Building Community: Challenges and Relationships

Now that we are into the second week of 3rd session, the CITs and Hi-Ups have had some time to get used to their new roles at camp. As part of the Leadership Ladder, these girls are transitioning from campers to counselors. Part of this transition is extra training throughout the session. This training comes in the form of hands-on experience helping counselors in activities, setting for and cleaning up meals, and spending time with campers. In addition, they participate in training periods led by our Directors and Leadership team on topics such as cabin logistics, learning Rockbrook history, and and behavior management.

Recently, I got the chance to talk with both Hi-Ups and CITs about the activity philosophy at Rockbrook. While walking around camp observing the various activities, we discussed why we do activity sign ups and activities in our particular way. Hi-Ups and CITs all had thoughtful answers to any question posed to them. They took the time to reflect on their own experience as campers, and then start to think about activities at Rockbrook from a counselor perspective. Their maturity, insight, and understanding of our philosophy was impressive!

First, we discussed the concept of “Challenge by Choice.” During the sign up process, campers can challenge themselves or be encouraged by their counselors to try a new activity. Sometimes this is a nerve-wracking moment for campers, who may think: “none of my cabin mates signed up for dance,” “I’ve never been a good swimmer,” or “what if I’m not good at embroidery?” We hope that through these moments campers can learn to be independent and be willing to choose their own adventures. During activities, the challenge is more obvious in some than in others. Increasing your accuracy in archery, reaching the top of the alpine tower, or perfecting your serve in tennis are clear goals campers can strive towards. The craft activities can also be challenging, however, especially if you’ve never thrown on a pottery wheel or used a large floor loom before. In these activities the challenge is more subtle, and can be seen more through the process rather than the finished piece. The counselors facilitate the challenges in appropriate ways so that each camper has her own experience. Seeing other campers trying new things and the constant environment of encouragement and support allows girls to branch out of their comfort zones.

Second, we discussed the relationships that are able to flourish at camp. Taking activities is just one of the ways that the social and emotional needs of campers are supported at camp. The Hi-Ups and CITs all commented on the benefits of signing up alone for activities in addition to signing up with a group of your cabin mates. On one hand, campers get to make new friends amongst their age group. On the other, they get to become closer with the other girls in their cabin. One Hi-Up mentioned how she would be too nervous to sign up for tennis by herself, but if she signed up with a friend, she would be more willing to take that risk and try something new. Either way, campers get to make new friends through their shared triumphs, failures, and laughter in activities. Plus, they are able to meet counselors from other lines, who may inspire them to sign up for an activity they otherwise wouldn’t take.

Through activities, campers and counselors of different age groups get to interact in a low-pressure, high-encouragement environment. Pottery, yoga, jewelry making, play rehearsal, horseback riding—these are just the channel through which our community is created. This safe, supportive space for genuine relationship-building is what makes camp unique, and is why campers come back year after year to see the friends and counselors who have impacted them along the way.


—Jenna Lilly

Caring Not Coddling


You may have heard the term “snowplow parent” by now, for example in the wake of the recent college admissions scandal that revealed certain parents were essentially bribing colleges and universities to admit their children. The term refers to well-meaning moms and dads taking too far their desire to help and guide their kids, and, like a snow plow, clearing away obstacles that might impede their path to success. This impulse to protect kids from struggle, to shield them from failure, to rescue them from anything frustrating or uncomfortable is apparently increasingly common, especially among more affluent parents who have the means to accomplish these goals. After all, parents “want the best” for their kids. We want to “give them every advantage” we can. Since the moment they were born, we parents have felt it’s our duty to assist and guide our children.

In their 2018 book, “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt address what they describe as an increasingly prevalent “culture of safetyism” that leads to “fearful parenting” and stymied educational settings. While mostly concerned with events on college campuses, the book traces problems back to parenting and assumptions we parents hold regarding the experience of hardship, the infallibility of personal feelings, and the belief that “life is a battle between good people and evil people,” between us and them. Lukianoff and Haidt suggest these ideas lead to our coddling of kids, and yes to us becoming snowplows eagerly removing all forms of adversity for them.

