-week session, is that we have more time to fill with these special trips and activity sessions that girls can pick-and-choose from to create their own unique camp experience. For example, this session we have offered an unprecedented daily “roll clinic” to help aspiring kayakers learn how to “roll” their kayak back into an upright position if it flips over. We have also had special hikes to Quentin Falls, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other nearby areas.

By not only offering a wide variety of exciting activities that girls are unable to do at home, but also allowing girls to choose for themselves which of those activities they would like to try, Rockbrook really does set itself apart as a “place where girls can grow.”

—Haley Hudler

Girls confident campers