Camp as Our Constant

Change, change, change. It feels every stage of life brings more and more change. When I was feeling a bit overwhelmed this year with all the change around me, one of my peers offered me some (unsolicited) advice:” Change is the only constant in the world.” Although I beg to differ, I do know a place that will always be more constant than change in my life.

camp weaving girlsExactly a year ago, I drove away from Rockbrook Camp for Girls and towards Ann Arbor, MI to start medical school. My life became busy with deadlines, schedules, exams filled with what seemed like endless memorization. To make things even more hectic, my schedule was different every week and change became my new normal. Needless to say, it’s been a busy year with so much change, and it seemed that as the year went on, I realized I didn’t take time to reflect on who I was and whom I was becoming.

When I made the choice to come back to camp this session—even just for 10 days—I wanted to make sure it was for the right reasons. I have spent so much of my year worrying about my own needs and filling my own cup that I wanted to give back to a place that gave me so much. Many of my camp friends and campers would not be present during this session, so I was nervous to come back to a place where so many of the people that made it special were no longer there. With those friends and campers that were at camp this year, I knew it would be important to avoid showing up with expectations of what I wanted my short time at camp to be. In a happy turn of events, my short time here has turned into so much more than I ever expected. When I arrived, I was expecting camp to feel different, and yet, camp hasn’t failed to bring the incredibly familiar.

knitting girlsAs soon as I caught a whiff of the camp smell, it felt like I was home. It felt like for the first time in over a year, I was able to hit pause and look around. The crunching sound as we walk through the rocks at camp, the beautiful wooded mountains in the background, the chilly lake waiting for campers to jump in— how I took these simple sights for granted! In addition to these consistent sounds and scenes of beauty, I’ve realized camp brings other timeless qualities to new and old Rockbrook girls that make this place a home base for so many of us.

The best part about this familiarity is that I’m not the only one who feels it. A few days ago, I met an alumna from many years ago who described the sense of comfort that walking through camp brings her; she knew Rockbrook as the place that helped her know who she was and who she always wanted to be. So relatable! Just a few hours later, I heard the same words from some current campers on the senior line. They talked about how much they wanted to bring their camp self to their lives year-round because they knew that here they are their best selves.

zip line camp girlHow exactly do we become our best selves? While I think there are many answers, I have a hypothesis: Camp reliably brings us routine and, in that routine, so much comfort. This comfort gives us the space to be our best selves. This is a place where we build each other up and we begin to judge our successes based on the success of our community and not our own personal success. By investing in each other, we inevitably become the best version of ourselves.

How did I get so lucky? In a world that seems to never stop bringing change, it is so nice to know that we have Rockbrook to remind us of who we are. I get to have a place to come back to that will—without fail—always remind me of who I am and can be. What a gift. Thank you Rockbrook for another great summer. Thank you for all the new and old friendships. Thank you for always being more constant than change and never failing to be exactly what I needed.

—Maria Santos

camp girls together

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 slideCamp girls having archery instructionIn 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 projectLearning gymnastics at summer campSo 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.

Passion Trumps Popularity

Teen girls at summer campA parent mentioned the other day that she is impressed, and so pleased, that her daughter feels “successful” at Rockbrook. That got me thinking about how and why that’s such a common sentiment around here. What is it about life at Rockbrook that makes girls feel comfortable and successful? And in what way is this special, different from ordinary life?

It’s certainly not because everyone here achieves some distinction, wins some kind of contest, or acquires a superior skill (though these can happen). Not every shot hits the target, every stitch is even, or climber makes it to the top. There are plenty of challenges at camp, activities that require practice and skill development, even social challenges… resolving a disagreement between cabin mates, for example …each that may or may not work out perfectly. With these kinds of “failures” (“opportunities to grow” might be a better way to put it) intentionally built into the camp program, with having the best skills of some sort being insignificant, how do girls feel successful at Rockbrook?

It’s also not because the girls here are suddenly popular, that they have succeeded by joining a cool “in crowd.” That phenomenon —social grouping dictated by who is considered most liked or admired— is simply not prevalent at Rockbrook. Instead our camp community is defined by a more inclusive culture driven by kindness, caring and generosity. Everyone has a place here and feels like they can be their true selves. In this way, Rockbrook really is comfortable. It’s a relief from the popularity contests that affect school life. So if success at Rockbrook isn’t about having a social standing, what is it?

