Making a Difference

Hey there! My name is Emily Schmitt and this is my eighth summer at Rockbrook! Six of those years have been as a camper and I’m now in my second year on staff, this year being my first as a full counselor. Last year, I lived the CIT (counselor in training) life and was not sure what to expect this summer because I’d be filling a role completely new to me.

pair of girls on sliding rock NC

I’m on the Middler line, leading a group of girls either going into sixth or seventh grade— so a very transformative period in their lives to say the least. I started coming to camp at this age. I was about to start sixth grade and though I remember a lot about my camper years, details of my activities and the small minutia of camp life have faded from my memory. The main thing I remember clear as day are all the interactions I had with my counselors. They were my world when I was at camp. I was so obsessed that even after my second senior year I made one of my counselor’s names my computer password!  Yeah, I was that obsessed.

I was here for second session this summer and now that we’re officially in third session, which happens to be the session I attended as a camper, I’m getting daily confirmations of the impact that I’m making on my campers— something that surprises me every time it happens. Recently, we had Jugband, where the whole camp gathers together and we sing old camp songs, make silly jokes, put on our best southern accent, and use anything around us as an instrument. I took on the persona of ‘May,’ short for “Mayonnaise,” and soon after my campers started to copy me, and in the back of my mind I knew it was because they were following my lead.

camp life counselor and camper

I’m teaching tennis and riflery this session, and though I am experienced down on the riflery range, tennis is something I am less proficient in, although I’ve played casually before. This was rather daunting for me, but I knew if I was enthusiastic, then the girls would be too. So, when we were signing up for activities, I explained to my girls that I was doing something that made me slightly uncomfortable, but I was going to do it with all I had and encouraged them to follow suit. Many of my campers signed up for new activities like climbing and gymnastics, and I even got one of my girls to sign up for tennis! Another example was during our Animal Planet themed dinner, when I started singing along to the songs that were playing over the speaker.  Soon my whole table chimed in, and we were all singing along to “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.

It’s in the small ways that I know I’m making a difference in these girls lives, like when one of them will randomly give me a hug or they’ll call out my name as I’m walking down the hill, just to wave. Back when I was a camper, I didn’t know or realize that the small interactions I had with my counselors meant as much to them as it did to me. These girls are the reason I love this job and the reason I hope to come back for many more years to help create the magic of Rockbrook and make this place as special for my campers as it was for me when I was growing up.

— Emily Schmitt

The Five Essential Qualities of a Rockbrook Girl

All Smiles in Needlecraft

“Rockbrook Girl” is a title that we throw around all the time here at camp. We call campers Rockbrook Girls when they help to clean up messes that they didn’t help to create, are friendly to a new camper, or come bounding in on Opening Day with a grin from ear to ear and a fervent (and usually vocal) wish for their parents just to be gone already, so camp can start. We even have a song (“Hooray for [blank], She’s a Rockbrook Girl”), which ascribes that title to anyone at camp that we want to celebrate.

Friendship Bracelet Maker

What is a Rockbrook Girl? Well—the lazy answer is that you just sort of know her when you see her. This is the answer that I nearly always lean on, since every time I put on my analytical hat and try to sum up the essence of a true Rockbrook Girl into a single, ironclad list of qualities, I run into this roadblock: there is such a wide array of thoroughly different Rockbrook Girls that there is an exception to nearly every trait I deem necessary.

Are Rockbrook girls talkative? Sure, plenty of them are. But what about the two that I saw yesterday, sitting on the Hill, not saying a word to one another, one sketching, the other reading? They looked incredibly happy to be there, and walked off when the bell rang for Evening Program with huge smiles on their faces. So what if they hadn’t said two words to each other through the whole of Twilight? They had enjoyed that hour with one another just as much as the most talkative girls in camp had.

Balloon Archery

Are Rockbrook girls outdoorsy? Sometimes they are. There are girls who go out on every paddling, rock climbing, and hiking trip that we offer. They want to learn every camping skill that we can teach them, and would happily eschew the allures of air conditioning for the rest of their lives. But what about the ones who like to stay in their cabins with their friends, making friendship bracelets or playing cards? They are no less Rockbrook Girls than the first sort.

