Friends True and Faithful

What is it about Rockbrook that makes it so special?  That’s a pretty loaded question- certainly one that has no right or wrong answer.  Some of us may say that it’s the beautiful mountain scenery, others may agree it’s the fabulous counselors, and many may decide that muffin break separates Rockbrook from the rest.  However, we think that the friendships made at Rockbrook are a good place to start when discussing what makes camp so wonderful.  Though we may only spend a few weeks each year with our camp pals, none of us would hesitate to call them some of our best friends.  Sarah and Evie, two Rockbrook girls who met last summer, are a perfect example of ‘true friendship born to last’.

Just last month, Sarah flew from Florida to Maryland to visit Evie and to celebrate her birthday with her.  According to her mom, who wrote to tell us about the trip, Sarah’s winter break was “full of firsts that wouldn’t have happened if she had not attended camp this past summer.”  Sarah and Evie spent a week together and had lots of fun along the way.  The girls saw Les Miserables, played in the snow, went skiing, and counted down to 2013.  What a fun trip!  Check out some pictures of Sarah and Evie during their trip below, and be sure to let us know about any adventures you have with camp friends during the year- you might just make the blog!

Evie and Sarah reunite at the airport

Evie and Sarah hit the slopes!!!

They don’t look Les Miserables to us!

The Embrace of Camp

Summer camp trunks arrivingOpening the main session of camp, like we did today, is a great event at Rockbrook, one bringing together enthusiastic staff members dressed in their camp uniforms, smiling and encouraging parents, and hundreds of super excited campers. The collective energy of all these people, most of whom have been waiting for this moment since last summer, is almost explosive. Like wild pogo sticks, girls were jumping up and down trying to hurry up their moms. They were squealing with happiness seeing each friend, whether a counselor or a camper. Reuniting with camp, rejoining the great community of people here, is an embrace that feels really good. While most of the campers arriving today and the staff greeting them already have Rockbrook roots, it didn’t take long for the new girls to sense how warm and friendly this place is. Cabin mates were quickly swapping stories, heading off to explore the camp together, to play a little tetherball, or to make a simple friendship bracelet while trunks were moved and other campers arrived throughout the morning.

As the last few parents said goodbye and headed down the hill, the first event was an assembly on the central hill of camp beneath the big walnut tree. In the bright sunshine up there, and with the occasional light breeze, the view of the mountains (and Cedar Rock off in the distance) was gorgeous. Sarah led the assembly, introducing the head counselors and special staff members. The Hi-Ups, our 16-year-old campers, stood up and taught everyone a couple of songs from the RBC songbook, including the 3 different “Line Songs” (each age group’s rallying chant/song). Karin and Courtney, our camp photographers, then snapped a quick photo of everyone according to the state (or country!) where they live. It looked to me that NC had the most, with GA and FL close behind, but there was definitely a wide range. You can see them all in today’s photo gallery.

Remember, you access the daily photos by logging into your parent account established when you registered for camp. The system allows you to “star” your favorites, email photos to friends (at no charge), and even post them to your Facebook wall. Easy sharing! You can also send “guest accounts” to friends and family members, allowing them access. There’s a way to purchase prints and hi-res downloads too. We post a lot of photos, some coming in late at night, so be sure to check back often.

kids playing summer camp gym gamesAfter lunch, which was a great example of Rick’s wholefoods approach- his homemade macaroni and cheese, fresh fruit salad, local tomatoes, peas (and regular salad bar and PB&J station), we began a fun rotation where cabin groups took tours of the camp, visiting all the different activity areas and buildings. Later today when the girls sign up for their first set of in-camp activities, it will help them to know where to find Curosty, Goodwill, the Hillside Lodge, the Alpine Tower, Hiker’s Rock, and the Riflery range, for example. Another stop on the rotation was our gym, where Charlotte and Frampton charged everyone up with several “get-to-know-you” group games. They ran around playing “Birdie on a Perch,” raced together during “I’m a Rockbrook Girl and You’re a Rockbrook Girl if…,” laughed their way through “Chicken in the Hen House,” and played a little “Knockout” basketball. Breaking the ice a little with these games was just right to get the afternoon going.

