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

A Huge Helping of Goofy

camp child parent

Today we welcomed another group of eager, excited girls to Rockbrook as we opened the August Mini session. There’s something really special about driving into Rockbrook, early in the morning at the start of a camp session. It’s a reveal of sorts. The gravel driveway slowly winds up the hill from the main road, and then suddenly there’s cool stuff to see: the archery field to the left, the lake to the right with the green and blue water slide on the far end, stacks of colorful kayaks and canoes, and at the crest the hill, a mob of cheering enthusiastic counselors. It feels like you’ve entered another world, and in many ways you have. So many things are inviting and intriguing right away, but it’s obvious also that the people here are good folks. The returning campers already know it, but the energy of camp— friendly, supportive, adventurous, with a huge helping of goofy —is definitely special. These campers have been waiting all year (and all summer) to experience this energetic fun, so finally we can all start. Finally!

flag raising at camp

While these new girls were arriving, the full session campers began their day like other Sunday mornings with a late breakfast (egg and sausage burritos, yogurts, cereals, and freshly delivered Krispy Kreme doughnuts), our traditional flag raising ceremony (led by the 10-grade campers), and chapel program (this time discussing the theme of “Gratitude”). Afterwards, these girls also had a “choice period,” an opportunity to sign up for a hiking trip to Castle Rock or Rockbrook Falls, a flower picking expedition in the garden, or time in the jewelry-making activity area.

The first event involving the whole camp was an “assembly on the hill,” as we call it. This gathering under the walnut tree on the hill is a chance for everyone to sing a few songs, watch a skit or two, meet the various directors at camp, and hear announcements. The Hi-Ups led everyone in learning a canoeing song, complete with hand motions. The Line Heads awarded, “bend-a-back,” camp spirit, and manners beads, and also announced which cabins would be recognized for having the highest overall inspection scores (winning the “mop award”). For the benefit of the new campers primarily, Sarah also reminded everyone of the boundaries of camp and how our lightning warning system works. Rick’s amazing homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch fueled us up for the swimming demonstrations, quick camp tours, and cabin meetings that came afterwards in the early afternoon.

The main event of the day was an all-camp festival that tapped into different science-related activities, experiments, challenges and games. We held the event right in the center of camp with the different activity stations positioned about, and counselors and Hi-Ups staffing each spot. One challenge was to make a working parachute from a large coffee filter. Another was to build different organic molecules using toothpicks and tiny marshmallows. At a different station, the girls were challenged to build a boat (or anything that floats) using aluminum foil and popsicle sticks. Another group made green sticky “Oobleck” with corn starch and white glue.

A particularly fun challenge was to use only rubber bands to crack open a watermelon. The girls would stretch rubber bands, one by one, around the middle of the melon, gradually adding more pressure. As a couple of cracks began to form after approximately 200 bands wrapped the melon, the group of girls huddled around screamed with delight when the melon suddenly exploded into bits leaving a sticky ball of rubber bands behind.

Of course, a “mad science” event would be incomplete without eccentric costumes— wild teased hair (or wigs!), lab coats, safety goggles, beakers and lab notebooks. Snacks and music helped keep the mood festive while the girls zipped among the activity options. The event was a nice opportunity to play outside together, be a little silly, and perhaps learn a little science along the way.

Tomorrow, we’ll have all the activities filled with enthusiastic campers, ready to give everything a try. It will be a full day of action.  Stay tuned!

laughing camp girls

A Kind of Delirious Abandon

kid in canoe on camping trip

There’s a long history of Rockbrook girls spending time canoeing on the French Broad River.  We have photos from the 1930s of campers and their boats in the river. In fact, the camp has about 3/4 of a mile of shoreline on the French Broad not far from its true start in Rosman where two smaller streams come together. Once it passes Rockbrook, the French Broad flows north toward Asheville, continuing to form the Tennessee River, which feeds the Ohio River, finally becoming the Mississippi. In addition to beginner kayaking trips, Rockbrook takes girls canoeing on sections of the river, like for example last night when 12 girls and 2 staff members packed camping gear to paddle and then stop for the night part way through. As the river winds its way through valley farmlands, low trees and bushes line the banks revealing views of the nearby mountains from time to time. There are designated camping spots, usually grassy areas along the river, where groups can pull up their boats and pitch tents.  Our girls, as they have for almost 100 years in this valley, had a great time at their campsite playing games after dinner and watching a gorgeous sunset. The weather was likewise perfectly pleasant making the whole trip a grand time out.