You see the challenge. Yet still, I think I have come up with five qualities that sum up Rockbrook Girls, that still manage to allow for the myriad personalities that fit into that category. Some girls show up on their first day of camp, fully equipped with every one of these qualities, ready to take camp by storm. Some gain a little bit more of each of them each year that they come to camp, as Rockbrook helps to shape them into the adults that they will become.

Buddies in Folklore

1. Friendliness
Whether they are talkative or quiet, shy or outgoing, Rockbrook Girls are always friendly to one another. There’s no room here at camp for the cliques and exclusion that you can find at schools, and Rockbrook Girls tend to get that right away. In fact, it’s one of the qualities of camp that they relish most. Rockbrook girls view every person that they see as a potential friend, and will go out of their way to treat those people with kindness and respect.

Cracking Up in Hodge Podge

2. Laughter
Rockbrook girls laugh. They laugh when something is funny, of course, but they also laugh at themselves, when they do something silly or make a mistake. Sometimes they just laugh to fill the silences, to make sure that no one is getting too bored. Most importantly, though, they laugh when things don’t go right. They push through frustration and embarrassment, and find the humor in every situation, knowing that as long as they can laugh at it, no challenge is too difficult to tackle. Just the other day, during swim demos, I saw one of our youngest campers jump into the lake, and immediately ask the life guards to help her out. She climbed out of the lake and over to me with a grin on her face. She shrugged, and said “Well, that didn’t go so well!” I reassured her that the cold water can be a shock the first time you jump in, and that there’s nothing wrong with not quite getting it the first time. She laughed out loud, and said, “I’m not worried! I’ll just go again tomorrow.” And she marched off to join her new friends. That, right there, was a Rockbrook Girl.

gymnasitic leap

3. Daring
Every girl here has at least enough daring to leave the familiarity of home, and come to a place as crazy as this for a few weeks. That is impressive enough already. But, while they’re here, this trait can manifest itself in manifold ways. Maybe they go on every trip that we offer without looking back. Maybe they have to stand at the edge of the rock that starts the zip line for ten minutes before stepping off into thin air. Maybe they audition for the play on day one. Maybe they dread the Evening Program skits every night, but join in resolutely anyway, taking on a bigger and bigger role each time. Regardless of the form of their daring—whether effortless, or a quieter, more determined sort of courage—Rockbrook Girls always possess a bit of it.

Painting With Straws

4. Helpfulness
Every girl at camp has jobs to do. Whether they have to take out the cabin trash in the morning, clear the tables after a meal, or keep their area in the cabin neat for the sake of their cabin-mates, they are great about remembering their responsibility to help keep camp clean. True Rockbrook Girls, though, tend to go the extra mile. They offer to help a new camper find their way to their activities, they stay behind after craft activities to help clean up the supplies, they walk their friends to the deducky if they have to go in the middle of the night, they lend out their flashlights and costumes and stationery, they sit and listen and offer a shoulder to cry on whenever a friend is upset… there are countless ways that they find to help. This comes, I think, from being very aware that they are a key part of this community. They feel acutely the responsibility that comes along with that, and want to help in any way they can to make our community strong.

Superstar

5. Confidence to be who they are
This is a hard one. We all feel that urge to change bits of ourselves to fit in and be a part of the cool crowd. Rarely (though it does happen) do girls come into their first year of camp feeling entirely comfortable with who they are, quirks and all. But as they come back, year after year, something begins to change. They find it a little easier to be friendly to new or “uncool” girls. They find it a little easier to laugh when things get tough. They find it a little easier to call on that sense of daring when needed. They find it a little easier to lend a helping hand, even when it might inconvenience them. And, most importantly, after years of being surrounded by friendly, happy, daring, and helpful friends who love and support them in everything they do, Rockbrook girls find it a little easier to show the world their true selves, without apology.

