CoVid-19 Decision

May 22, 2020

A Message from Sarah and Jeff

Sarah and Jeff announce their decision about the 2020 camp sessions amid the CoVid-19 pandemic.
 

Dear Rockbrook Families,

Thank you for all the encouragement, support and patience you’ve shown us as we have been grappling with the complexities of how camp might operate during the unfolding of the CoVid-19 pandemic.

After weeks of consideration, gathering expert advice and guidance from various state and national authorities, it is still unclear how to bring campers and staff members together for camp, while at the same time keeping everyone healthy.

The recent set of rules given by our state health department define so many restrictions, that taken together, really make it impossible for us to gather as a community, and to recreate what we know and love about Rockbrook.

We are very sorry to say it, but we have made the difficult decision to suspend all of the Rockbrook sessions this summer.

It is very hard for us to give you this news because we know how much everyone has been looking forward to returning to camp, seeing friends, and just being at Rockbrook. We have been looking forward to it too! We all need to get outside, and breathe in the mountain air. We need to dress up and sing, laugh and dance with our friends arm-in-arm. We need to ditch our screens and return to what’s real… our real friends, our real selves, and the real love we feel at camp.

We hope that you will work to re-create some of that camp magic wherever you are this summer – reach out to others you don’t know well, try out a new skill without expecting perfection, and let the silly, carefree side of you out.

We know this is a hard thing. It’s hard for us. It’s hard for everyone. But we also know that you are strong, resilient Rockbrook girls.

Most importantly, we want to stay in touch with all of you this summer as we all work through this crazy time. Next summer will be Rockbrook’s 100th Birthday, and we very much hope to see all of you here. We will be in touch more about that in the coming months. We would love to connect with each of you soon to discuss your individual situation.

We can’t wait to see every one of you again. You’ll always have place here in the “heart of the wooded mountain,” just as Rockbrook will always have a place in your heart.

Sending Rockbrook love,

Sarah and Jeff

Questions

These are a few of the questions many of you are asking right now. We hope you find the answers helpful.

Please reach out if we can help.

Why did you decide to close camp?

Rockbrook is foremost a close-knit community, a place where we do everything together. Our camp spirit is literally fueled by the close relationships between the friends we make here. This summer, given the real health concerns of CoVid-19 infection, we would have to follow so many distancing requirements, group size limitations, and other program changes, we simply would not be able to revive that camp spirit we all expect. There are many factors that led to this decision— too many to mention here —but for Rockbrook, it’s currently impossible to offer a healthy, positive camp experience during this unfolding pandemic.


What happens next?

This is very difficult for all of us, but especially for your children. We hope first that you will take time to reassure them, and empathize with their feelings of loss. For many, Rockbrook is a true home, something deeply meaningful and essential that can’t be replaced. Listen a lot. Answer your child’s questions about CoVid-19. Without trying to “fix” the situation, offer whatever comfort you can. Reassure them that Rockbrook will still be here next year.


What about the tuition paid for this summer?

We hope you will look forward to next summer and apply your camp fees to a 2021 session. This will be a huge help to Rockbrook as we consider the reality of surviving for two years on one summer of income. If you do roll your paid tuition forward, you will still be eligible for a full refund before February 1, 2021. We are likewise committed to giving you the option of a full refund, if you choose.


Why do you prefer families roll their tuition forward to 2021?

Since September last year, Rockbrook has been relying on tuition deposits to maintain and improve its facilities, support its full-time leadership team, and prepare for this summer. Refunding 2020 tuition would be a significant financial burden for Rockbrook, while choosing to roll your paid tuition forward to 2021 will allow us to manage our cash and expenses as we look toward next summer. We certainly recognize this may not be feasible for all families, and we respect everyone’s individual choice to chose a refund instead.


How will I indicate my preference with respect to tuition paid?

We ask that you submit an online form to indicate your preference. Login to your CampMinder account using your email and password, then select the “Forms and Documents” Icon. You will find several options listed, along with an opportunity to ask questions and offer comments. You can also indicate which 2021 session you prefer. Please note that you must complete this form for each child. If you would like to discuss the options listed, or if you need assistance completing the form, please contact us. Even if you have already communicated with us about your preference, we ask that everyone complete this form before July 1.