The surprise muffin flavor today was mind boggling: chocolate chip cookie dough. It began with a regular chocolate chip muffin, baked to a perfect light brown with a moist crumb. That would have been delicious alone, but what pushed it over the top was the small chunk of cookie dough on top of each muffin. Needless to say, the whole camp was thrilled to bite into one these special treats.

One way the girls at Rockbrook express their enthusiasm, creativity and silly nature is by dressing up. Today was declared “Under the Sea Day,” so we had fun decorating the dining hall with ocean-related banners, searching the camp for a hidden “Nemo” and “Dori,” and creating costumes to wear all around the camp, to meals and activities. There was an octopus playing tennis, a shark lifeguard at the lake, and a scuba girl working at pottery.  It was another day proving that costumes really do make things more fun— funny and fun!

Shaving Cream Kids Camp

The funniest event of the day, though, happened after dinner down on the sports field. It was a wild shaving cream fight for anyone brave enough to get this messy. Girls of all ages, yes even the teenagers, showed up wearing swimsuits ready to smear and be smeared. This kind of delirious abandon— running, squirting, laughing uncontrollably —is simply extraordinary. You’ve never seen girls so elated, and so many of them at once! We had a couple of hoses set up to rinse off a bit as necessary, like when some mischievous friend splatters a handful of the white stuff in your ear or some gets in your mouth. The slip and slide we had set up was also really fun when covered in the slippery foam. It doesn’t take long to empty 150 cans of shaving cream, but the fun doesn’t stop there. There are creative hairstyles to fashion, messages to write on your belly, and photos to take with friends.

It’s no surprise these Rockbrook girls are quick to say, “I love camp!”

Deeply Satisfying

welcome to rockbrook

This was an exciting Sunday morning because it marked the beginning of our second July mini session. It meant the arrival of about 90 campers eager to start their camp experience. The staff woke early to be ready, so when the cars began driving up the gravel driveway we had an absolute mob of enthusiastic counselors cheering and greeting each car. It was a quick check-in process —office, riding interview, nurse check, swag store, and hair exam— and by 10:30am, we had most of the new session girls settled in their cabins. For several, there was time to visit Rockbrook Falls, one of the waterfalls on the camp property. It’s only about half a mile from the center of camp, and the trail leading there is pleasantly flat (mostly!) and a beautiful, meandering walk through the forest. Visiting this waterfall is a perfect first activity after arriving at camp. It gives girls a chance to soak in the environment a bit, ask questions about camp, shake out a few jitters, and get to know the other people hiking with them. It’s also an magnificent destination.

Around noon, the entire camp assembled under the walnut tree on the hill for a program of introductions, songs, awards, and skits. We sang the line songs, awarded cabin groups with the excellent inspection scores, and recognized girls with extraordinary camp spirit. Casey and Audrey performed a short skit about going to sleep in a camp cabin and the importance of staying quiet a night. Lunch was again deeply satisfying: tray after tray of Rick’s homemade mac-n-cheese, salad and fresh fruit. With no less than 4 types of cheese, and baked to that perfect gooey center and crunchy top layer, it’s always a huge hit.

mad scientist campers

Our all-camp afternoon event turned to science for its inspiration: a “Mad Science” Fair of experiments, games, and challenges. Counselors and Hi-Ups led the different activity stations. There was a “Green Team Quiz” game, a challenge to make a parachute, a chance to concoct sticky “Oobleck,” and a return of the “watermelon explosion” rubber band challenge. One of the more popular options was the Buoyancy test. The girls had to build a boat, something that floats, using only aluminum foil. Then they tested each person’s buoyant craft by adding fishing weights until it sank. The winner was able to hold 26 weights! With snacks and music, and plenty of lab coats, goggles and mustaches, the girls zipped between activity stations having fun and learning a little science along the way.

