Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks spent another day this week filming at Rockbrook, quietly roaming the camp with his camera capturing some of the action. And now we have this fascinating 2-minute slice of life at camp to enjoy.
Take a look! There are moments of pride, heartfelt affection, joy, determination, and of course sheer exuberance. It’s hard not to smile while watching it.
Every year, Rockbrook sends out a publication entitled the Carrier Pigeon, which has, in the past, featured poems, photos from the summer, camp memories, and cabin photos. The Carrier Pigeon is sent out during the off season, so that campers can have “mem’ries of Rockbrook all winter long.” Tonight, our campers had the chance to write down their own memories, poems, or drawings to submit for the 2019 Carrier Pigeon. To spark their minds about Rockbrook and what makes camp special, today each of the three lodges had a poster board with a different question for campers to answer:
1. What makes Rockbrook a special place?
Even before you open your eyes in the morning, the natural environment of camp calls out in the form of leaves rustling, frogs croaking, birds chirping, and rain falling. Everywhere you look at camp, you either see the lush forest, ancient rocks, or the shimmering creeks. This close interaction with nature that campers have every day is unusual for many compared to life at home, and it allows campers to have a deeper sense of place and connection to the environment than they otherwise might have. Connection to other people also makes Rockbrook a special place. Since technology is limited at camp for campers and staff alike, we are able to have more face-to-face interactions and are able to build genuine relationships with the whole community. According to our campers, Rockbrook is special because they can be apart from their friends for a year, but pick up again the next summer as though no time has gone by. It is our mission for campers to walk away from camp with some of their very best friends, but we also hope they return to camp to continue building their connections to people and place.
2. What is your favorite Rockbrook memory?
While many camper and counselor memories connect back to the special place and relationships of camp, some memories can be of things that are uniquely Rockbrook. For instance, trying out for the camp play for the first time and getting the lead role, or frolicking in the stream at the bottom of the hill.
Many campers look back fondly on Sliding Rock and Dolly’s cabin day trips, as well as other off-camp trips like rafting the Nantahala. Another favorite memory and time of the summer is the Fourth of July, when camp turns into one big birthday party celebration for America, replete with field games, face paint, costumes, barbeques, and fireworks. Throughout the summer, campers are able to make memories small and large that will stay with them for their whole lives.
3. What makes a Rockbrook Girl?
In addition to being a good friend, a Rockbrook girl is kind and loving to others. She is open minded, honest, and always willing to bend her back to help a friend without asking for credit. She has a great, positive attitude, and is not afraid to embarrass herself, even at a camp-wide dance. This spirit of love, kindness, and carefree living is what we strive for at Rockbrook, and is embodied by every camper that comes to the heart of our wooded mountain. Living in community and having the time to try new things naturally instills these traits in campers and counselors alike, fostering a close-knit culture of supportive, empowered females that stays connected until next summer when camp starts again.
Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks (and Rockbrook dad!) is returning this summer to film and present a series of highlights videos.
This is the fourth year Robbie has been making these occasional videos for us, much to everyone’s delight. It’s amazing how he can convey the sweet interactions and overall feeling of camp life in just two minutes.
Robbie filmed this past week and now we have his first video. Take a look and enjoy. It’s great fun to watch.
Ten years ago, on the first night of my CA year, I went to bed with a full heart and so much joy. I remember thinking to myself, “I have twenty more days with these friends.” I hadn’t seen my cabin-mates in a year and I wanted to savor every day we had together. There was something about this group of girls that was different than my friends from home. Although I didn’t know the exact difference, I knew it was meaningful and would last a lifetime.
The topic of camp friendships was sparked in a recent conversation and I still was unable to describe how camp friendships were different from friendships at home. I decided to ask Rockbrook girls of all ages the question, “Why are camp friends so special?” Some answers are similar, others are different, but all encompass the spirit of Rockbrook and the friendships that are formed in the “Heart of a Wooded Mountain.” Here are few of the answers, and while they may not point to some single essence of camp friendship, they are insightful.
One of the youngest campers I asked observed that camp friends are special because “they are with you so much,” you see them “only once a year,” and because you are “living with them” you are just so “comfortable around them.”
