If you spend a little time with the campers at Rockbrook, it doesn’t take long to realize they are abundantly happy. Even oddly so. You see girls doing things that seem pretty mundane. You even see girls enduring things that are ostensibly uncomfortable. And yet, at the same time they are truly happy, sometimes jittery with excitement and other times simply smiling with content, but clearly being especially joyful.
I saw it the other day when hiking with the Hi-Ups, the 16-year-old campers. We were strolling along enjoying all the diversity of plants in this part of North Carolina, and the girls were chatting and laughing about nothing in particular. Every so often, one would start singing a song, in this case a song from Moana the Disney movie, and soon most of girls were joining in to sing along. This inspired another Disney song, and then another, quickly becoming a medley. These teenage girls were gleefully hiking, sweating up the hills, ducking through briars, hopping over rocks to cross a stream, sliding down slippery slopes. They didn’t question or complain, but instead happily sang and talked about how much fun they were having. These were not surly teens glued to their phones; they were enthusiastic young people enjoying a unique experience with their good friends.
Maybe you got a sense of the wholesale happiness of camp life by watching yesterday’s video. You saw your camp girls happily working on craft projects, playing tetherball, zipping down the waterslide, climbing the alpine tower, shooting rifles and paddling canoes. At the same time, still happily (!), they were overcoming challenges, swishing away bugs, wiping away sweat, mustering their courage to take that first step down the waterslide and up the climbing tower. Sure, there have been disagreements and frustrations along the way, but at camp these speed bumps are easily overcome.
Camp girls don’t need the “comforts of home” or some other luxury to be happy. They don’t need a private room or a personalized menu for their meals. They don’t need electronic entertainment, or really good wi-fi. At camp, there are no flickering screens to pull their attention away from the real world and all that it offers. They don’t need everything to be “perfect” or to go exactly right. They don’t need to win some kind of competition proving their superior looks, smarts, wealth, or family pedigree. At camp, we’re all different and that’s a good thing, right from the start. Camp girls don’t even need specific activities to be happy while they’re here, either. We could drop almost anything we do (well, maybe not muffin break!), or change our activity offerings, and the girls here would still have what they need to be happy throughout their day.
So what do they need to be this happy at camp? They need a few essential things like food and shelter, and the occasional bit of health care, and I’d say they need to be active and outdoors, but most importantly, they need each other. They need kindness from the people around them. They need to know deep down that they are included, respected, and loved for who they really are, “safe in their own skin,” “quirks and all.” They need to feel genuine support from their peers. You see, camp relationships are special like this. They are not colored by social posturing, which is all too common in other contexts. Interpersonal tensions at camp are ordinarily quickly resolved with heartfelt communication and appeals to being a “Rockbrook girl.” In this kind of community, built of relationships supported by a positive camp culture, girls naturally feel good about themselves, really good about themselves. They become stronger and more confident. And yes, deeply happy.
All of us at Rockbrook are so fortunate to be a part of this community, to be connected to the people here, and to be surrounded by all this happiness. It’s truly wonderful.