Girls at camp waiting for swimmingThe third stop in our rotation was the lake where everyone was treated to a quick dip to demonstrate their swimming ability, and afterward receive a personal swim tag and green swim bracelet. The entire lifeguard team, including Sofie and Sarah, help run all the girls through this process of jumping in the lake, swimming out 50 feet or so, back another 50 feet, and treading water for 60 seconds. For some girls, the “refreshing” temperature of our mountain stream-fed lake makes this more difficult (or at least a good reason to swim quickly!), but the majority of the girls do well, qualifying them to swim in the deep section of the lake and to ride the water slide. For girls who struggle, the lifeguards will offer to help them improve, and when ready, retest them, but in the meantime require them to wear a lifejacket in the shallow end of the lake. There are two free swim periods scheduled each day, so if a girl wants to work on her swimming skills, there are many opportunities to work with the lifeguards.

After dinner tonight the girls will have cabin meetings, getting to know each other further, and then making their first selection of activities. They’ll choose four different ones (2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon) that they’ll keep for 3 days before selecting a new set on Wednesday evening. The excitement level all day has been humming at about 100%, and now ready to launch, I suspect it will be difficult for everyone to sleep soundly tonight. Like most days at Rockbrook, there’s just too much to look forward to.

Girl receiving swim tag at summer camp

Back to School

Camp Lake Swimming

This time of year, as we head back to school and the memories of our time at camp can seem far away, it’s a good idea to reflect upon some of the important habits and skills we learned during our stay at Rockbrook, and to realize how important they can be throughout the rest of the year.  But what are some of those values? What are some of the surprising things camp taught us that can still serve us well at school?

At Rockbrook this summer we learned:

—things are more fun when we include everyone
—you can be creative with just about anything
—making friends is easy when we respect and care for each other
—everything is better in a costume 🙂

Of course there are a lot of other ways camp helps kids grow too.

Peg Smith, the CEO of the American Camp Association, also wants kids to remember what they learned at camp, in particular the “Three Cs” — Confidence, Curiosity, and Character. Pack all these great things in your school backpack. You know camp is awesome; now make that true for school too!

Plenty of Smiles

Camp Ceramics Colorful Examples
Proud Ceramics Pottery camper

This, the last full day of camp, is always a strange day of wrapping things up, cherishing moments with friends, and feeling a little melancholy knowing that we’ll all be heading home tomorrow. As we pack and move luggage, there is a certain reluctance to let camp end, even as there are last minute activities and time to be together.

Today we picked up our finished pottery projects. All of the pieces the girls made and glazed during the session have been fired, their shiny colors now leaping up at you from each dish, cup and piggy bank. This is the first time the campers have seen how the kiln has magically transformed their work into these amazing creations, so it’s very exciting for them.  Katie and Will, the lead ceramics instructors, take great care to fire everyone’s work and have it available in time to take home.  It’s so cool to see how everything turned out!

Girl riding a horse in the sun

Down and over at Rockbrook’s Equestrian Center, Audrey and her crew of horseback riding instructors invited everyone down for their “Barn Party.” This is an event with riding demonstrations, mounted games, and decorated horses. Everyone who took horseback riding was invited to participate and plenty of other campers came down to the main lower riding ring just to watch the festivities. The funniest game was “Herding Cows” where three staff members, dressed as cows in white t-shirts and black spots wandered randomly while riders tried to guide them to a pen. It was pretty funny to see and hear (moo!). It was a fun, cheerful event for everyone, complete with chilly popsicles as a surprise treat at the end.

Camp Drama Play Production

Lunch was a classic camp favorite: grilled cheese sandwiches and Rick’s homemade tomato soup. They also served an awesome fruit salad that included the sweetest pineapple. After lunch, we all assembled in he gym for this session’s production of Schoolhouse Rock, our camp-wide musical. This is a play written just for kids and is based on the popular TV series with its well-known songs: “The Great American Melting Pot,” “Conjunction Junction,” and “A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing.” All three age groups had roles to sing with a couple of solos mixed in with choral numbers. These girls have talent!

Rockbrook’s traditional “Spirit Fire” brought our day to a close just beautifully. As dusk approached, the whole camp, all of the campers and counselors dressed in their uniforms, gathered around a campfire circle by the lake to spend some time reflecting on everything camp has meant to us over these last few weeks. We remembered all the fun events, and those moments where things couldn’t be funnier. We expressed our thanks to one another, recognizing that Rockbrook is wonderful chiefly because it encourages all of us to be our best. It inspires us to help each other enjoy camp together. I suspect that’s one of the main reasons it’s such a friendly place. The Spirit Fire can sometimes be a little emotional too as the girls realize the close friends they’ve made at camp are going home in the morning. Tonight too, there were a few tears, but also plenty of smiles.