Several Middlers, girls about 11 and 12 years old, echoed that observation that camp friends are “stronger.” Camp friends are “the best friends I’ve ever had,” because you are “away from each other all year. You will “have them forever” because you can “be yourself with them.”
The oldest campers described their camp friends as a “sisterhood I will cherish forever,” a closeness like “family” even though they’re from all over. At camp, they said “it’s easier to connect with people” simply because you are “away from friends from home.”
Several counselors attributed the special character of their camp friendships to unplugging from technology and social media while at camp. Camp life provides “more opportunities to talk face to face,” and no “social pressures to be or act the coolest, have the most friends/followers, and you just get to be yourself.”
I also asked Rockbrook alumnae, now grown women who attended camp as children, about their camp friendships. One put it this way— “Camp friends have a better understanding of who you are which makes them more loyal, easier to talk to, and easier to be around.” And another— “Camp friends are like no others… we meet at a place where we can completely be ourselves. No pressure to look beautiful, be cool, or dress like a super model. A friend at camp is someone who is genuine and real.” At camp, you are “friends because you like/love the real person for who they are and the amazing memories you make and share.”
One alumna described it beautifully:
“Too often, in the ‘real world’ people let first impressions rule the day. Beauty, wealth, fashion, youth, and social standing open doors, while a lack of these can close them. At camp, you are only responsible for how you treat others. Your kindness, positivity and openness draws people to you and friendship results. Friendships based on this solid foundation of authenticity are friendships that last a lifetime.
I have RBC friends that I met as a small child, and those that I met at reunions. Some are decades older. Some are decades younger. They live all over the world. We have been incredibly silly together, laughed our heads off together, and cried together as life has gone through its inevitable struggles. I am never alone. As the song says, ‘Look always to it when you’re in trouble… The spirit of Rockbrook…’ Camp is unconditional acceptance and true friendship sharing wonderful experiences from which you both grow as people. It’s a lifelong gift, and I am indescribably grateful for it.”
“How did we come to meet pal? What caused our paths to blend? ‘Twas fate we came to Rockbrook, And you became my friend.”
As the song prompted, that was the question we all pondered tonight at our final campfire of the session, the “Spirit Fire.” Dressed in our red and white uniforms and gathered on the locust-wood benches, we couldn’t help but realize that something miraculous had occurred over these last few weeks. We have become friends, camp friends, forming the kind of close friendships that are so real and meaningful they are brimming with emotion.
The Spirit Fire tonight released that emotion. As girls stood to talk about how lucky they feel to have attended Rockbrook, how grounded and free they feel here, each and every one also marveled at the friends they had made. Sharing this much together— the songs and muffins, the skits and the goodnight circles —brought us together. These camper and counselor reflections, combined with the traditional songs sung— “Nothing is Better than This,” “The Streams and the Mountains,” and “The Spirit of Rockbrook,” for example —set off waves of melancholy for some of the girls. Tears and softly checked sobs became contagious as everyone became more aware that our camp days this summer were ending and that we would soon have to say goodbye to our friends.
When Sarah spoke, she reminded us that coming to Rockbrook was a journey of discovery. It has been a time away from home that included meeting many wonderful, kind people, that sometimes presented us challenges to overcome, but also opened up new stripes of our personality. It has encouraged us to play, to be silly and creative, and to grow more comfortable with our true selves. Her hope, she said, is that we would find ways to be “Rockbrook Girls” once we return home. If it feels this good to be a Rockbrook girl here at camp, then perhaps at home we can be the same.
I believe your girls will do just that. You’ll see their Rockbrook spirit now and then, a flash of confidence, kindness, or enthusiasm. It may be subtle, but you’ll be able to tell they’ve grown. I hope you’re as proud of them as we are. This wonderful session has proved it.
The closing campfire of each Rockbrook camp session, what we call our “Spirit Fire,” is a time for everyone to reflect upon their experience at camp. It’s a time to think about what was most important, memorable, and meaningful over the days living together here. The Spirit Fire is a chance, we could say, to acknowledge the “Spirit of Rockbrook,” that special character that makes every aspect of camp life extraordinary, and exceptionally fun. Dressed in their uniforms and assembled around a blazing fire, it’s a time for all the girls, and likewise the staff members, to be together, and share what camp means to them.