The danger is that this form of safety-driven parenting, especially when established by these three ideas, ultimately hampers our kids’ development. Solving every problem for them (in some cases far into adulthood), swooping in to the rescue, “infantilizes them, emotionalizes them, and tribalizes them,” as Andrew Sullivan put it.  It robs them of opportunities to learn from experience, creating fragile, nervous, helpless young people who never grow up to be strong and independent.

I bring all of this up not to sling parent-shaming mud around, but rather to bring our attention to the dangers of being too focused on making our kids’ lives perfectly comfortable, safe, convenient, and entertaining.  This may sound strange coming from a summer camp director since we regularly work to create exactly this kind of experience for kids. We make sure camp is super fun. At the same time though, life at camp is so different from everything at home— different food, activities, relationships, and the general outdoor environment —it inevitably includes regular moments of challenge, struggle and adversity. And there are bound to be disagreements, even hurt feelings, in this kind of close-knit community.  Like life in the outside world, for both children and adults, we occasionally experience setbacks, at times feel frustrated, and perhaps wish things were different than they are.

whitewater rafting boat cheering

Most importantly though, there are no parents at camp, nobody to plow the road, to coddle, or smooth all the bumps from the path. Instead we have a supportive community of people that encourages girls to try things on their own, that allows a measured degree of freedom to explore, and that carefully guides us without fear of failure. Camp girls learn that they can handle these moments. They don’t have to wait for help. They don’t need someone to “pave the jungle.” On their own and away from mom and dad, camp girls cultivate a greater ability to tolerate discomfort. Without worrying, they grow more confident, build a sense of grit, and a habit of resilience.

In this way, I think life at camp is both incredibly fun and powerfully educational. Camp girls have daily experiences that prove they are competent and capable. They learn that they can address moments of hardship, confidently move beyond what’s comfortable, and make strides despite challenges.  Sending your daughter to camp is the opposite of coddling.  It’s trusting that she’ll be able, with perseverance and the support of the caring camp community, to meet the occasional challenge, tolerate moments of discomfort, and grow in the process.  No plow necessary!

cute girls dressed as animals

Deeply Satisfying

welcome to rockbrook

This was an exciting Sunday morning because it marked the beginning of our second July mini session. It meant the arrival of about 90 campers eager to start their camp experience. The staff woke early to be ready, so when the cars began driving up the gravel driveway we had an absolute mob of enthusiastic counselors cheering and greeting each car. It was a quick check-in process —office, riding interview, nurse check, swag store, and hair exam— and by 10:30am, we had most of the new session girls settled in their cabins. For several, there was time to visit Rockbrook Falls, one of the waterfalls on the camp property. It’s only about half a mile from the center of camp, and the trail leading there is pleasantly flat (mostly!) and a beautiful, meandering walk through the forest. Visiting this waterfall is a perfect first activity after arriving at camp. It gives girls a chance to soak in the environment a bit, shake out a few jitters, and get to know the other people hiking with them. It’s also an magnificent destination.

Around noon, the entire camp assembled under the walnut tree on the hill for a program of introductions, songs, awards, and skits. We sang the line songs, awarded cabin groups with the excellent inspection scores, and recognized girls with extraordinary camp spirit. Casey and Audrey performed a short skit about going to sleep in a camp cabin and the importance of staying quiet a night. Lunch was again deeply satisfying: tray after tray of Rick’s homemade mac-n-cheese, salad and fresh fruit. With no less than 4 types of cheese, and baked to that perfect gooey center and crunchy top layer, it’s always a huge hit.

mad scientist campers

Our all-camp afternoon event turned to science for its inspiration: a “Mad Science” Fair of experiments, games, and challenges. Counselors and Hi-Ups led the different activity stations. There was a “Green Team Quiz” game, a challenge to make a parachute, a chance to concoct sticky “Oobleck,” and a return of the “watermelon explosion” rubber band challenge. One of the more popular options was the Buoyancy test. The girls had to build a boat, something that floats, using only aluminum foil. Then they tested each person’s buoyant craft by adding fishing weights until it sank. The winner was able to hold 26 weights! With snacks and music, and plenty of lab coats, goggles and mustaches, the girls zipped between activity stations having fun and learning a little science along the way.