Before dinner there was time for everyone to visit the lake for a swim if they desired. There are two of these “free swim” periods most days: one before lunch and the other before dinner. After being active around camp, zipping, riding, climbing, hiking, or shooting for example, the cool water of the lake is also a deeply satisfying experience. Swim, float, jump off the diving board, or shoot down the water slide— there’s a way to set your own pace at the lake.

This is going to be an excellent week of camp.  Stay tuned!

A Sparkling Blast

horse camp wake up

As you can see, this was no ordinary morning, in fact no ordinary day, because it was the 4th of July! Instead of our regular bell, some of the riding staff rode horses up into camp to wake up the campers. With the staff dressed in red, white and blue, and with the horses also decorated in American flag patterned ribbons and paint, the campers woke to the sounds of hoof beats and shouts of “The British are coming! The British are coming!” up and down the cabin lines. Somewhat sleepy-eyed, the girls made their way through the morning fog to the hill to assemble around the flagpole for the Hi-Ups to raise the flag, and everyone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “America the Beautiful.”

Camp Kids on 4th of july

Of course, horses were not the only thing decorated in red, white and blue today. You could see it everywhere around camp! In the dining hall on table decorations, on hats, headbands, beaded necklaces, t-shirts and other things people were wearing, some of the food we ate today (Oh, those brownie cakes!), and the body paint that seemed to become more prevalent as the day progressed. Similarly, the girls sang their favorite patriotic songs at meals— “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” for example —adding to the normal lively Rockbrook songs. There was no doubt these girls were ready to celebrate!

It also being Thursday, we decided to keep our regular activity schedule throughout the day. The difference, again, was the addition of those patriotic colors. There were American flags flapping in the wind as girls zipped through the woods, stars and stripes on the backs of archers, proudly worn by potters, weavers, tennis players and climbers alike. Campers carried the colors on a hike to Rockbrook Falls, to the top of Castle Rock while climbing on belay, and down to the barns for their riding lessons.

A group of girls enjoyed a relaxing morning in the “nest,” our hammock campsite located just below Castle Rock. Part of the fun is figuring out how and where to hang their hammocks among the rock anchors, but it is also a nice way to spend time with friends. Later, two other groups hiked to Stick Biscuit Falls to make actual stick biscuits. This waterfall, which is located in the woods up behind the office, has a dry area behind where the water cascades down from the rock above, creating a natural umbrella of sorts. The staff built a fire in this area making it possible for the girls to roast their biscuits (dough wrapped tightly on the end of stick) while the water crashed right nearby.

Dinner tonight took advantage of our well-loved charcoal grill, as we pulled out an all-American cookout of hot dogs (beef and veggie), homemade coleslaw, potato chips, freshly sliced watermelon (more than we could eat!) and a can of Cheerwine soda chilled in the stream for everyone. A playlist of America-themed music helped set the mood, and as the girls enjoyed their dinner together, they played and danced with their friends on the hill.

Camp Sponge Relay

Dividing up into three multi-age teams —yep, a red, a white, and a blue team —we all stayed on the hill for a few fun relays. Girls raced to fill buckets with water squeezed from a sponge. They carefully tossed water balloons stepping gradually further apart after each toss. They competed for the longest hula-hooping session. They struggled to thaw a frozen t-shirt as quickly as possible, and took turns bending their backs in an exciting limbo line. Naturally, as some girls participated in these games, their teammates cheered them on, sang and danced to the music.

As darkness fell, the spectacular finish for our day was our own Rockbrook fireworks show. We pulled out glow sticks for all the girls and were ready with more pop music to blast during the show. For the next 40 minutes or so, we all enjoyed another sing-along dance party, the girls twirling their glow sticks and cheering with every sparkling blast in the air. It was an exciting, special finish to a full camp day.

