Settled Down and Fired Up

Camp Girls on PorchToday we saw proof just how quickly the girls have both settled down and fired up here at camp. In just a couple of days, most of ambivalence about camp— remember, it’s very different from home —the uncertainties about what each day will be like, the activities, and the other girls in their cabin have for the most part faded and been replaced with understanding, friendship and enthusiasm. The girls now understand the rhythm of camp life: the 120-year camp camp bell and what it signifies, the crucial importance of “Muffin Break” (today’s flavor was mint chocolate chip, by the way), when is the best time to take a shower, that around here singing (loudly!) is highly encouraged, and lying down in your bunk after these incredibly active days feels really good. Now everyone has a buddy or two to romp around with, as well as their whole cabin group to play with at meals, rest hour, and in the cabin before bedtime. It’s also particularly striking how enthusiastic the girls are now for everything happening at camp. Cheers went up when the Nantahala River rafting trips were announced. Everyday, the optional trips are filled:  hiking to Black Balsam (one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi), rock climbing on Castle Rock, and canoeing down the French Broad River, for example. The girls are embracing every aspect of camp finding it both comfortable and thrilling… a little like relaxing in a red rocking chair chatting with friends and whooping with delight while flying through the trees on the zipline. It’s amazing how these Rockbrook girls are having this much fun so quickly and thoroughly.

I’ve been thinking about this, about why girls adapt so well to life at Rockbrook, and I think one important factor is the all-girl environment here… but in a very particular way. The most common thing you’ll hear about the benefits of an all-girl camp or school is that boys are a “distraction” and that removing them allows girls to be less preoccupied with their appearance and how they compare to boys’ abilities. That seems true, but I doubt it’s that simple. An all-girl community also has to embody other, more important principles or the same competition, self-evaluation, and social hierarchies common to mixed gendered groups will color everyone’s interactions and relationships. So, I would say there’s nothing automatically wonderful about an all-girl setting. There has to be something more fundamental also, something that when established and deeply rooted first and then expressed in an all-girl community, we can identify as the secret to camp life at Rockbrook being so easily and eagerly taken to heart.

rafting-high-fivePerhaps surprisingly, I don’t think it’s the range of activities offered, the mountain environment, the delicious food served, or the top-notch staff members at camp. These too are simply the context for what really makes our camp community work. No, I think the core value defining camp life at Rockbrook is care. It sounds simple, but starting with the relationships we have with each other, striving to reorient them in the spirit of compassion and generosity, is the key. Beginning with our staff members, who were selected because they are genuinely kind, caring people, but also modeled by the directors and specialty activity instructors, everyone at camp is supportive, encouraging and kind toward each other. Whether playing tennis, collaborating on the plan for an evening program skit, or taking turns sweeping the cabin each morning, the people at Rockbrook truly care for each other. It’s this core community value, this practiced ethic applied to our relationships with each other, that gives camp life its special energy.

Being an all-girl environment is important but only as it serves the primary goal of making everyone at camp feel included, equally loved and respected. Perhaps it’s easier for girls to be kind and caring toward each other than it might be toward boys, and that can explain why a girls camp community like Rockbrook enjoys this happy vibe. It’s just a hunch, but I think there’s something to it.

Camp Kayaks

In and On the Water

Morning Outdoor Pancake PicnicWhen the camp bell rings at 8am each morning, when it’s typically cool and foggy making everything a little grey and moist outside, there’s rarely anyone out on the hill in the center of camp. That was true this morning too, except several staff members were quietly scurrying around to set something up in all three of the stone lodges. They had folding tables, stacks of plates, bowls of fruit, chocolate, maple and caramel syrup, whipped cream, and colorful sprinkles. They were clearly up to something, excited about the unannounced treat they had in store for the campers. The best clue explaining all this was the griddles, spatulas and huge bowls of pancake batter they finally carried out from the kitchen. It was “Pancakes and PJs,” a surprise breakfast cooked and served in the lodges, and enjoyed by everyone while sitting outside in one of the red porch rockers or on the hill in crazy creek chairs. With sausage and fruit on the side, the girls loaded up their pancakes with sweet toppings, and spilled out everywhere to chat in small groups and watch the sun break through the fog. Something completely new and different, it was a delightful way to wake up and start the day.