Campers at Girls Summer Camp
Girl Holding Spirit Fire Candle

Following a long tradition, we ended the Spirit Fire by each camper and counselor lighting a small white candle from the central campfire. Sarah and the other Directors first lit their larger candles and everyone else filed by to light their candle. We then spread out around the lake singing a couple of last songs. Standing around the lake, shoulder to shoulder gazing at the candlelight and softly singing with chirping crickets in the background, this is a scene generations of Rockbrook girls have experienced. It’s a truly beautiful moment they will remember for a very long time.

Cooperation and Imagination

girls dancing together at summer campJuniors 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.

Summer Camp Girl Smiling Camper girl

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.

Full-Throated Fun

Camp girls exploring nature in the lakecamp girl swimming with a watermelonOne of the activities offered each day at Rockbrook is something called “Nature.” While rather broadly defined as anything involving the plants, animals and forests of camp, it’s a real treat for the campers. The notion of exploration, of discovery, describes it pretty well also, because mostly the campers are tromping around through the woods and finding fascinating bits of the natural world. With more than 200 acres of Rockbrook property available, the counselors have come up with loads of really fun ways for the girls to be true naturalists. They take stream hikes, stopping to turn over rocks looking for crayfish and salamanders. Like in this photo, they take nets and capture tadpoles at the lake to compare their stages of development. Or, they may simply hike through the woods, perhaps bushwhacking off-trail, to marvel at some of the huge old growth trees on the property.  Of course part of the fun is getting a little dirty and truly feeling the grit and grime of what they find, but that’s one of the things that helps the girls appreciate the beauty of it all, and for us, is something we can feel good about because of the benefits outdoor experience provides.

During one of the swimming activities this morning, the counselors greased up a watermelon for the girls and organized several fun relay races. There’s still plenty of silt coming down the creek and into the lake making the water cloudy, and this made the watermelon a little more difficult to find when it went under. Having to hunt for a hidden, submerged fruit is surprisingly fun because it can appear far from where you expect it. On a bright sunny day, this is good old fashioned fun, and it comes with a sweet tasty watermelon treat.

girls cheering their friends on sliding rockBeing Wednesday, the afternoon was our cabin day, a time when instead of each camper pursuing her individual schedule of regular activities, the cabin groups and their counselors stay together for special whole-cabin events. Each cabin decides what they would like to do. Many involve hiking, like along the gentle trail to Rockbrook Falls or the steep and severe trail up to Castle Rock overlooking the camp. Today, a few cabins played group games on the hill, a couple of Junior cabins played board games, and others relaxed on the porch of the Lakeview lodge making friendship bracelets. One cabin was caught doing outdoor yoga!

girls screaming on sliding rock girls showing power on sliding rock girls splashing into sliding rock pool

All of the senior cabins took a special trip right before dinner. Dressed in their bathing suits and with towels in hand, they loaded up the buses to head out to a special spot in the Pisgah Forest for a picnic. Our timing was excellent because when we arrived, we were the only people there to enjoy a wonderful grassy field, trimmed with awesome shade trees and just the right number of picnic tables. Rick packed us another amazing dinner of fresh corn on the cob, tortellini, warm rolls, and cool, bright red raspberries. The late afternoon sunshine was gorgeous and we had plenty of altitude to keep things breezy and comfortable. After eating, we couldn’t help but skip around the field and play an exuberant game of “Duck Duck Goose.” You might think teenage girls would be “too cool” for this kind of game, but not so with this crowd.

Our next stop on this outing was the main event: Sliding Rock. Always a favorite, this is the natural waterslide formed by Looking Glass Creek as it drops about 60 feet over a gently sloping rock into a deep pool. Going this late after the Forest Service lifeguards have left (we bring our own) is ideal because it avoids the typical crowds of summer, and thereby allows our Rockbrook girls to spend less time waiting in line and more time sliding.  Is the water cold?  You betcha!  That explains why most of the photos of the girls sliding end up showing them with their mouths open.  A few can remain poised enough to smile for the camera as they accelerate toward to bottom, but most are anticipating the plunge that awaits and just let loose with a wide-eyed, full-throated scream.  You can almost hear it in each shot.  Meanwhile, the rest of the girls waiting their turn are cheering their friends on, clapping and shouting.  It really is super exciting.

With our fill of sliding, there was one more stop to make, and it’s always a crowd pleaser.  On the way out of the forest we took that happy left turn into Dolly’s Dairy Bar so everyone could enjoy a cone of their favorite flavor of ice cream.  There were more screams and cheers of delight as we pulled into the parking lot and all the girls ran to join the line waiting to order.  Dolly’s has refined their serving so it took just a few minutes for everyone to be savoring (for some, gobbling) their treat. Yummy stuff.  It was dark by the time we made it back to camp, bringing our surprise night out to a close, but it was the kind of big group fun we love around here, and a really good time.