A Sparkling Day

Camp girls arrival day

When the weather is this perfect, like it was today, it makes everything more pleasant at camp, and even inspires us to change our plans to enjoy being outside a little more.  You can always check our Rockbrook weather station for the details, but the cool, dry air moving through our area right now, and the bright, sunny skies that result, have been spectacular. The afternoon high temperatures have been in the low 80s and the lows at night have been near 60 (even in the 50s!).

In this weather, and also because so many smiling excited faces were arriving, the opening of our second July mini session really sparkled today. The check-in process unfolded smoothly, and by about 11:45 the whole camp was assembled and ready to go. Today was also (the camp dog) Felix’s first birthday, so as Sarah introduced him to the campers, they enjoyed singing “Happy Birthday” and laughing when they clapped once to mark his age. The “mop” awards recognized one cabin from each line as especially clean, and several girls were thanked for showing exemplary “Rockbrook Spirit” when they helped someone recently.

Rick’s signature opening day lunch of homemade mac-n-cheese, fruit and salad refueled us before setting out on camp tours, cabin meetings and swimming demonstrations for the new campers.

bucket water dumping game
kid limbo game
luau party camp girls

The main event of the day, a Polynesian Luau lake party, also took advantage of the gorgeous weather, with games, crafts, snacks, music and dancing. The Hi-Ups (our 10th graders) and many of the full session senior girls helped staff different stations where the younger campers could enjoy an activity.

Of course, we included dressing up for this party— Hawaiian shirts, plenty of lei necklaces and grass skirts, flower face painting, and colorful swimsuits all around.

There were games where coconuts were bowled toward empty cans, bean bags tossed toward corn holes, hoops hula danced, and backs bent to slide under a limbo bar —all to win fun RBC prizes like sunglasses, jump ropes and stickers.

The largest consistent crowd huddled around the “bucket dunk” near the lake. This is a funny contraption designed simply to dump the contents of a bucket (in this case water scooped from the lake) onto the head of someone sitting below when a string is pulled. That’s it! Girls took turns volunteering to be “dunked,” as contestants aimed bean bags at a corn hole board.  If someone tossed her beanbag into the hole, she won a chance to pull the string. Naturally, this whole scene drew a crowd of spectators as the buckets of water splashed down. Splash, cheer. Splash, cheer.

There were chances to be crafty too. The girls could make a “grass” skirt from colorful streamers tucked into a string belt, or use tissue paper to make a flower bracelet.

For snacks, loads of fresh fruit kabobs (strawberries, grapes, watermelon, and cantaloupe), cups of red punch and unlimited tropical fruit flavored snow cones were all popular. All afternoon beach-themed music added to the festivities, inspiring dance breaks in the games.

I’ve seen a lot of these opening day, all-camp special events, and ordinarily there are pockets where jitters can dominate the mood for a few of the girls. All the people, the craziness of the action, and the sheer novelty can sometimes be foreign and overwhelming. Walking around today, however, I was impressed how happily the girls were participating in the different activities, breezily trying different things, and playing together in groups. These girls are clearly ready for camp. So ready!

teen summer camp girls

A Colorful Extravaganza

It’s the 4th of July! As the sun rose behind the hill and the morning fog begin to lift, the girls were surprised to hear, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” yelled from the riding staff while on horseback. That staff woke and decorated their horses for this fun tradition of riding down the cabin lines for a unique wake up call. The whole camp then assembled around the flag pole to raise the colors, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and sing “America the Beautiful.” The Hi-Ups had decorated the dining hall with all sorts of banners, streamers, and other red, white and blue decorations. The campers were ready with their own colorful outfits as well, so when we gathered for breakfast, it was a multi-layered extravaganza of those three colors.

horses in camp morning
Camp girls 3-legged relay race
newspaper swimming relay race

After a regular set of activities in the morning, which were made even more fun and colorful given all the red, white and blue being worn, our 4th of July celebration kicked into an all-camp series of contests and relays. We first squared off for a pie eating contest, with campers and counselors from each age group trying to be the first to gobble up a small apple of cherry pie.

All the girls next took turns racing to be first in relays at the lake and in the gym. There was the crab walk, the wheel barrow, and the three-legged race relays, dizzy-lizzy bat relay, a hula hooping challenge, and a hilarious egg toss. Another funny relay was the costume race where each team had to put on several articles of clothing and then race to let another team member remove and wear those same clothes.