What are the dates for next summer?

First Session: Sunday, June 6 – Thursday, June 24
June Mini Session: Sunday, June 13 – Thursday, June 24
Second Session: Sunday, June 27 – Thursday, July 22
July Mini Session I: Sunday, June 27 – Thursday, July 8
July Mini Session II: Sunday, July 11 – Thursday, July 22
Third Session: Sunday, July 25 – Thursday, August 12
August Mini Session: Sunday, August 1 – Thursday, August 12
July Kayak Camp: Friday: July 23 — Saturday, July 31
July Horse Camp: Sunday: July 25 — Saturday, July 31


What about CA and Hi-Up campers?

We know how disappointed our senior campers are to miss out on these special Rockbrook experiences this summer. While we can’t recreate this year for them, we are already working to expand our opportunities for Rockbrook girls as they move through our leadership program. For now, we hope all our 2020 CAs will apply to be Hi-Ups next summer and all our 2020 Hi-Ups will apply to be CITs. There will be more details about that process in the coming months.


What if my camper was on a waitlist?

We will reach out later in the summer to provide you an opportunity to register before we open to new 2021 camper applications.


Can I make a donation to help Rockbrook?

Yes! Many parents have already asked if they can donate the fees they have paid, either as a tax deductible contribution to our scholarship fund, the “Redbird Endowment,” or as a direct contribution to the Rockbrook operating budget. Both will help Rockbrook during this challenging time. The online preference form mentioned above will allow you to indicate if you wish to donate all or a portion of your tuition to either fund.


Will you be offering some kind of “virtual” camp this summer?

We will be working on ways to connect with camp and with camp friends over the summer. We hope to sustain our camp community for both our campers and staff. You can also see us on Instagram (@rockbrookcamp) and Facebook (Rockbrook Camp).


If this mess clears up during the summer, will you reconsider this decision?

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely. While we can’t predict how the CoVid-19 pandemic will unfold, gathering the resources and staff to operate camp later will be too difficult.


Can I come visit this summer?

Yes! We are always happy to offer tours of camp. An appointment will be required for tours, but we can accommodate just about any day or time.


How else can I help Rockbrook?

Keep being awesome Rockbrook families! We’re so grateful for all the caring messages of trust and support you’ve been sending, the encouragement during this difficult decision-making process, and the confidence you’ve shown about camp being a place for your children in the future. Thank you! Next summer will be Rockbrook’s 100th anniversary and we’re planning lots of special surprises. Help us spread the word!

RBC Camp Girls Together before covid-19

Immune to Imperfection

Rockbrook took over the Nantahala River again today as the final group of Middlers and Seniors went rafting. We offer the trip to everyone, but since it means missing their regularly scheduled activities, it can sometimes be a tough choice to make— rafting vs. working on that weaving project, hiking to play in the water below Rockbrook Falls, or learning to canter over cross rails in the horseback riding arena, for example. With so many things going on at camp, it’s impossible to do everything, but that’s OK because the girls revel in the choices and really enjoy following whatever whim they and their friends decide. For example, about 23 campers chose to combine their rafting adventure with an overnight camping experience as well. We drove over to the river the night before, having plenty of time for dinner, singing songs, eating s’mores, resting and meeting the RBC rafting guides the next morning.

teen girls rafting

It was a little misty when the first group hit the water around 10am, not cold, but not sunny either. Right from the start, the girls’ overall excited mood, however, prevailed, helping even more as the sun began to pop out occasionally. After our picnic lunch with both the morning and afternoon groups (about 80 people total!), the weather turned rainy just as the second trip began. Here too, you might think these girls would shrink under such imperfect conditions, their enthusiasm literally dampened, their spirits wilting in what at times became a solid rainstorm.  But you’d be wrong!  Since this rain didn’t include thunder and lightning, the guides kept the trip going and the girls happily kept having a whoop-it-up great time.  Paddling hard provided some warmth, just as their camaraderie provided mutual encouragement and cheerfulness, despite the added challenge. It was an impressive display of grit and determination.  Today the river provided just as many whitewater thrills, plus a few extra chills along the way.

