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

Daily Acts of Leadership

Leadership is a trait seen in numerous forms every day at camp. From the directors to the campers, everyone has the opportunity to be a leader in some way. Successful leadership characteristics start with the counselors, who role model patience, dedication, kindness, and teamwork. Counselors both live in cabins with campers and teach activities, so they have countless chances every day to demonstrate leadership to their peers and to their campers. In activities, counselors provide girls with opportunities to learn new things as well as facilitate appropriate challenges to help them build on skills they have learned throughout the session. In the cabin, counselors work together with their co-counselor(s) to create a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment for their campers.

girls eating muffins at campAfter witnessing their counselor role models, campers are inspired to take initiative in various forms. Recently, several Junior campers have created clubs (Skit Club, Game Night, and Nature Fairy Club to name a few), and even made their own announcements to the whole dining hall at meals. This sense of ownership and belonging along with the courage to try something new is fundamental to the Rockbrook experience. Campers hone their leadership skills when they take initiative and give their creativity free rein, and camp provides a supportive, encouraging environment to allow this to happen.

For some girls, they might make the leap from being a camper to being a counselor at some point in their Rockbrook career. This transition is called the Leadership Ladder, and it begins with CAs, who are the 15 year old campers. The CAs still take activities like the other campers, but their main responsibility is to plan and put on a big themed dinner and dance party called Banquet at the end of their session. CAs practice teamwork, decision making, and organization as they plan their Banquet, while at the same time still enjoying the fun opportunities for campers.

The second step in the Leadership Ladder is Hi-Ups. These are the 16 year old girls, who are technically still campers, but they have more responsibilities that allow camp to function. For instance, they set and clean up the dining hall for meals, as well as begin to help in activities rather than take them. Yesterday, the Hi-Ups put on a special Twilight event: Wockbrook Water World! They planned, set up, ran, and cleaned up the whole event for the Mini session campers who are leaving on Thursday. Everybody loved the slip n slide, water guns, sno-cones, and water balloon fight! The Hi-Ups impressed us all with their initiative, enthusiasm, and work ethic, exemplifying true Rockbrook girls.

After Hi-Ups come CITs, or Counselors-In-Training. The CITs are no longer campers as they are fully on the staff side of camp life. They live in cabins with 2 co-counselors and their campers, they help in activities, and they wash dishes after every meal. Besides learning how life is like as a counselor, CITs receive extra training with the directors to help ease the transition from camper to counselor. One activity the CITs did early in the session was about determining your natural leadership style, and what this means for working both individually and on a team. This allowed CITs time to reflect on their in- and out-of-camp experiences as leaders, and how they want to grow this session while working at Rockbrook.

Campers, CITs, counselors, and directors alike all have chances to foster their leadership skills every day. Even though there are structured times and places for teamwork, patience, and critical thinking to grow at camp, it is the unexpected, self-led moments where leadership truly flourishes.

Confident and Capable

Girls kayaking camp fun in the rain
Let’s start with an update from the kayakers, particularly the staff and campers who are enjoying a week-long specialty camp devoted to kayaking. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a growing interest in whitewater kayaking among the girls at Rockbrook, so to meet that interest, we now offer two specialty kayaking camp sessions called the “Rockbrook Rapids.” Led by Leland Davis, and our two head kayaking instructors Sarah Arvidson and Stephanie Whiting, these 1-week sessions are essentially small-group kayaking trip camps where the girls can improve their boating skills while enjoying some of the many whitewater rivers in the area. Everyday is a different river trip, with some including overnight camping. Today the girls ran the lower section of the Green River, which is a great place to start out because it provides a series of class II rapids, plenty of moving water to practice eddying and ferrying, and at one point a perfect surfing wave. Despite the light rain that fell most of the day, the girls had a great time on the river. Back at camp for a hot shower and a huge pasta meal, they seemed happy and proud of the day’s accomplishments on the river. If you are an Instagram user, Leland is posting now and then to a specialty account for the Rockbrook Rapids. Follow along! (By the way, here is our main Rockbrook Instagram account.)

(9th grade hiking girlsOur 9th grade girls, who we call “CA campers” or “CAs,” accomplished an important goal today. They selected their banquet theme. Right after breakfast, we loaded up a couple of buses and drove to the Dupont State Forest for a hike, and more importantly, a private place to discuss what the secret surprise theme will be. The girls brainstormed more than 40 different ideas, and after hiking to a beautiful overlook, stopping along the way to narrow down their list, they settled on their theme. They cheered after the final decision, and immediately started offering new ideas about the special food, decorations, music and costumes they would organize for their big party of the session. The girls were so eager to take on the responsibility of planning and implementing this complex project for the whole camp, I can already tell that this is going to be an excellent banquet.

Our 10th grade girls, known at camp as “Hi-Up campers” or just “HUPS,” likewise had a special day— their first “Girls With Ideas” meeting. Getting together with their counselors, this was a discussion session focused on what it means to be a Rockbrook girl and how those character traits can help make our camp community stronger, contribute to the magic of camp for the other, younger campers’ experience, and potentially make the broader, outside-of-camp, world a better place. The Hi-Ups are the oldest true campers at Rockbrook, so we count on their leadership with several camp projects, special events, and important jobs, like clearing dishes from the dining hall, and setting all the tables before each meal. This particular group of HUPS is already showing amazing maturity and enthusiasm for their new roles at camp.

Camp Girl ClimberAfter tenth grade, we offer one last step in leadership training, and it’s for those girls interested in becoming a cabin counselor at Rockbrook: our “Counselors in Training” or “CITs.” These 11th grade girls (We only accept six per session) live in the cabins with the younger campers, and as their name suggests, take on the duties of a counselor managing cabin life. They teach a camp activity for part of the day, and also take on the task of running the kitchen dish washing machine after every meal. You can imagine, depending on the meal, this can be a monumental endeavor easily taking a couple of hours. So these girls are hard workers! It’s a paid position designed to be ideal training for returning as a full counselor.

For our 9th, 10th and 11th graders, this coaching and progression of camp responsibilities, adds up to concrete leadership training. Working together as a cooperative group, focusing on important tasks, accepting responsibilities with real consequences for the broader camp community, these teenage girls are growing more confident and capable while developing real-life leadership skills.  …Another example of how “camp is a place for girls to grow.”

With good sunny weather most of the day, and only a slight late afternoon shower, this has been an excellent first day of activities. The girls have scattered across the camp excited to try everything— adventure, crafts, sports, and horseback riding. It’s been a great start to what already feels like a fantastic session!