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

Growing Together

“Most of us can remember how long the summers used to seem and how long it was from birthday to birthday. When we were five, it seemed we’d never get to be ten, and at ten it seemed it would be forever until we were twenty. So often is it only by looking back at where we have been that we can see we are growing at all.” —Fred Rogers

multi-age camp girls

Camp is often thought of as an antidote to many of the things we miss in today’s society: it provides a slower pace, a place to have real conversations, a time to disconnect from technology and reconnect with people. Even reconnecting with people is unique. With more socializing done online and inside and less within the community, many of us only have strong relationships with people who are within the same age, or are family. At camp, however, we are constantly interacting with people, and building community with, people who are older and younger than us. These inter-age conversations give us so many advantages: we are able to see new perspectives and hear new stories, see how far we’ve grown or where we are growing to, and form a dynamic community where all ages can appreciate what the others are offering.

These relationships are woven into the fabric of camp. At dance today, for example, there were three juniors and two counselors dancing. The counselors were patient and kind as the campers picked up the moves, each representing their own unique personalities in their renditions. Then, when they took a break, I thought about how naturally the girls and counselors were talking. It was simple: they were talking about movies (the song “Thriller” was playing, which some of the girls recognized from Thirteen Going On Thirty), speculating about the upcoming banquet (a topic that is endlessly interesting), and about the upcoming dance show. Even though the conversations were simple, they were quietly profound; each girl was known, and was able to share her unique experiences with the group. There aren’t many other times that twenty-year-olds and eight-year-olds sit in the same room and talk about their lives and experiences.

camp craft project girls together

This happens all the time, all throughout camp. It’s there when girls are sitting on the dock talking to swimming instructors after swimming in the lake. It’s there when seniors led the Luau on Sunday, welcoming new campers and inspiring their excitement about the activities. Maybe it’s best represented by the Hi-Ups, who have the most structured interactions with younger campers. Yesterday, I helped lead the junior overnight at the Rockbrook outpost, a ten-minute walk from camp. A few Hi-Ups (the oldest campers) were helping me build a fire. One of the Hi-Ups said she had not been out there since she was a junior. When the juniors came to meet us out there, she knew all of their names, and knew what to do to make the overnight incredible. Knowing her was clearly meaningful for the juniors; they all asked her to sit beside her, and the way she knew them made each of them feel special and valued. By getting to interact with people older than them, juniors are able to see role models of who they want to be as they are growing. Yet it was also meaningful for the Hi-Up. At the overnight, she was able to see how much she had grown in her years at camp, to help provide an experience for others that had meant so much to her as a junior, and to enjoy the new perspectives and sense of joy that come from talking to an outgoing and spirited cabin of juniors.

inter-age camp girls together

Counselors have told me they love talking to campers partly because of the way campers ask them to see the world. One counselor laughed as she was telling me about her cabin of juniors who told her they were missing Bobby. She did not want to seem so out of the loop that she did not know who (or what) Bobby was, so she asked a lot of questions about what he looked like. What does Bobby wear? A top hat and a rainbow striped outfit. Could he have wandered off? No, he has no legs and arms, but he could have rolled. What color is Bobby? Rainbow (we just told you that!). It turned out Bobby was a cork the group had decorated. The counselor dove head-first into their mission, and the cabin even made an announcement at a meal about how he had gone missing. In the end, it turned out that he was found in a Crazy Creek, not far from where he was last seen. As I type this, rest assured that Bobby is safe in his box, a nice place, similar to where you may find a charm bracelet, with a nice foam mattress and a construction paper blanket. On the lid, you’ll see “Home Sweet Home,” written in Sharpie. As we grow up, and are inundated by pressures and distractions, it’s rare that we get the opportunity to work together to find a cork in a big camp, and we remember how much pure fun the simple parts of life can be.

In addition to these inter-age conversations that happen between campers and each other, and their young counselors, this extends to an even greater range of people. A great example is Kathy Singer, who was a Rockbrook Camper from 1956-1957, and then came back as a counselor in the 60s. Now, she teaches the Folklore Activity, and she is beloved at camp for her stories about camp and also her stories about life. Recently, campers and counselors started the “Kathy Singer Fan Club,” complete with stickers, a testament to how much she has meant to the camp community this summer.