dance camp girls

One of the raft guides put it this way. He said, “There’s something special going on here. These girls seem so happy and together on things. It’s obvious that they love camp.” What’s cool is that he noticed this when the girls were uncomfortable, some even shivering. I too heard a senior girl yell “I love camp!” right when her boat was blasting through the final rapid. It’s incredible that it doesn’t take smooth sailing to have a great time at camp. It doesn’t take luxury —our cabins, after all, are not air conditioned, have only a couple of light bulbs, no electrical outlets, and probably a spider or two. It doesn’t take gorgeous weather, a diet of favorite foods, or constant assistance when things are difficult. There’s a magic to life at camp that makes us immune to imperfection, and a power easily stronger than these sorts of discomfort that could otherwise taint an experience. And your kids embody that power because they love camp.

Why girls love camp, is another topic dear to our hearts and a discussion for another day. But for now it’s simply worth noting that your Rockbrook girls are gaining a valuable skill while here— the ability to see past what’s less than ideal, to enjoy an activity even if it includes a degree of discomfort or disappointment, to navigate around what might be frustrating or seen as an obstacle to fun.

girls aiming rifle

It’s also neat, perhaps even astonishing, that your girls are maintaining these positive attitudes, enjoying life at camp despite the occasional challenges and discomforts, without your help… on their own. They have not needed (nor wanted, I’d bet) anyone to remove every imperfection, smooth every bump in the road, or plow the path for them. Away from parents who might be quick to plow, camp provides this valuable experience of girls having a chance to feel proudly independent, capable and confident. It’s such a great life skill!

My hope is that our Rockbrook girls can carry this skill back home to their lives at school, that they can recreate some of the conditions of camp life that provide that special cheerful power we see here.  How they might do that is yet another topic, but for now, we can’t help but be amazed.

The Struggle of Camp

Camp Archer Girl

It might sound strange, but when you think about it, one of the reasons we send our children to camp —and I’d say this is true for my own girls who attend Rockbrook later during Third Session— is to have them struggle. That’s right; just as much as we hope they’ll have fun, a few bumps in the road is important as well. Scanning through the Rockbrook Web site you won’t see this exactly emphasized, of course. Instead you’ll see girls having the time of their lives, smiling while rock climbing, horseback riding, flying through the air on our zipline course, and working the pedals of an antique floor loom. But we know that attending summer camp is more than just fun, more significant than visiting an amusement park. We know that camp is good for kids in important ways, and we hope the experience of these days away from home will be meaningful and formative long after they return.  And, learning to deal positively with difficulty is one clear area of growth.

The word here is “resilience,” that ability to recover from setbacks, to solve everyday problems, to be strong when met with disappointment. We want our kids to be more resilient when they encounter frustration, and when they get upset that something isn’t going exactly right. After all, life as an adult is often colored with those sorts of challenges— traffic jams, bureaucratic obstacles, mean-spirited colleagues at work, etc. As we work to improve things, strive toward goals, there’s bound to be some struggle. So what do you do when things get difficult like that? Get angry, start blaming, crumple into a heap? Or do you reapply yourself, navigate the problem creatively, look for solutions? What do you hope your kids will do when they’re older?

Whitewater Rafters

It turns out that camp is a great place for kids to become more resilient. Life here is chock full of opportunities to learn that problems can be solved, obstacles overcome, and setbacks endured. With the encouraging environment combined with so many positive role models at camp, especially at Rockbrook, the inevitable challenges of something different— a new activity,  unfamiliar food, unsettling creature like a “spricket” (which, by the way, look like monstrous combinations of spiders and crickets that love to find their way into the cabins… aka, camel crickets) —isn’t as overwhelming. The strong community of camp provides the support. It pulls us all along, bolstering your girls’ confidence at the top of sliding rock, inspiring them to try again when they can’t make a climbing move on the alpine tower or center their clay on the potter’s wheel. There’s a power to the collective experience of camp. When everyone has to walk down the cabin line at night to visit the bathroom, when everyone lives essentially outside with no AC, or when everyone has to help keep the dining hall clean, it’s easier to handle what’s uncomfortable. At camp, we simply don’t stop when we struggle. Supporting each other, we try harder.