Part of the Spirit Fire program are speeches, moments when selected campers and counselors stand and address everyone, reciting some sort of personal account about Rockbrook, or their feelings about camp life. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Maggie’s speech from our last Spirit Fire.
“Camp is so hard to explain to people who have never been to Rockbrook before. How do I explain how fun a shaving cream fight is? Or what it means to be a Mermaid? Or how great it feels to be the one to spin the wheel? Frankly, it’s impossible.
Friendships made at camp are unlike friendships at home. Although I only see my camp friends for a month each year, my bond with them feels so much stronger. All of my memories attached to camp are ones I look back at in a positive light. Getting to spend my summers at Rockbrook has given me so many friendships and opportunities that I will never take for granted.”
I think most everyone here has experienced what Maggie is describing. I think she is saying that despite living it so intensely while at camp, it’s difficult (even “impossible”) to describe the “Spirit of Rockbrook.” And yet for her, a core part of that spirit is the special form of friendship we all cherish at camp. It’s the character of our camp friends— their depth, power, and genuine lasting nature —in other words that makes everything else at camp so meaningful.
I think Maggie has intuited something important. The Spirit of Rockbrook, that ineffable force shaping our time together, is fed by the incredible power of friendship here. This is why girls will tell you they come back to camp every summer for “the people” (or for what I might add, “their relationships with the people at camp). They want to be with their special “camp friends,” experience again that special closeness, and return to a life energized by the “Spirit of Rockbrook.”
It’s a separate question to wonder what makes camp friends special (“forever friends”), and further what it is about the camp environment that allows this special character to form. We’ll have to consider those questions— how and why camp friends are so special —in a later post. For now, we can simply celebrate camp life, and recognize the importance of friendship for its unique spirit.
When people think of a summer girls camp, odds are good they picture kids canoeing, climbing a ropes course, riding horses, making tie-dye T-shirts, and hiking through the woods. That certainly is a big part of how we spend our days here at Rockbrook, but even in the midst of all of those fun activities, a main focus is our relationships with each other. In everything we do we are looking for ways to build connections, strengthen communication, and model positive conflict resolution. Whether we are reminding kids to walk instead of run at the lake or helping a first time camper find her place at camp, our goal is to have each camper feel they are a valued part of the Rockbrook community.
Living in community doesn’t always come easy. It can be tricky to learn to share close quarters with people you haven’t lived with before, but the good thing about camp is that we get lots of time to practice. Our counselors strive not only to provide close one-on-one interaction with every camper, but also to help campers learn their role in a group as well. Everything from morning chores in the cabin to planning camp-wide events teaches campers how to express their feelings, ask for what they need, resolve conflicts, and share ideas.
Cabin groups work together to prep their living space for cabin inspection every morning. Each camper has a cleaning job in the cabin, but each girl is also responsible for keeping her own belongings tidy as well. This early morning exercise in teamwork helps girls delegate and ask for help, important skills both at camp and in their out-of-camp lives. Counselors can help them navigate disagreements in this time, reminding them to keep their voices calm and convey their feelings clearly. Campers might think they are just tidying up their cabin, but our staff is watching for any opportunity to help girls communicate better and support each other fully.
Cabin day is another time where group dynamics are the star of the show. A cabin group may have to work together to build a fire in order to enjoy a special campfire treat. They’ll have to talk together about the process, discuss supplies needed, assign different roles to each member of the group, and work together to get to that sweet result. There’s nothing quite like the victory of a cobbler that you’ve cooked together over an outdoor fire.
Because of our investment in relationship building and teamwork as the core part of camp life, we see ripples of these practices all around camp. Everyday, the quality of our relationships, the growing care and understanding we have for each other, makes a difference. When a camper is hesitant at the top of the water slide, you can be sure her cabin mates will be there cheering her on from the lake below. Divvying up supper clean up chores becomes smoother every day as girls take turns delegating and sharing jobs. And on the river in a whitewater raft, those communication skills really pay off as girls work together to ride the rapids.