By continuing to have these inter-age conversations, we are keeping the traditions of camp alive; we are all a part of this larger community, and we take care of each other, knowing that this spirit will continue into the future. We also learn more about other people, the change in times, and how much we have grown. In a world where we are sometimes disconnected from other ages and perspectives, how lucky we are to come to camp and grow together.

swimming with kickboards together in the lake

Cultivating Who We Are

Girl camp drawing

Do you know how to draw? What about play tennis? Paddle a kayak? Sing? Tell a joke? Act in a skit? Cook a meal? Do you have the personality, the talent, the physical or intellectual abilities to handle the challenges of these activities? Speaking about yourself, you probably have quick answers to questions like these. You might think, “I’m terrible at drawing, but I know how to play tennis,” for example. Over years of experience, now as an adult you probably think you have a good sense of your inherent traits, your likes and dislikes, your abilities, where you feel “smart” and where you don’t. You’re an old dog who’s learned your tricks… Thank you very much.

But what about your kids? Have they figured all of this out? Gosh, I hope not! We don’t want our children to decide who they are too soon, or conclude, based on their limited experience, that they are not creative, athletic, funny or smart in some way. That would be antithetical to every educational principle we hold. Believing that children are born with an immutable set of traits, a static personality, or inherently finite abilities, is preposterous. After all, we want just the opposite for our kids; we want them to learn, develop and grow.  For this reason, as parents, we do our best to provide all sorts of experiences that might inspire them, and guide them as they grow physically, emotionally and intellectually. We hope that through these experiences our children will gain skills, become more capable, and be happy and successful when they grow up.

Girl kayaking in whitewater

Of course, sending them to camp is a great example of this. The experiences they have here, away from the habits of home and school, are ripe for self-development. Everyday at camp there are physical challenges to meet —paddling boats, pulling back bowstrings, and swimming in the “freezing” cold lake, for example. There are opportunities to grow emotionally, like handling frustration or a twinge of homesickness that might creep in during rest hour. There are daily moments to be creative, to play with options, to dabble and engage new activities and experiences. One moment the girls might get a good closeup look at a spider in the shower, and the next, sample Rick’s tabouli (made with quinoa) along with their turkey sandwich. We want the girls at camp to embrace these challenges and to see them, even if they seem scary or “too hard” at first, as normal, even good. We hope the girls will realize it’s OK to struggle with these new experiences— perhaps to find painting a still life difficult, to completely miss the target in riflery, to feel nervous performing, or to decide that tabouli is weird.

This is an important attitude, and it’s one we emphasize here at Rockbrook. It’s what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” It’s “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

camp girls weaving outside

This is a joyful attitude that celebrates new experiences, embraces differences and challenges. It assumes neither the world nor ourselves are fixed, and that we can always learn and grow. When faced with struggle or criticism, a growth mindset holds onto a notion of improvement and future understanding. A growth mindset keeps “not yet” in mind.

So at camp, “I’m a little scared to go on the zipline” means “I haven’t yet had the courage for the zipline.” “I didn’t hit the target in archery” means “I haven’t yet hit the target.” “My drawing isn’t very good” means “I haven’t yet learned to draw better.” None of this means, as a “fixed mindset” assumes, “ziplines aren’t for me,” or “I’m no good at archery”, or “I have no artistic talent.”

With somewhat silly abandon, with “just for the fun of it” energizing everything, camp inspires this approach to life. The Rockbrook community is so encouraging, the friends around us so accepting, the girls here are often eager to try again when they feel there’s more to achieve, like mastering a more complex weaving pattern, clearing a higher jump at riding, or sampling a new kind of tabouli, for example. With this attitude, there’s always more out there and more within each of us.

Living in this community we all realize we are cultivating who we are, not discovering something that’s already set in stone.  We are learning that we can always learn more and be more. For our children, and I’d say for us parents too, that’s a really valuable approach to adopt. And through their time at Rockbrook, they’re getting a great head start.

Camp girls talking on porch

According to the Campers

Once again, I thought we could publish a few pieces written by the campers themselves, telling us what Rockbrook has meant to them, and what they might have learned this session. We asked a Junior, and three Seniors (writing together) to share their thoughts, and these are the results!

So Much Shaving Cream
Three Musketeers

Kate (9)–South Carolina

Rockbrook is a great place because it’s a place where girls can learn. They don’t just learn they become stronger people. When I first came to camp, I was not a really strong person. I did not make my bed, or clean much.

Then the day of camp came. From that second ’til now, I can tell all the girls and I have become stronger people and friends. I think that Rockbrook can make you meet a pal for life. I did, and we have told each other many secrets.

I also think my counselors are right about the saying “FFF” (Fierce Fabulous Females). That’s what you will become if you come to Rockbrook.

Hugs!