Ready to Go for 2014

Rockbrook Girls

Welcome everyone to Rockbrook Camp for its 2014 summer sessions! This is perhaps the most exciting day of the year for all of us at camp because it’s when camp finally comes back to life, when the enthusiasm of campers, the energetic anticipation of staff members, and the many months of careful planning by Rockbrook’s directors join forces again to create this wonderful place. Everyone looks forward to the opening day of first session, especially those of us that think about camp all year long… campers, counselors and directors alike. So welcome! This is going to be a great summer.

In these blog posts, we will report bits and pieces of camp life. In addition to the photo gallery (which you access only after logging into your parent account), these daily posts will provide a little detail about what’s going on at Rockbrook. They won’t be a “full report,” so to speak, but instead something that comes to mind as I recall the day, or feel compelled to comment on a photo or idea drawn from the people and events of camp. I hope you enjoy reading.

Camp bunk all set up

“A few butterflies” is how one mom described her daughter’s feeling this morning as the campers were checking in. Even when this might be a girl’s 3rd or 4th year coming to camp, those first moments driving up, meeting your counselor and experiencing the buzz of opening day— it can jangle the nerves. At the same time, it’s a happy feeling because there are smiles everywhere… So many examples of “run-scream-hug your camp friend from last summer” kinds of moments, friendly introductions, and excitement. There might be some jitters at the beginning, but with something this big and enthusiastic that’s pretty normal.

And of course it takes very little time for jitters to soften into a new smile and feelings of belonging. The feeling of camp is just infectious that way.

Passing the camp swim test

A little rain overnight made the ground this morning a little soft when we opened (especially our sports field parking area!), but as the morning progressed, the sun held brightly the rest of the day. The girls settled into their cabins, set up their bunks and began to explore Rockbrook. One new find was the Gaga pit. I’ll explain that more later, but think of it as an arena to play a special version of dodgeball. It addition, the campers staying on the lower line of cabins were surprised to find the newly renovated bathroom we call the “Be-Bop.” The “Half-Pint” cabin likewise was rebuilt last fall, making it the newest of our 25 cabins at camp.

The sunny weather made everyone’s “swim demonstrations” pleasant and fun. Our chilly lake, which is kept “mountain stream cool” by the creek that feeds it, can be a little shocking at first, but the encouragement from all of the lifeguards and the directors, as well as the vigor of the swimming itself, make it all a thrill. Bright warm sunshine made it all the better. The results? Everyone who tried, passed and received a green swim tag.

Climbing staff camp skit

Following the afternoon swims, camp tours, games in the lodges and cabin meetings, as well as a brief assembly on the hill to learn songs and meet this session’s Hi-Ups, we all gathered in the gym to watch the activity instructors and counselors perform short skits and songs to introduce all of the options available to the campers during the activity periods. This included costumes that integrated special gear, like the climbing instructors in this photo, music, props and even a few dance steps from some. These skits are also a neat way for the campers to see that their counselors, just like them, are having fun by acting silly, laughing and being supportive all the while. I did notice about 4 different references to the recent Disney movie Frozen… It’s just a hunch, but that might be a major theme all summer long!

It’s been a perfect opening day of camp. We’re all excited and ready to go.

View from Summer Camp

Smart Girls Have More Fun

We live in a society that sometimes struggles to provide girls with positive role models.  Certain pressures can force young girls to try and become something that they are not simply to fit in.  Girls think they need to be prettier, richer, skinnier, smarter, quieter, louder — the list goes on and on.  The point is, we never feel like the person we are is good enough because we’ve been told over and over that we’re not.  This is why when I heard about Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party program I was so excited.  The motto for Amy’s program is “Change the world by being yourself.”  How refreshing.  Check out the episode below of Smart Girls in which Amy highlights the cool things about being outdoors, something we care a lot about at camp!

Kudos to Amy Poehler for letting girls know that not only are they OK as they are, but that by being themselves, they are exceptional.

A Christmas Perm

Snowy Dining Hall

A Rockbrook Girl’s Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all round the world,

Were the coolest of cool, those great Rockbrook girls.

