Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks (and Rockbrook dad!) has returned this summer to film and edit more of his occasional highlights videos. Each video provides a fascinating 2-minute glimpse into life at camp, the buzz of activity, and the sweet friendships blossoming all around us.
Here is Robbie’s first video for the third session. Take a couple of minutes to watch. We think you’ll really enjoy it.
It’s been a long standing practice here at Rockbrook to ask parents for feedback after their daughters attend a session of camp. It helps us understand what went well, areas where we can improve, and aspects of camp they particularly appreciate and value. We’ve learned a lot over the years and made improvements based on this feedback.
A recent parent comment caught my eye because it was a little unusual. One mother said she believes Rockbrook’s size, it’s intimate feeling, was important to her child’s success at camp. When this mom was “camp shopping,” she explained she wanted the best small girls’ camp, a camp where her daughter would feel cared for, not just be taken care of “like by a babysitter.” It’s true we have intentionally kept Rockbrook the same size for years, even when we could be adding cabins and accepting more girls. We know there is something special about joining a small community like this where you know most of the people you see, and have regular opportunities to deepen your relationships with them. Too small would limit what we do and who we can meet, but too big would be worse, likewise limiting the quality of our relationships and reducing camp to mere supervision and entertainment (again like what a babysitter provides).
This mom put her finger on one of the things we value most at Rockbrook— getting to know each other and caring for everyone through kindness and generosity. She attributed it to our size, and while that’s important, we also strive to hire and train our staff accordingly, and to set that overall tone throughout each session of camp. Like an essential current flowing through the camp community, the deep relationships, the quality of the friendships, we have with everyone makes camp life meaningful, emotional, and beautiful. We’re so pleased it’s a powerful component of every Rockbrook experience.
This afternoon, a van of girls had the chance to visit the working studio of Ann Dergara for a print making workshop. Ann is a professional sculptor, painter and print maker who lives here in Brevard, and today she was teaching the girls about “monoprints.” Using a clean plate of plexiglass, she demonstrated how to apply different layers of colorful ink, add subtle textures and then imprint the design to a sheet of paper using a large rolling press. After the demonstration, the girls eagerly jumped into making their own monoprint. Since only one print can be made from each inked plate, the results are unique pieces of art. When each piece emerged from the press, the girls clapped and cheered to see their work come alive. We saw proud artists today!
Here’s one last thing I’d like to share. It’s a large poster of paper we saved from one of our weekly staff meetings. Ordinarily held on Sunday evenings, these meetings gather all the cabin counselors for discussions of how things are going, further training, and an opportunity to enjoy time together. You can see (click the image for a larger version), this sheet asked the counselors why they love their campers. Here are some of the responses:
They are silly, enthusiastic and super sweet.
They LOVE camp.
They’re nice to each other.
They are inclusive.
They have such amazing passion and inspire me everyday.
They are confident.
They are always looking out for each other.
They get along so well and are the coolest gals around.
They are learning.
They are so funny, kind, and thankful.
They make me laugh.
They are proactive sorting out their interpersonal problems.
They challenge me and help me grow.
They aren’t afraid to be goofy.
It’s so great hearing how much the counselors admire their campers, how the girls here give the staff’s experience more meaning, emotion and beauty. It’s amazing how proud the counselors are of the campers, how impressed they are by them, and how thankful they are to be their friends at camp. For the staff too, one of the richest rewards of camp is the quality of the relationships formed here. So clear and so cool!
Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks (and Rockbrook dad!) has returned this summer to film and present a series of his excellent highlights videos for us.
This is the fourth year Robbie has been making these occasional videos at Rockbrook, much to everyone’s delight. It’s amazing how he can convey the sweet interactions and overall feeling of camp life in just under two minutes.
Robbie filmed earlier this week and now we have his first video for the second session. Take a look and enjoy. It’s great fun to watch.
Here’s another glimpse into life at camp these days from videographer Robbie Frances. Once again he’s done a great job capturing simple moments around camp, some of the action, and many of the heartwarming smiles we’re seeing everywhere.
It’s not quite 2 minutes long, but has such a nice feel, it deserves to be watched more than once.
Today 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.
Perhaps 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.
The other day I heard a snippet of conversation between two campers talking about their friends. One girl explained, “I have friends at school, but my friends here at Rockbrook are my ‘forever friends.'” What a great way to put it! Friends made at camp are exactly that— so strong, so close, so meaningful, they last. It’s pretty clear. The people here at Rockbrook aren’t just companions or playmates; they’re not simply other girls assigned to your team, or brief acquaintances that happen to eat meals with you in the dining hall. Instead there’s a deepness to many of the friendships formed at camp, an emotional quality that makes relationships here more genuine and powerful.