Throwing pottery on the wheelGirl archer aiming her arrowI think success at summer camp is about enthusiasm. It’s about passion for what we do and who we are. At camp we find a spirited attitude infusing just about everything: singing show tunes while setting the tables for meals, skipping arm-and-arm down the path to the bathroom, greeting everyone who passes by, laughing hilariously with friends during evening program, stopping to marvel at a spider spinning a web, and diving into all the creative, adventure and athletic challenges of the many activities offered. In all these ways, and in our close relationships with each other, this joyful, enthusiastic attitude is the secret of success at camp. We all, campers and staff members alike, are “successful” here because we have wholeheartedly joined an positive community, one filled with passionate people ready to support and encourage everyone. We are successful through that infectious attitude. At Rockbrook, we don’t succeed by striving to be popular or by acquiring exemplary skills; those measures carry little weight for us. Instead, passion trumps popularity, and enthusiasm outshines talents.

There are many ways that Rockbrook is a haven for girls. Being a place to live a passionate life is one of the best.

Huge Bubble blowing girls

A Treasury of Firsts

Over the last two days, Rick and his friends in the Rockbrook kitchen, have been preparing a special treat for us, and today we all enjoyed it. You may be able to tell from this photo, but the treat was authentic homemade, completely from scratch, tamales. A tamale is an ancient, traditional Mesoamerican dish made from finely ground corn, lime, oil and stock combined into a paste, spread into a corn husk with meats or peppers as fillings, and then cooked by steaming.
Fresh Tamale Making crewEach one requires the masa (corn dough) and filling be combined and rolled in the corn husk by hand. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition, the chicken used for the filling is first roasted an shredded off the bone, but then combined with a homemade Guajillo chili sauce, which gives it a bright red color. They also made a green variety using tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic. For the vegetarians, they steamed a cheese and Ancho chili pepper variety. Can you see why this took two days, especially when almost 700 tamales needed to be made? And the results… Unbelievably delicious. Certainly many of the girls and a few of the counselors had never before tasted a treat like this, but like many of the “firsts” experienced around here— first ride on a zip line, first time shooting a gun, first time cantering a horse —camp is a great place to give it a try. There’s just the right amount of encouragement and “positive peer pressure” to give hesitant girls a little nudge outside of their routine, to challenge their assumptions.

Girl show success on the pottery wheelCamp girl show success on loom weavingNaturally, at a camp like Rockbrook, with almost 30 different activities and a special event or surprise planned almost everyday, the opportunities for first experiences are diverse and abundant. The girls here can do some amazing stuff, and even if they’ve already felt the chill of Sliding Rock in Pisgah, climbed a real rock using those amazing “sticky” shoes, or enjoyed a long-range mountain view after hiking a steep trail to a rock cliff, for example, it will be a first for them to do it with these people, with this all-girl group of comfortable friends. The same is true for throwing their first pot on the wheel, seeing beautiful cloth take shape off their loom, learning the “trick” to a one-handed cartwheel. There are so many examples! A girl’s experience at camp is a treasury of firsts that she’ll hold dear for many years to come.

Camp Girls Friends SuccessIt’s significant, too, that this special place for first experiences, this close-knit camp community defined by respect and cooperation, makes it easy to feel successful, and thereby fosters girls’ self-esteem. We’ve written before about the link between success and self-esteem at camp, so please take a look. There’s the good feeling of discovering a hidden talent when you first try something, a sense of personal achievement, but there’s also success to be found in general “social competence,” and in being included in group endeavors. Since so many of the firsts at camp happen in this positive social setting, they tend to be far less frightening. Knowing that you’ll be supported no matter what individual outcome occurs, seeing other girls laugh and enjoy unfamiliar activities, really helps make any first experience a success and thereby a real boost to a girl’s growing self-esteem.

Our twilight activity tonight was everyone’s favorite, a shaving cream fight down on the grassy sports field. It began with everyone interested (like all twilight activities, it was optional), dressed in their swimsuits, lining up along one side of the field. On the other side, we scattered about 120 cans of plain shaving cream. At the signal, everyone ran to grab a can and then to let their foam fly. Complete mayhem ensued, and in about 30 seconds, everyone had shaving cream on their backs, stomachs and in their hair. That’s basically the point of it, like this photo shows so well; it’s to sneak up on your friends and mischievously “get them” with the white foam. And oh what big fun this is!  It almost feels a little naughty to spray people, but it’s also pretty hilarious to do. We also pulled out the slip-n-slide for a now extra slippery ride. With everyone basically covered, in some cases completely covered, and all the shaving cream cans emptied, we rinsed off a bit under the hoses and headed up to camp for a warm shower. Another first at camp? Perhaps, but certainly a good one too.

Camp girls are mischievous with shaving cream

Camp Girls with shaving cream Camp girls in group shaving cream fight