Their trunks were still packed in the corners of their rooms,

And they offered camp-colors to wintery gloom.

The world was a snow globe, all twinkling and white,

And the houses and halls were all decked in their lights.

Their tummies were warmed by hot chocolates and ciders,

And the girls never worried ‘bout snakes or wolf spiders.

The holiday season brought so much to love:

With ice skating, skiing, warm mittens and gloves,

With Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali,

With New Year’s, and Christmas with boughs of bright holly.

But while sugarplums danced in the heads of their friends,

And their brothers’ discussions of gifts would not end,

The campers they dreamed of a different time,

When the weather was warm and the company was fine.

They dreamed of the days spent beneath the hot sun,

Of laughter and joy and unstoppable fun.

They dreamed of old cabins of weathered brown wood,

Of the Dining Hall songs and the dinners so good.

For these girls have a place of which only they know,

A place that still calls them through sleet and through snow.

A queendom of summer, all wreathed in tall trees,

Governed by girls with dirty faces and knees.

A place of the Midget Man, Killroy, and Nancy,

A place where the costumes make everyone fancy.

A place where the coolest is she who sings loudest,

A place where the silliest is always the proudest.

There may be no presents, no Santas or stockings,

There may be no carolers on front doors knocking,

There may be no snowmen at that time of year,

But there’s no other time with more pep or more cheer.

It’s a time that’s for rollicking, frolicking joys,

A time just for girls, with no smelly old boys.

It’s a time that’s for hiking, for swimming, for climbing,

A time that’s for Honosorarius rhyming.

It’s a time when directors can be seen walking,

And always with counselors and campers are talking.

A time when sweet Sarah stands up at the mic,

And says to the list’ners in a voice kind and bright,

“Now campers! Now counselors! Now barn staff and nurses!

On paddlers! On crafters! On singers of verses!

To the top of the Tower and to Rockbrook Falls,

Now hike away, climb away, dance away all!

For this is your time, on this midsummer’s day,

And it shall be spent in your favorite way.

It’s a time that we treasure in all of our hearts,

A time full of many incredible parts.”

So campers, though you are now spread far and wide,

Though you may have grown older, left camp days behind,

Just think of dear Rockbrook, in days cold and dark,

And its spirit will bring summer’s warmth to your heart.

And the day will come soon, for you or your daughter,

When you both stand once more beside cold running water,

And listen to red birds sing high in the pine,

And hear sounds of Rockbrook down each merry line.

But for now, let me tell you, with heart full of joy,

That I wish you best wishes for you to enjoy.

May your holiday season be happy and bright,

Merry Christmas from Rockbrook; to all a goodnight!

Summer 2012 — Terrific!

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.

Rockbrook girl summer campers

A Recipe for Community

Creativity Dancers

One feature of camp life at Rockbrook that makes it so special, so meaningful for the girls and indeed for everyone here (counselors, adventure guides, kitchen and maintenance staff alike), is the strong sense of community we all enjoy. It’s a really cool thing to experience. As we all share so much together- eating, playing, making, singing, the outdoor environment, even the weather -we grow closer everyday. Combine that full-time shared experience with non-stop fun activities and events led by caring, admirable role models, and mix in time for heartfelt conversations with people who are relaxed and being their “true selves,” and our recipe for community takes shape. It’s this sense of community- inclusive, noncompetitive, caring, compassionate and kind- that forms the core of Rockbrook’s philosophy. And there is real, significant power in this kind of community; experiencing it teaches us how to be positive and brings out our best. So when your daughter returns home after camp talking about her friends and how much fun she had, you’ll also know why she’s feeling so good about herself, is a better communicator, and is more positive and responsible. Rockbrook has become her community, her camp.

Horseback Summer Camp Girl
Camp Girl Aiming a Rifle

Have you heard about the freshly baked muffins that Katie, our awesome baker, makes for us each day? Between the first and second activity periods each morning, Katie surprises the camp with a different flavor of muffins, and she’s not shy about trying unique, almost off-the-wall varieties. Today for example, she presented Blackberry Mint with Chocolate sprinkles. Earlier in the week, she made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip, and Banana Streusel flavors to balance more traditional muffins like Blueberry and Lemon. It’s no wonder that “Muffin Break” is a favorite time of the day.