Girls with the feet in a streamCamp Water Slide FunIt’s always easy to play in the water at Rockbrook. First of all, the lake itself  provides a place to cool off, take a swim, ride the water slide, or just float in a tube. But my favorite way the girls play in the water here is by exploring, often during their free time, one of the many streams cutting down from the hills above the camp. One of these, near the Curosty cabin, flows along a grassy bank making it a perfect place to soak your feet (even when wearing long pants!), float and race your flip flop shoes, keep reeds wet when weaving a basket, or hone your Hydraulic Engineering skills by building a dam from rocks, sticks, bark and mud (Fortunately, these dams are never completely watertight!). The other, which passes in front of the Goodwill cabin, flows over and around several large rocks making it a thriving habitat for stream creatures like crayfish, salamanders, and water striders. It’s great fun for the girls to wade into this stream, paper cup in hand, and inevitably scoop up something interesting, and wiggly. Standing on one of the big rocks in this stream, a camper exclaimed, “This is the most beautiful place on earth!” At one level, I think she’s right. It’s certainly a place full of wonderful plants and animals ready to discover.

Camp French Broad FloatCamp Nantahala FloatCamp Girls Nantahala CelebrationIt’s also easy to play on the water at Rockbrook. This is because throughout the week we offer optional canoe, kayak and rafting trips on many of the local rivers. After the girls learn their basic strokes on our lake, they can sign up for these trips. For example today, Emily led a group of 6 canoes on a leisurely float down a section of the French Broad River near camp. This river is wide and lined with trees in this section. The water moves along gently making it a very relaxing paddle. Meanwhile, further west in the mountains, a group of Middlers and Seniors were spending the day whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. Some of these girls spent the night at our outpost camp, while others came just for the day to raft. Clean and very cold, the Nantahala River provides a great whitewater workout… of muscles paddling and bouncing over the rapids, and of vocal chords screaming with delight to every bump. It’s a thrilling adventure for the girls.

Our silly side came out after dinner tonight when the Middlers presented an all-girl “Prom” for our twilight activity. Essentially a dance party, the girls dressed up and came down to the gym to dance and sing to their favorite “girl power songs.” The posters decorating the walls reminded us of famous strong women (e.g., Jane Goodall) and “girls’ bands, like Taylor Swift. The dancing was lighthearted and carefree, free of criticism, competition and posturing. It was both fun and funny, partly because Rockbrook is simply a friendly supportive place, but also I think because there were no boys around. This all-girl, “no boys allowed,” environment, one that eliminates the powerful gaze of the opposite sex, allows our campers to loosen up a bit and enjoy themselves as they truly are— friendly, sensitive, caring young ladies. Without concern for what “the boys might think,” girls, particularly teenage girls, thrive, becoming more confident and self-assured as they develop positive relationships with those around them. At camp, this translates to simply having a great time with your friends. I think everyone here would agree; camp should not be about boys. Instead, it’s about us— living together in this beautiful place, growing closer as we share all these special experiences, and celebrating the fun of it all.

All Girls No Boys Dancing

Spotlight on Sarah

Sarah Reed Carter is the Director of Rockbrook Summer Camp for Girls

Sarah Reed Carter is the Director of Rockbrook. She grew up in Winston-Salem, NC and began her Rockbrook career in 1985. Sarah thought it would be fun to be a CIT (Counselor in Training) while her older sister was a cabin counselor. So at 16, she had her first camp experience not realizing what a big part of her life Rockbrook would be years later.

Sarah returned to camp year after year while attending Trinity College in Connecticut and until starting graduate school at Vanderbilt University for her Masters of Education degree. She taught drama, worked as a lifeguard, and served almost every age group as a cabin counselor. Along the way, she met her future husband Jeff, who at the time worked as a hiking and climbing guide for camp. Sarah and Jeff were married at Rockbrook in 1996.

For the next 8 years, Sarah taught elementary school in Nashville, TN, Concord, NC, and Asheville, NC.  After returning to Brevard, she became the director of a local preschool for 2 years before returning to Rockbrook to be a full-time director with Jeff.