Camp Girl Shaving Cream Fight
Big Water Sliding Rock

You might even think of this as the essence of camp; it’s inherently different from ordinarily life. Away from the comforts of home, living with new people, being immersed in nature, camp requires girls to adapt, to meet those (and other) differences and despite any initial uncertainty, carry on.  If we could somehow lessen those differences, add AC and bathrooms to the cabins for example, or serve only familiar foods, something important and valuable would be lost. It would mean lessening the challenges of camp, taking away some of the struggles, and thereby reducing the opportunities to develop a healthy habit of resilience. If we made camp completely comfortable, it would cease to even be camp, and this important opportunity for growth would be diminished if not lost altogether.  Plus, I suspect, camp would be less meaningful for the girls. Attending would be reduced to mere amusement, and something easily forgotten.

Yes, we have fun at camp. And yes, we sometimes struggle with the challenging differences we encounter here, but together it’s great.

Teen Camp Girls

Fostering Elasticity

Girls Craft Table at summer camp

When we finish a session at Rockbrook and the girls have returned home, we always send out a brief survey to parents hoping to receive some feedback about their girls’ time at camp. We ask questions about all aspects of the experience, from the activities, the health care, and the staff to the special events and the food. It’s always very interesting (and helpful!) to learn how camp succeeds and where we might improve the way we do things. Two of the final questions ask parents to describe the most challenging, and the most rewarding, aspect their girls encountered while at camp. I wanted to share an insight one parent mentioned in her response.

This parent reported her daughter being challenged by some of her cabin mates, “getting along with them,” but then suggested “being flexible and understanding others” was a clear reward as well. For this parent, and likewise for others I would guess, camp life for her daughter was not at first entirely comfortable and easy, but because of that, it provided very important lessons. To be an opportunity for growth, it was at first challenging in an beneficial way.

Outdoor Yoga session at summer camp
Girls reading during free time at camp
All Girls Summer Camp

This is spot on. Being at summer camp, certainly the first time, means entering a foreign environment where the familiarity of home is replaced with all sorts of new experiences that can feel strange or even a little scary to a child. There’s unusual food… “Did you try the falafel?” There’s our mountain forest environment itself with its weird plants, perpetual parade of insects, eerie sounds at night and funky organic smells. At camp there are “never-tried-it” things to do like climb a real rock, improvise a character on stage, or knit a hat, for example, all which might appear “too hard” at first.

Camp, of course, is the perfect environment to try all these things, to go beyond the ordinary, and to learn what each requires. With the right combination of coaching and encouragement from our staff, girls will step “out of their comfort zone” and gain pillars of confidence that will support them in the future.

This parent comment, though, identified one of the most complex and equally inescapable aspects of camp life, and that which often requires the most adjustment for girls: the social dimension of the cabin. Camp cabins are made up of girls who might talk in their sleep, and others who might like waking up early. There may be a messy girl and a “neat freak” who have to share a bunk. Each cabin will undoubtedly be a mix of shy and outgoing girls, crafty and sporty girls, some voracious and others picky eaters. Working through all these differences, learning to be elastic when necessary, is simply part of cabin life. Most essentially, camp requires getting along with the other girls, getting to know them and finding ways to understand them. At Rockbrook, the cabin counselors, their training, personality and instincts, recognize this goal and work tirelessly to help everyone be more flexible. Everyone on the staff is keenly aware of this social dimension, sensitive to it, and ready to step in whenever a camper has trouble (or might subtlety be causing trouble!) in the cabin. For some groups, learning this elasticity can take time, but generally the girls understand its value and are quick to exercise it.

This is good stuff because this kind of social elasticity is a skill that really benefits children.  After all, learning to adapt to various circumstances, making adjustments to others as needed, is the mark of a well-adjusted person who deals effectively with disappointment and is capable of creative problem solving. Throughout life there are situations when we are called upon to be flexible for a greater (often collective) good, so its important for our children to bank experiences where they have done so effectively. Again, with guidance from their counselors, life in the camp cabin provides exactly that.