Rachel (14)–Virginia; Sanders (14)–Texas; Emily (14)–Georgia

When the three of us, Rachel, Sanders, and Emily, volunteered to write a snippet of the camp blog, at first we were unsure of how to put our thoughts into words. Should it be funny, formal, poetic, etc…? But, as we talked about it, it seemed to write itself:

To us, Rockbrook is waking up with a tangle of signatures strewn above your head. It’s coming back to friends you haven’t seen in a year, and feeling like you never left. It’s the deafening crunch of gravel at rest hour, and star-gazing on the Hill when you’re supposed to be asleep. It’s the nights when the sky is within your reach, and the darkness is your blanket.

Rockbrook is arguing with your counselor over the existence of a Fairy Party [editor’s note: just a dream…], and redetermining what “dry” means. It’s days in which laughter’s as constant as breath, and the cardinal’s glow stays with you all year. It’s the smile on your face when you’re singing your favorite camp song at the top of your lungs.

Rockbrook is home.

A Day of Hugs

Closing our long session of camp, as we did today, is always emotional, and often a tearful experience for all of us— campers, staff members, and parents too. Combined with the happiness of reuniting with family members, today brought on a sudden sadness from realizing that everything we’ve been loving about camp is ending… at least for now. Today we had to say goodbye to the freedoms of camp, to all the action, the silliness, creativity and adventure built into everyday of the last few weeks, but more intensely, to all the wonderful people of camp, to the love and support everyone cherishes about life at Rockbrook. There are friends here, true friends who we will miss deeply even as we know that camp will always welcome us back. It’s been a day of hugs, where we try to embrace, for just a moment longer, how Rockbrook feels and what it truly means.

It’s really a difficult thing to describe, but here’s a lovely message from a parent that speaks to it:

kaitie U. From 2007

I cannot believe that 10 years have passed since we first made our way up the gravel driveway to camp. It really did not dawn on me until Kaitie came home that this was her last year as a Rockbook Camper. She loves her special time there so much, I guess I thought it would just go on forever. Until I read her statement that she gave at Spirit Fire and saw the tear stains on the ink, I didn’t fully appreciate how much this summer meant to her. I was touched by the raw emotion she expressed and the anxiety she feels about the possibility of never returning again in the same capacity. Rockbrook is more than just a “camp” that she goes to for a few weeks every summer. Rockbrook is a part of the fabric of her very being. It is a part of her philosophy of living. She sees the world through the eyes of a 7 year old little girl who found her way through the heart of a wooded mountain, cabin by cabin, to become the amazing young woman she is today. I find it difficult to put into words…it is the way she stands, the way she walks and the smile on her face when she speaks of this special place that is hers. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have given her.

I hope you have a great rest of the summer. Know that she is thinking of you every single day. I cannot imagine better thoughts.

Laurie Uebelhoer

Thanks everyone for a great session! We’re all looking forward to when we can see you again at Rockbrook.

Score A Bathing Suit Body Today!

Bathing suit season can bring quite a bit of anxiety into the worlds of our campers and staff members. We’re inundated with the idea that, before we slip into our bathing suit, our body needs to change- smaller, flatter, smoother. The truth is the only thing that needs to change this bathing suit season is our mindset. We all already posses a body beautiful enough to wear whatever we want, we just need let our mind in on this secret.

Notice What We Notice

We tend to have a complicated relationship with our mirror. Our blemishes and asymmetries are the first thing reflected back to us, while we rarely notice the beauty and functionality of our bodies. When we notice what we tend to focus on in the mirror, we can begin to change our entire worldview. Taking in more of the beauty of our natural image will serve us well during bathing suit season.

Bathing suit season

Think Through Our Thoughts

Our thought patterns are the true culprits that keep us out of our bathing suit. Reconsidering any of our self-limiting mindsets can train us to embrace our beautiful body as it is, just as it is. We can keep an eye on our thoughts when we find ourselves engaged with these restrictive mindsets:

Comparing- We’re only ever going to be ourselves (and isn’t that exciting because we are great!), so we might as well rock a bathing suit on the body we were born with!

All or nothing reasoning- The fun of life lies in between absolute perfection and total failure and not achieving the former does not not automatically make us the latter. Of course, we’re not perfect, but we are strong, beautiful, capable, and lovely!

Confusing feelings with facts- What we feel is not what we are. We may fixate on how we feel about our “flaws”, but this does not mean that we are flawed as a person.