While camp is in session, Sarah oversees camp life and communication with parents.  During the off-season, she works on camper recruitment, communication with Rockbrook’s camp families, and child specific issues.  She also loves spending time with Jeff and her two daughters Eva and Lily.

Learn to Knit at Camp

crafts with girls knitting

Can I learn how to knit at camp?

You sure can!  In fact, knitting has become one of the crafts at camp girls are really enjoying.  You might think it’s old fashioned or something that only your grandmother would do, but knitting is really cool!  And it’s not that hard to learn.  With some basic pointers and a little practice you’ll be able to make a simple scarf, or even something more difficult like a hat.

The younger girls particularly like using the “Nifty Knitters.”  These are special round, handheld looms that make knitting tubes really easy (there’s one on the shelf in the background in the photo).  They are a fun way to see how knitting works and to make quick progress on a project before moving on to using knitting needles.

Knitting is one of those great crafts girls can easily do at home.  It can easily become a life-long activity to enjoy for years to come.

Knitting Camp Girls

knitting camp girl wearing a hat she made

“Like your hat Maddie.”

Knitting! It’s just one of the fiber arts activities available at Rockbrook each and every camp session.

With so many arts and crafts opportunities, you get to make some pretty cool stuff when you come to camp… like this hat for instance. Maddie knitted it when she first got to camp last summer, and from then on was rarely seen without it. A camp arts project that she used every single day!

It’s true; knitting has become an increasingly popular activity at camp. The Rockbrook girls are learning that it isn’t all that difficult (once you master the basic stitches!) to knit, is really a lot of fun, and is so satisfying when you see what you’ve made. Some girls describe the feeling of it, the process of twisting, looping and tying yarn in patterns of knots, to be relaxing, even meditative.

It’s the kind of thing that can become addicting.  As soon as you finish one project, it’s easy and exciting to imagine and start another.  In the long run knitting can then continue after camp at Home. It can become a life-long hobby!

P.S. That’s Looking Glass Falls in the background.

Why Do Girls Go Rock Climbing?

Girls Rock Climbing Summer Camp

Why do girls go rock climbing when it looks so scary?

Well, there’s something fun about the challenge of it all, the concentration and the determination it takes. You know there’s an amazing view waiting at the top and the repel down is thrilling, but it also feels good to use your muscle strength to balance up. The whole thing is like a puzzle you solve through coordination, physical and mental endurance powering your careful movements on the rock. Making it past difficult spots, maybe even all the way to the top, is a great confidence boosting experience. Sure it’s a little scary, but it’s perfectly safe too. When you’re done, it just makes you want to climb again!

Rock climbing is one of those summer camp adventures that’s just loaded with surprising benefits.

Teen Programs for Girls

Girl Teen Outdoor ProgramThe teen programs for girls offered by Rockbrook bring together several unique aspects. First of all there are all the amazing things teen girls can do at camp… everythng from outdoor adventure trips like climbing and kayaking, to arts and crafts like pottery and weaving, to sports like soccer, basketball and volleyball. There’s plenty to keep your activity level way, way up.

Then there are special leadership opportunities at camp, the chances to plan special events like the banquet and to help with activities for the younger kids. It’s very clear how teenagers are role models for the other girls at camp. Finally, the teen programs at Rockbrook provide a place were girls can relax and enjoy carefree summer living with some good friends who appreciate you for who you are instead of who you’re pretending to be. It’s welcoming and friendly, and that’s really great.

Girls love camp because it offers the good life.  Just ask anyone who’s attended!

Sleep Away Camp Girls

Sleep Away Girls CampWhen you ask people who attended a sleep away camp when they were a kid, you’ll find that they recall the experience, not only fondly, but also as one of the most important things they did as a child. And this is true for just about everybody you ask, not just the occasional “camp fan.”

A famous example here is Michael Eisner and his book about camp. There’s a lot to it, and we’ve discussed the benefits of attending camp before, but this photo speaks to the empowerment and self confidence girls often develop at summer camp. Being away from home and parents, being challenged and succeeding in different activities, and being friends with so many different types of people— all weave together to give camp its secret power.

Take that power gained as a child and watch it do great things in adults!