Girls summer camp plays gaga

Here’s a photo of a GaGa (or Ga-Ga) game. Sometimes called “Israeli dodge-ball,” or “Octo-Ball,” and literally translating as “touch-touch,” this is a form of dodgeball played inside an octagonal court made of 3-feet-tall walls. Any number of players and any aged-camper can play, making it a great camp game. During free time and sometimes during the Sports and Games activity, there are groups of campers eagerly playing. The games are fast-paced as players use their hands to knock the ball trying to hit other players in the leg. Once hit (or if she hits the ball out of the pit), a player is out. Like other forms of dodgeball, play continues until only one person remains. It’s even fun for girls after they are out and have to stand on the outside of the pit because they can still play in a way. They can lean into the pit trying to hit the ball, and if they successfully hit another person out, they get to return to the game.  Game after game, the girls are really enjoying GaGa.

Finally, I can’t help but include this photo from our Twilight “Diva Dance Party” tonight. I was an hour of fun pop songs, costumes, and silly dancing… just your Rockbrook girls having a great time.

Summer camp girls are strong

Many Marvelous Things

North Carolina Waterfall Hike

Yesterday afternoon, our current mini session Seniors and their counselors packed a lunch for a trip to this waterfall located up on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Not knowing what weather we’d find at that elevation (a little over 5,100 feet compared to Rockbrook’s 2,300 feet), we took our chances and made the long climb in the buses up US276. As we ascended, however, the mistier and foggier it became. Finally up on the parkway, we stopped for a view and found we were within the clouds, completely immersed in the grey vapor and soon quite cold from the driving moist wind.  Needless to say, there was very little “view,” and suddenly our picnic plans seemed at risk. We realized though, driving a bit further, that the wind was the culprit, and that with some shelter, the view to the north was sensational and the outside temperature was suitable, albeit still a little cool. The rain was very light, barely a mist, so we were able to find a nice overlook and have our picnic after all. Once at the trailhead for our hike, it began to rain a little harder and again I could tell from the looks on a few of the girls’ faces, there was some doubt that we could continue. Fortunately, though, the rain blew past us quickly and we could reach the waterfall without too much effort. Sure we got a little wet, and yes we had to take extra care scrambling down and over wet rocks, but the trail, lined with glistening bushes, was gorgeous and the falls were magnificent. Despite what first appeared as terrible conditions, our determination and perseverance rewarded us in the end.

Girls splashing into lake from water slide
Camp girls having archery instruction

In addition to “Play Outside this Summer,” which I wrote about here, one of the Rockbrook tag lines is “A Place for Girls to Grow.” It is another short phrase that, also like our mission statement, summarizes the goals we have for your girls at camp, our aspirations for everyone at Rockbrook. Quite simply put, we hope your girls will grow from their experience at camp, that they will develop in important ways, all the while having the time of their lives. We want camp to be for them both formative and fun.

This hiking trip, as is true for so many other experiences at camp, is a good example of how this growth takes place. It created for all of us a set of personal challenges and thereby opportunities to learn. Beyond dealing with slightly uncomfortable weather, it presented physical challenges because it required us hike a steep trail and at one point to balance carefully over slippery rocks. It required true teamwork as each person helped another through one especially tricky area. The hike demonstrated that a positive attitude— an enthusiastic, supportive, encouraging, friendly approach— is powerful and often a crucial part of a successful group endeavor. It provided experiential evidence that setbacks and disappointments can be overcome with perseverance. It became another page in a wonderful book of experiences your girls are writing at camp, a book filled with life lessons that will undoubtedly play a role in their later success.

Sewing camp heart project
Learning gymnastics at summer camp

So many of the other challenges at Rokbrook provide these opportunities to grow too. On the surface of things we are sewing pillows, weaving baskets, balancing on the beam, paddling canoes, shooting rifles, and getting to know each other while relaxing in the grass before lunch. We are doing amazing things everyday. But what’s most important about camp lasts much longer. Years from now your girls probably won’t remember very much about what they did or didn’t do at camp. They’ll forget that hike. Instead, they’ll recall the positive feeling of being a part of a caring community. They’ll know first-hand how honest communication, compromise and cooperation makes every group grow closer, more powerful, and rewarding. They’ll be more confident, more resilient, and more courageous when faced with challenges later in life. From their time at Rockbrook, we know they’ll have grown.

There are many marvelous things in store for these girls later in life. We’re quite proud to join you in guiding them toward that future success.

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.