At the lake, the athleticism and spirit of the day continued with more relays.  There was a classic swimming relay, and another where the girls used kickboards and kicking to move through the water.  We had to have a greased watermelon race also. There was the sponge relay across the water and another fun challenge that got the girls swimming with one arm as they held up a newspaper to keep it dry. All this action meant the snow cone machine ran constantly as we all cheered for our lines.

You can see from this last photo that another part of the event was a chance for very elaborate face painting, again using those three familiar colors. Legs and arms (and in some cases both!), as well as faces were their canvases. As the afternoon rolled on, it was hard to find someone without some kind of red, white and blue proudly displayed.

Dinner was out of this world good!  Rick had spent the last three days slow roasting beef brisket to make barbecue sandwiches.  He had corn on the cob, fresh cool watermelon, homemade coleslaw to round out the plate.  Following and old RBC tradition, he also served cans of Cheerwine chilled in the creek near Curosty. For dessert they brought out “spirit pies,” small, individual pies of whipped cream, a strawberry, and blueberries decorating the top. Light and delicious!

The finale of the day came after dark when all the campers brought their Crazy Creek chairs out to the hill for a dance party and fireworks show.  Chase passed out glow sticks for everyone, and with fun, dance music pumping, the 30 minutes of amazing fireworks really topped the day.

camp girls with faces painted

A Pioneer Sunday

The Sunday schedule at Rockbrook takes on a more relaxed pace. We sleep in a little extra, come to breakfast still in our pajamas (often with an extra layer given our cool mornings), and enjoy a special treat of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We assemble on the hill to raise our flag, walk silently out into the woods for a chapel ceremony (today focused on the theme of “friendship”), and then enjoy a big Sunday meal. Today Rick had baked chicken, roasted potatoes, and a broccoli casserole, with blackberries and fresh whipped cream for dessert. It was delicious and kept the girls coming back for more chicken and potatoes.

camp sack relay race
butter making teens at camp
crooked pine band playing outdoors
Girl camps with sheep

Sundays are a chance for an all-camp surprise special event as well, and during rest hour many plans begin to unfold. And today was no exception because we had “Pioneer Day,” a multi-station event of exhibitions, costumes, games, crafts, rides, activities, food and music.

First the girls took this event as a chance to dress up, to don their bonnets, their simple dresses, boots, flannel shirts, overalls and bandanas.

Dressed and ready, groups of girls bopped along the tennis courts for sack race relays. They tested their skill tossing horseshoes, and had a grand time wrapping dozens of colorful ribbons to make a maypole.

One of the activities was making butter. Using real heavy cream and salt, the girls churned the cream in mason jars by shaking them for several minutes (about 10, I’d guess). When the butter started to clump and separate from the liquid (the buttermilk), the girls could`remove the butter, squeeze out any excess liquid and then eat the butter on a small homemade biscuit that the kitchen had baked for us earlier.

Another exciting and unusual activity was interacting with several live sheep and learning about wool sheering, carding and spinning. The campers loved petting the sheep and feeding them, laughing at their bleating.

There was a hay ride too! With our red tractor pulling, the girls could ride on a trailer loaded with bales of hay. The staff members had decorated the trailer and fashioned a few seats for the riders. Each round trip lasted about 10 minutes.

In the hillside lodge, two counselors used hot wax to show the girls how to dip candles. They had enough red and blue wax for everyone to make their own thin candle… many dips slowly building up. In the Goodwill cabin, two other counselors provided quill feathers and special tips so the campers could try writing with ink on paper.

Over the whole afternoon, the old time traditional music of the Crooked Pine Band kept everyone entertained. The band’s hometown is Brevard, so they are well known and popular around here, playing contra dances and concerts throughout the year. The girls had a great time dancing to the fiddle, guitar, banjo and upright bass, and later taking turns playing along on the washboard.

With fresh apple cobbler as a snack and lemonade to quench our thirst, we kept the event charged up all afternoon… true mountain fun in the mountains.

pioneer day special event