Lets Not Stereotype Girls… We All Get Scared!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Recently I was sent a New York Times article by one of our camp parents entitled “Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute To Be Scared”.  Caroline Paul, who wrote the piece, was one of the first women to join the San Francisco Fire Department.  I can relate to this because I run a coed camp and my father was a career fireman who eventually made Chief of the City Fire Department.  I can remember when he began hiring women firefighters into the department and how much flack he caught from those who felt women couldn’t perform or wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of the job of entering burning buildings.  This was way back in the 70’s.  Needless to say I learned very early that women and girls are up to the task.  I coached a couple of soccer teams after college and had two girls on my middle school age team who went to the ball as bravely as any boy and most of the time they were outsized.  I vividly remember visiting a friend of mine who worked for Outward Bound several years later and going climbing with her in Linville Gorge.  I had been climbing for several years and was a fair lead climber (first up placing gear).  I could not for the life of me make this scary overhang move about half way up the climb and had trouble committing to placing the gear and holding on with one hand.  I was scared.  I backed off and was lowered to the ground and Mary scampered up and blew through it like a butterfly.  Grace, skill, and lack of fear were part of her topping out on the climb that day and belaying me through the crux that I couldn’t do.


I love having women teaching and being program leaders in our adventure programs. It helps young girls understand that they can do anything they set their minds to and young boys understand that gender should not limit what a person can accomplish. The role modeling provided in these situations sends all the right messages that girls pick up from female mentors.

This is nothing short of good solid support for the road ahead and debunking the myths surrounding “timid and scared girls”.  The author of the article talks about a study that states “Girls may be less likely than boys to try challenging physical activities, which are important for developing new skills.  The study points to an uncomfortable truth that we think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.”  Not true in my world of camp.  Yes, it is true most girls are more emotionally based and that’s a positive because they communicate better from an early age.  Guys mostly just hold it in and are not willing to verbalize like the girls.

A healthy and respectful sense of fear is good for all of us.  At camp we deal with fear in a way that leads to respect, systems, communication, confidence and grit.  We talk about this in staff training in the context of “perceived risk” vs “actual risk”.  The perceived risk is what the camper sees and it’s the actual risk we’re most concerned about.  In designing program we leave the perceived risk to their discernment and control the actual risk.  We do everything in our power to provide proper instruction, the right equipment and practice in an appropriately progressive way to enable most campers to move forward in a “scary” situation.  The bonus here is they will have multiple chances to try again and hopefully succeed.  Failure is a whole other topic we could talk about here, but let’s get back to our campers.


Camp is a great place to instill the aspects of making the best people. We are equal opportunity dispensers of fun and fear in all the right ways.  Girls have all the same opportunities right alongside their male counterparts and I see this daily here at Gwynn Valley.  It is our obligation to assist campers with making good choices whether it’s on the rock or in cabin/program interactions.   Learning how to communicate about these aspects of navigating life’s challenges and risks are also a part of our work.   At camp, being scared is not gender based.  Our boys and girls need to experience camp participating and learning from one another.  As one camper states in our video “We’re not going to live our lives separate with regard to gender.”  We use the same terms for boys and girls when we think of bravery, grit and resilience as well as compassion when fear does exist.  These are some very big buzzwords in growing young people into healthy and mentally strong adults.  As stated above, we are equal opportunity dispensers of providing the right values to grow in the Gwynn Valley garden of life.

To check out the article from the Times click on this link:   http://nyti.ms/1QaeDZ9      

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Happy Presidents’ Day and hope all is well where you are.  In my last news update on our website, I mentioned that our leadership staff, Andy, Maggie, Barbara, Anne and I were headed to the American Camping Association’s National Conference, held in Atlanta last week.  We had a wonderful time soaking up information and networking with other camp directors from all over the US.  There were over 150 sessions offered to attendees and we divided and conquered for those three and a half days.  The overall content of the sessions were great and each carries some valuable information for us as we head toward our summer season.  There were also three keynote speakers that had their own message on the value of the work that camp is doing with children in our country.


On the drive home we shared much information and will be meeting in the days ahead to bring together the information we harvested from those fruitful and fun days.  Leadership was a major theme throughout our time there and is appropriate on this Presidents’ Day to remind ourselves of the awesome responsibility we hold in guiding the lives of so many children while they are at camp.  It’s a joy and privilege to be a part of Gwynn Valley.  John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. We really enjoy the chance to learn more about the work we do and we look forward to leading our staff and children into the best possible summer ever here at camp.

Making Camp Better!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Tomorrow Feb. 9th, several of us on our leadership team head out to the American Camp Association’s National Conference in Atlanta, GA.  It is 4 days of sessions, speakers, other camp directors and middle management staff all together for the purpose of creating the best possible camping experience for children.  We try and attend this conference every year because it is full of quality education, social and issue based sessions, a lot of networking, and is a boost to everyone’s professional development. Creativity abounds and the sharing of ideas flow freely as we immerse ourselves in the world of enriching children’s lives through camp.

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The key to this, as Anne says, is to come home and really implement much of that wisdom that we’ve soaked up.  It’s so easy to just keep doing the things we’ve been doing for years and it takes more work to implement change.  The theme for this year’s conference is “Envision”.  The world is changing fast and “Camping” has changed a great deal since I got involved many moons ago.   Summer camp is actually  much better for the child than it’s ever been.  We know a whole lot more about child development and what makes children tick.  And children do tick differently in the camp environs.  It’s a proven fact.  Add some great programming to that and the learning and fun begins.

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And while change and vision are good, some aspects don’t change like the values that make Gwynn Valley a great place to spend a session of camp.  Technology has crept into how we run camp but it stops at the office door and does not interfere with gaining a greater sense of self through relationship building in a nature focused environment.  Through the years we’ve added new programs like mountain biking, ropes courses, stand up paddle boarding, more sophisticated arts and so on.  The essence of all these is learning through doing and gaining confidence and resilience in our human powered environment.  We empower children to seize opportunities, to make new friends and try new things independent of parents.  Children at camp learn to create their own fun without the aid of electronics and sometimes with the simplest objects they can collect.  We do a great job of teaching camp skills as well as real life skills.  Where the real growth comes is when they are working with one another in a cooperative relationship and building trust and competence in communication, acceptance and a greater appreciation of the simple joys of childhood.  Of course all this is done under the guidance of a great staff.  As Maggie says, “The camp environment creates the best version of ourselves”.

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Life moves fast and our value of simplicity speaks large in slowing us down to learn where our food comes from and how much work it takes to get those potatoes out of the ground and to the table.  When you get your hands dirty and find those balls of carbohydrates just below the surface, food takes on a whole different perspective.  How many children will ever get a chance to feed a baby calf or milk a mother cow.  That whole circle of life theme can be found every day at our farm.

Camp does children a world of good and we aim to fill our cups this week and bring back more of the good for Gwynn Valley.  Stay tuned!