Before dinner there was time for everyone to visit the lake for a swim if they desired. There are two of these “free swim” periods most days: one before lunch and the other before dinner. After being active around camp, zipping, riding, climbing, hiking, or shooting for example, the cool water of the lake is also a deeply satisfying experience. Swim, float, jump off the diving board, or shoot down the water slide— there’s a way to set your own pace at the lake.

This is going to be an excellent week of camp.  Stay tuned!

swimming girls camp

Camp Days for Adults

whitewater rafting adventure

There’s a comment I hear fairly often, I’d say several times a year— “I wish Rockbrook had a summer camp for adults.” Sometimes moms, and more rarely dads, look fondly on the camp experience their daughters are having, and can imagine themselves enjoying it too. It’s remarkable that this adult desire to experience camp can arise simply by witnessing camp life from afar. The photo gallery, occasional highlights videos, our social media posts, and this blog all paint an attractive picture, one that proves camp is great for the girls themselves, but also somehow is evocative for adults too. So how about it mom and dad? Do you want to go to camp?

On one level, I suspect most adults would say no.  No thanks!  Living at camp is too difficult and requires too many compromises we grown ups have come to happily avoid. Sleeping in a room with nine or more people, having the weather as a constant personal companion, relinquishing all technology (no smart phones, television, or news updates!), accepting limited food options, and being physically active most of the day, all sound like “roughing it,” and would most likely be unpleasant for the average adult. In these ways and others, camp is fun for kids, but most adults won’t get a kick out of bug juice, so to speak.

camp girl pulling archery bow

Perhaps the activities are what make some adults yearn for camp. They too want to shoot an arrow and a real gun, climb the high ropes course tower and a real rock, swim in the chilly lake and fly high in the trees on the zipline course. Many of the activities at Rockbrook look intrinsically rewarding— throwing a pot on the potter’s wheel, finding a weaving rhythm on one of the vintage floor looms, tying and dying a t-shirt, for example. What a nice change it would be from our mundane 9-5, to raft the Nantahala River, backpack and camp in the Pisgah Forest, or simply enjoy the mountain view high up on Castle Rock. For some adults, camp looks enjoyable because they could try all these activities that are ordinarily difficult to experience otherwise.

That seems too simple though, too much like an amusing holiday. Rockbrook parents know that camp isn’t just entertainment. In fact, some of what we do here isn’t fun at all, and yet the girls will tell you they love camp despite the chores, the bugs, and the challenges of being away from the comforts of home. As we’ve said before, campers embrace the difficult aspects of camp life because they are strengthened by the positive community culture of Rockbrook. Being included in a community of kind, caring and generous people helps ignite confidence and nurture resilience in everyone. The scary stuff just gets easier when you are so constantly and genuinely supported for who you really are.

casual camp girls

Again, I believe it’s the special community here that explains why the girls at Rockbrook tend to feel so happy and relaxed throughout the day, breezily chatting and comfortably enjoying each other’s company. That’s why they make their best friends at camp. When you start with a collective spirit of positivity, and include regular moments of silliness and celebration, almost every day becomes a chance to laugh together, sing together, and grow closer no matter what the activities. There’s a certain presence that springs from all of this throughout the day.  Life at camp feels somehow more real and more meaningful, rich with opportunities. At Rockbrook, we spend our days in ways that are simply very, very good.

In some ways then, we adults long for camp days because we recognize their inherent good.  As the routine working world demands we maximize productivity and efficiency, camp represents a place where we can put our relationships with people first, a cultural haven defined by values that foster wonderful details and beautiful surprises. Just as it is for our children, we’d like to experience these same sorts of camp days.  After all, we know there’s a life well-lived to be found among camp days. A camp like this… for adults… that would be nice.

riding down sliding rock