Why camp friends are forever friends is an interesting question. What is it about summer camp that makes a difference when is comes to forming friendships? My first thought is that we make good friends at camp by virtue of spending so much time together. When you share all your meals, spend all your free time, and do so much together with the same small group of people, you are bound to grow closer. Consistent shared experience simply brings people together. And this togetherness of camp is almost inescapable considering the sleeping cabins holding 10 or more people (no private rooms here!), the lack of electronic devices (which are inherently isolating), and the collaborative character of all our camp activities. There can be moments of solitude for everyone at camp, but generally time at camp is a collective life that keeps us inter-acting with each other throughout the day. This makes good sense, by the way, if having fun is one of the goals of camp. After all, doing something with others is clearly more fun than doing it alone, whether it’s putting on a silly costume, paddling a whitewater raft, or eating a meal.
While this is a start, I suspect there’s more to understanding what drives camp friendships than simply being together and sharing core experiences. Perhaps more importantly, camp life also includes a set of ideals and values, a culture, that guides how we treat each other as a community doing things together. At Rockbrook, this camp culture starts with kindness and generosity. It respects and values everyone, creating enthusiasm and building genuine encouragement. Beginning with the directors, embodied by the staff members, and sustained by Rockbrook’s many traditions, there is a feeling here of warmth and acceptance where every girl is appreciated and supported. This culture makes it easy to cooperate instead of compete, to pitch in rather than check out, and to inspire more than criticize. The Rockbrook camp culture, quite intentionally, brings out these best qualities in people, campers and staff alike, making it a special place oddly different from what’s typically valued in other circles.
This, then, is the secret sauce. The nature of this culture, all of its practiced ideals, provides girls the freedom to explore who they really are, to develop the character and spirit of their “authentic selves.” In this way, camp empowers girls to trust themselves. Free of social judgment, camp life helps awaken confidence, giving girls the power to overcome their own assumptions about who they should be. I believe stripping away these assumptions and being genuine is what makes forever friendships possible. It feels good (“What a relief!”) to be true to yourself too, to be welcomed and nurtured by a real community. No posing needed. Instead, as camp teaches us to be brave personally, it establishes the basis for the most rewarding form of friendship.
So while we’re doing so much together at camp— riding, climbing, weaving, shooting, and playing, for example —we’re discovering that our true selves make the best friends, that being kind makes us happy, and being together like this is always more fun.
Sometimes people ask if the summer seems to pass slowly or quickly for us at Rockbrook. Oddly, it’s both. Today, our last day of the 2012 summer season, we look back and recall all the amazing things we’ve done- the horseback riding, whitewater rafting, zip line rides, pottery, archery, swimming, etc. —and it seems like our opening day was months ago. With so much accomplished, it just had to have taken a really long time! But also, staying busy everyday, packing each day with activities, events and memorable moments, makes the weeks zip by. “It’s 12:30 already?!”
This strange speedy/slow pace is the mark of a truly rich experience. Add to that the fact that we’re all so close at Rockbrook, such good friends, so enthusiastic and genuinely happy, and you can begin to understand why we love camp this much.
Also, you can see why saying goodbye is so hard. We’ll miss all our amazing friends, the silly, terrific fun of camp, and how the whole experience makes us feel. For every session this summer, camp has proven once again to be a magical place filled with spirit and wonder.
It has been a pleasure to spend these few weeks with your delightful girls. Thank you for sharing them with us! And while we must say goodbye for now, we’ll look forward to seeing them again next summer here at Rockbrook.
When girls first begin to learn rock climbing at Rockbrook, they start on our high ropes course climbing tower. It’s an “Alpine Tower” and you may have seen photos of it before here. It’s really the perfect place to learn how to climb because it makes so many different elements of “real rock climbing” so accessible. The girls can quickly learn important safety principles like the belay commands. They can begin to feel comfortable using the basic rock climbing gear like the harness, helmet, carabiner and rope. And, they can actually climb! A lot! The Alpine Climbing Tower provides close to 100 different ways to climb to the top; there are poles, nets, ropes, cables, climbing holds and rock walls to allow a whole range of difficulties and challenges. Girls can sign up for climbing instruction every week at camp and climb a couple of different routes every time they come!
But what do you learn when you first start out rock climbing? The importance of stretching and warming up is a good start. Everyone does better if they are flexible and a little stronger after warming up. After that the first lesson emphasizes the importance of balance, of being able to hold still balancing on one foot, for example, and moving the other leg or arms to reach a certain spot. Next, the girls learn footwork is central to rock climbing. It’s not mainly about finding grips for your hands, but rather about learning to use your feet and legs to move up the rock. Your hands and arms mainly help with balance, and your legs keep you moving. The other beginning rock climbing lesson to learn is more mental than physical. It’s learning to stay calm and focused. Rock climbing is a series of puzzles that requires concentration, and a calm, clear attention to details the rock presents. If you aren’t relaxed on the rock and get in a hurry, you might miss a hold or skip right over the perfect foothold making your route more strenuous and less enjoyable.
All of these lessons can take some practice to master, but there’s so much rock climbing going on at Rockbrook, the girls easily learn them. It’s really not hard to learn how to rock climb at camp, and the girls love it!