Girls at dolly's after sliding rock

Good Goofy Fun

Camp girls painting ceramics piecesGoing around camp today, visiting the different activity areas, you could tell that the girls have really settled in and begun to make camp “a place of their own.” That’s a phrase from the Rockbrook Camp mission statement. It’s an attempt to summarize one of the real values of a camp experience for young girls, and it’s part of the magic of why campers love their camp. The ingredients are simple: really good people who are eager to make friends, broad opportunities to be creative, sporty, and adventurous, and a caring environment where everyone can relax and be themselves. Combine these with the girls making their own activity selections, having plenty of free time to enjoy the wonderful natural beauty of Rockbrook, and simply enjoying time with their friends, and we have something special, something very different from home and school (where parents and teachers call most of the shots), and something truly their own. This is their camp and they love it.

Funny girls skit during evening programOf course, at camp a big group of girls can get pretty goofy and really let their silly side come out. Singing crazy songs outrageously loud in the dining hall, dressing up in a costumes for dinner, and making up skits with cabin mates are quite ordinarily part of the fun around here. This photo of an evening program cabin skit shows a little of that. Each cabin group is given a topic and challenged to come up with a group skit that they’ll perform for the rest of the age group in their lodge. It can involve singing, dancing, acting and audience participation, but whatever it is, the funnier it is, the better. A lot of the fun is working together to create the skit, as well as performing it for your friends.

This afternoon we had our Wednesday “Cabin Day.” This is a special day when after a morning of regular activity time (where the girls follow their individual activity selections), each cabin group sticks together for some special group event. Today, cabin groups were hiking to Rockbrook Falls and Castle Rock, building campfires to make S’mores, playing games in the gym and on the landsports field, cooling of by playing in the creek, and even making smoothies with the help of the kitchen. The mini session senior cabins took a trip to Sliding Rock, had a picnic and capped everything off with a stop at Dolly’s for a sweet treat. Dinner was some of Rick’s homemade fried chicken and warm yeast rolls.  Good stuff.  On cabin day, there’s always a lot going on!

Oh! I forgot to mention the muffins today… White Chocolate Raspberry. They were awesome!

Goofy camp girls having fun at Dolly's

Camp Friends are Real Friends

Summer Camp Friends Laughing

How many Facebook “friends” do you have? And how many of them are also your “real” friends? Of those, how many do you actually see or talk to regularly? It’s a strange modern American phenomenon that paradoxically, we have loads of these kind of casual contacts, acquaintances and loose relationships, but also often feel profoundly on our own. As we spend more of our time plugged into the virtual world of the Internet (a rather solitary activity, after all), as we are encouraged to be uniquely independent and value our “freedom,” and as we are increasingly “on the move” to pursue professional, financial or lifestyle “opportunities,” we seem to have been quick to sacrifice real friendships.

Daniel Akst, in his essay “America: Land of Loners?” published last year in the Wilson Quarterly, clearly makes this point. He describes how for so many of us, a fierce dedication to independence and self-sufficiency is robbing from us an important form of human relationship that can’t be replaced by one’s spouse, immediate family members (e.g., children, siblings, etc.), or pets. Combine this with complex demands on everyone’s time— work, school, chores, etc. —and it’s easy to see how it’s become quite difficult to make and maintain close friends.

I suspect, also, that children aren’t entirely immune to this phenomenon. They too, though perhaps less so than adults, struggle with being overly busy, with spending a lot of their time alone or online, and with having fewer opportunities to meet new people and share common rewarding experiences. The ordinary lives of children today are generally less suited to building a strong network of close, true friends. This is worrisome, especially when you consider that the forces behind this trend will only get stronger as our children grow older and take on greater responsibilities.

Ah, thankfully, there is camp, that magical place were kids get to relax a bit, take a break from the pressures of school and try some new things just for the fun of it. It’s a place to meet new people, share wonderful experiences, and simply do a lot of things together. Camp gets them outside, away from the buzz and flicker of electronic media, and allows children to explore who they are and be their authentic selves. All of this is the ideal setting to develop real friendships, to connect with others in meaningful ways. Camp is where your real friends are. And everyone will tell you, you have to come back to camp every summer… to be with your friends.

Camp is a haven, a place where children can fulfill their need for true friends, and is something we all can use nowadays.