So when you think of camp and all those fun activities come to mind, know that the work is much more than finding rhythm on a horse, weaving a basket, and or molding something beautiful out of clay. We’re also finding our rhythm as a group, weaving a beautiful community, and molding each camper into a caring, strong communicator. And having lots of fun while we do it!
Earlier this week I had an interesting conversation with our Education Intern Hayley about motivation, specifically about how we as educators can motivate children. This internship is focused on the concept of “Social Emotional Learning,” an approach to education that holds central both the emotional lives of children and the social landscape they navigate as they grow. SEL simply recognizes that educational efforts should address the “whole child,” not just her intellectual development. In fact, many educators are recognizing that ignoring kids’ emotional triggers and social conflicts is a serious impediment to their academic learning, and perhaps more importantly, to their ability to make responsible decisions. In classrooms, schools, and even some school districts there’s a growing awareness of the importance of SEL if we are to help our kids gain the wide range of skills they’ll need to be more successful and content later in life.
One important point to make in all of this— and it’s the reason we offer an internship in social emotional learning here at Rockbrook —is that SEL has a lot to do with community, with the nature and quality of our relationships with those around us. And you see, as we’ve said many times, camp is also about community. It’s about being aware of each other, about practicing a common spirit of kindness, caring and generosity so that we treat each other with respect. We talk about being a “Rockbrook girl” as someone who contributes enthusiastically to this positive spirit, who is encouraging and helpful as a result. What’s neat is that there are so many people here modeling these values, the character is contagious. It becomes a powerful force that not only inspires girls to be their best selves (particularly in how they treat each other), it also deepens their relationships with everyone in the community and draws us all closer together.
For this reason, we believe Rockbrook is an ideal environment for social emotional learning. In addition to what we do together and all our shared experience, Rockbrook is a tight-knit community defined by how we relate to each other: again, with an explicit ethic of kindness, caring and generosity. When girls join this sort of intentional community, when the culture of camp inspires everyone to be more kind, caring and generous toward each other, they naturally grow more self-aware and develop greater social awareness along the way. This community builds relationship skills like cooperation and compassion, and of course all these forces are what drives the incredible camp friendships your daughter is enjoying.
So the answer to Haley’s question about motivation springs from this focus on community. Around here, girls are less driven by extrinsic rewards and goals, and more motivated by how an action will affect their relationship with someone. We discussed how girls make decisions within this web of relationships, and are generally careful to consider the emotions and needs of others. Thanks to the powerful community spirit at camp, behaviors are motivated by being a “Rockbrook girl,” being the caring, kind, generous, and sympathetic person we all admire. It’s what we mean around here by “RBA:” “Rockbrook Appropriate.” There’s a culture defining ethic at camp we all understand, and that serves to both motivate us and guide our decision making.
I may sound like a broken record when it comes to talking about the benefits of camp, so please forgive me. I’m just constantly made aware of how great this experience is for girls. Even though it’s wrapped in the guise of silly fun, thrilling adventure, and liberating creativity, camp really makes a difference in these girls’ lives. And it’s my daily joy to be a part of it.
A group of adventurous girls signed up for a special stand-up paddle boarding trip we offered today. It was a short drive from camp south to the Dupont State Forest where they met Charmaine Saulsbury of Dancing Trees Yoga, who would be the girls’ instructor for the morning. Charmaine teaches “SUP” and other yoga classes here in Brevard, and is one of the few yoga instructors in the country certified by the American Canoe Association.
With absolutely perfect weather, and with enough boards for everyone, the group made their way to Lake Julia, a gorgeous forest lake with a mostly undeveloped shoreline. This lake is also usually deserted, as it was this morning, providing a wonderful, quiet, calm setting for the paddle boarding. After giving them a few simple instructions about standing and balancing on the boards, Charmaine led the girls out in the water where they practiced several yoga positions. Attentive balance is already important for yoga, even more so when perched on a narrow floating board! The whole morning was a nice blend of relaxation and physical activity in a beautiful setting, something completely new and engaging for the girls.