Going overboard- It is so easy to take one small thought and allow it to spiral out of control. For example, we may try on a bathing suit this spring that fits a little snug. This does not indicate that we should never try on anything ever again and that we’re worthless, and that we should go ahead and cancel our beach trip and live in our sweatpants! (See? Our thoughts can get very big very fast!)

bathing suit body

Watch What We’re Watching

Hollywood and glossy magazine ads can quickly negate any positive sense of self-worth that we work so hard to create and maintain. We can keep our own reality in check be recognizing the distortions in these images. With Photoshop, even the models in these photos don’t look like the models in these photos.

Perfect Our Perceptions

There’s a lot more to us as people than how we look. Our minds are sharp and we have so much to offer the world. We are not a number on a scale, the size of our jeans, or the laugh lines on our face.

Pack On The Positive

Let’s allow our minds to celebrate our bodies in all that they do for us. Thank goodness that we are healthy and strong enough to go for a swim in the first place!

Look At The Big Picture

Live boldly! How we look and feel in a bathing suit has very little to do with the quality of our lives. Outside ourselves exists a whole delightfully charming world just waiting to be explored and enjoyed. And oh how lovely that we can experience some of it in a bathing suit!

Deeds For Our Daughters

Whether we have children or not, we are always in a position to change the world. Every day, we can choose to engage in ways that can inspire a younger generation. A few small changes in our own lives can make a world of difference to the girls who look up to us. We can teach the girls in our lives to take themselves seriously while continuing to navigate through a fun, playful life full of meaning and love.

Kayak girl big shout

Ignore More Mirrors
The time we spend plucking, primping, analyzing, pulling, highlighting, and altering our appearance in front of a mirror speaks volumes to our daughters. Learning to appreciate our own natural image will help our daughters understand the beauty in who they are- just as they are.

Read More Books
Engaging ourselves intellectually and emotionally through literature encourages our daughters to do the same. Books allow us to travel to exotic places and meet new people. More than that, however, books introduced us to topics and emotions that we may not ever experience through everyday living. With every page we turn, our daughters watch us elevate our worldview and sense of self-worth.

Explore Government
Becoming politically informed isn’t about conflict, left-wing versus right-wing, it’s about community. Demonstrating to our daughters that we know and care about politics puts into place a lesson in altruism- people and things exist beyond our own social circles and we should care about them.

Summer swim smile

Find A New Hobby
Learn a language, take a cooking class, start fishing, or camping, or painting, or playing tennis. Do something new, anything new. We help to open the world up for our daughters when we move beyond our own comfort zone.

Compliment Beyond Clothes
Move away from compliments that highlight physical appearance- that cute bow, those beautiful curls, new shoes. We can value our daughters with praise founded on their intellectual accomplishments, conversation style, and athletic or artistic feats. We can help our daughters move away from a life of being pretty and into to a life of doing good.

Calculate Tip Without a Calculator
More women than ever are moving into the math and science sectors of the workforce. Practicing mental math in front of our daughters make numbers and logic commonplace. Long division is nothing to be scared of!

Get Angry
Get angry. It’s not an emotion we should hide from our daughters. Things will upset us. We can let our daughters watch us experience anger without any shame or guilt attached to the emotion. We can also demonstrate to them how to process anger in a healthy, productive way.

Laugh
Laugh daily and laugh loudly. We can bring joy into our own lives by teaching our daughters that life is funny and lovely. Shining bright and living hard not only lightens up our own path, but may even illuminate the way for those following in our footsteps.

You can apply these anytime! Whether it’s working at camp or living your broader life, you can make a difference.

Basketball campers

Words that Inspire

During a staff meeting this past summer, we divided our counselors into groups of four. Each group was given a set of famous quotations that they were asked to relate to their job at a summer camp. After five minutes the groups traded quotations and the pattern continued until each counselor had analyzed about 25 different quotes.

Some of the responses from counselors were funny, some sweet and tender, and many were thought-provoking. Take a look at a sampling of the words that inspired our job performance last summer.

camp garden and girl back

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the sky.”     -Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“Do the things you talked about doing but never did. Know when to let go and when to hold on tight. Stop rushing. Don’t be intimidated to say it like it is. Stop apologizing all the time. Learn to say no, so your yes has some oomph. Spend time with friends who lift you up, and cut loose the ones who bring you down. Stop giving your power away. Be more concerned with being interested than being interesting. Be old enough to appreciate your freedom, and young enough to enjoy it. Finally, know who you are.”     -Kristin Armstrong

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”     -Neale Donald Walsh

“Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there.”     -Josh Billings

“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito.”     -Unknown