Down at the rifle range, the girls have been blasting the black through stacks of paper targets. With coaching from Leah, Deanna and Cliff, and now with two new, perfectly sighted Marlin rifles, there are very excited young marksmen down there shooting. Some of the girls have been scoring in the 40s (a bullseye is 10 points and 5 bullets are shot per target), proud of their developing riflery skills.

At the Rockbrook equestrian center, there are girls learning to walk, trot, canter and jump their horses, sharpening their horseback riding skills everyday. For both the complete beginners and the more advanced riders, there are just the right lessons, horses and instructors ready to go. The recent sunny, dry weather has made it ideal for the horseback riding team to keep everyone involved riding, and caring for the horses during the “Stable Club” meetings.

Girls Camp Dance Costume
Summer Camp Girls dancing at costume party
All Girl Summer Camp Party

One way to make a dance party fun is to encourage dressing up, but perhaps surprisingly, it can be even more fun if it’s a girls only affair. That’s exactly what we did tonight when our friend “DJ Dawg” Marcus came over to mix music for us in the gym for a costume dance party. With no boys around, with nobody to scrutinize or be scrutinized by, the girls can dress a little sillier, truly cut loose on the dance floor, and scream as loud as they want when their favorite song starts. All girls means all smiles and no nerves. It means dancing simply for the pure joy of it. This kind of dance is a great way to learn dance moves too- how to whip your hair, “Cha Cha Slide,” and shake it all over, hands in the air. By the end of the night, we were all a little hot and sweaty, but felt good having had this much fun together.

All Girl Dance at Summer Camp

Camp Teaches Resilience

Everyone experiences setbacks now and then, the occasional failed effort or unexpected misfortune. But what happens when you kids trip up or get knocked down? Do they stay down? Sink lower, and let that moment of failure defeat them? Or, do they bounce back, maybe learn from the experience, and gain a new dimension of confidence to face the next challenge? Put differently, how resilient are your kids?

Girls Resilience at Summer Camp

Dr. Michael Ungar, a Social Worker, Family Therapist, and University Research Professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada has thought about this question a lot. He is a co-director of the Resilience Research Centre, an organization coordinating experts from around the world in sociology, psychiatry, education and medicine in a broad project to understand the cross-cultural similarities and differences in how resilience is understood, and to explore ways we can help children and young people be more resilient.

Several times before we’ve discussed how summer camp helps kids grow and how becoming more resilient is one of the clear benefits of camp. Now Dr. Ungar weighs in with a nice Psychology Today article entitled, “Summer Camps Make Kids Resilient.”

I encourage you to go read the article, but I wanted to summarize his main points here as well. Perhaps most importantly, Ungar identifies summer camp as a place where kids learn to do things for themselves without the kind of careful orchestration parents ordinarily provide. It’s a place where, instead, they can try challenging activities and take manageable risks, all while being provided encouragement and positive role models to help them learn to cope with disappointments.

Speaking from his research on resilience, Ungar pinpoints 7 important components of the summer camp experience children need to develop these coping strategies. These are seven things camp provides that help kids when they experience setbacks later in their lives.

  1. New friendly relationships
  2. Regular moments of pride and self-confidence
  3. Experiences of competency and self-efficacy
  4. Relief from unfair social treatment
  5. Healthy physical activity and nutrition habits
  6. Belonging to a meaningful community
  7. Opportunities to reflect on cultural values

There’s so much more to each of these, and I suspect interesting mechanisms that make them effective. What’s important to realize is that all of them are core ingredients of the camp experience here at Rockbrook. The program activities, staff training, and overall camp philosophy here work together to insure that our campers enjoy these beneficial experiences. Of course, we’re having a really great time together as well, just as we strengthen our powers of resilience.