Celebrations and Dignitaries Make a GV Appearance

Dear Parents and Friends,

Lots of sun and some rain were a part of our day here at GV.  A thunderstorm rolled in just near the end of rest hour this afternoon and we had to hunker down in our cabins for a while before afternoon activities started.  Our Thorguard Lightening System gave us fair warning and kept us safe until the coast was clear.  It was our second day of Discovery for the morning activities and the second day of signups for the afternoon.  Campers were doing lots of “firsts” today as they learned to tie their knots for climbing, playing real flag football (with true flags on your belt), being up close and personal with a very large horse, tye dying their first T-shirt, shelling corn the old fashioned way, working on firebuilding skills and a plethora of other activities.

Oh, and by the way, today is UK day here at camp, celebrating all the countries that make up our mother country.  We started the day off with a grand battle between Scotland and England which certainly has some history with Scotland’s independence.  The battle didn’t last long as a soccer style ref drew a yellow and red card, which didn’t quite seem appropriate and then drew a G V tie card that seemed to make everyone feel better.  The G V tie is an inside joke here at camp.  You can ask your children about it later.  All through the day, we had appearances by the Queen herself and other royal subjects.  Anne and I were both impressed that she took time out of her busy schedule to come to Gwynn Valley.  We do, however, have several of her subjects working here with us this summer.  The food was outstanding throughout the day and dinner was showcasing chicken marsala with rice and sticky toffee pudding for dessert with other assorted side dishes.   Campfire in the Lodge tonight was active and fun with lots of music, skits and everyone involved.  Several famous UK standouts showed up for tonight’s show including Elton, The Spice Girls, One Direction and Harry Potter.  Harry used his wand to bring everyone back to reality after a festive evening.

I try my best to get out into the program as much as possible.  I watched as Camping Skills and Nature tried to get fires going this afternoon after a rain came through.  There wasn’t a dry piece of wood within 10 miles of camp.  The campers gave it a valiant effort but it just wasn’t meant to be.  They will have to learn to be more selective about wood choices and learning how to nurture that small but dynamic flame and keep it alive.

Fabulous creations are coming out of Arts and Crafts each day and many thanks to Tamara, who has been with us for many years and is our artist in residence here.  She is amazing with her creations but more so in working with campers to have them create some of their own ideas and projects.   I think the creative juices really flow in our nature existence here.  We see so much beauty around us that inspires and certainly makes us think deeper about our dreams and imaginations.  It’s good for the soul and what’s good for the soul is usually good all around.  Stay tuned!

First Full Day of B Session and Off to a Great Start!

Dear Parents and Friends,

I can just barely see the outline of the mountains as camp settles into our quiet time of the evening.  Our staff are putting campers to bed and singing, playing music, or reading stories as they drift off on our first full day of B Session.  We just finished a mountain dance for Brookside which is always a good time.  It takes a while for the Brooksiders to warm up since “mountain dancing” is not so cool and Brookside ages are just starting to become cool.  This is especially so with the boys on the Brook.  They don’t want to dance and be seen dancing or to hold hands with each other and certainly not with girls.  And…. That’s ok by me to take it slow, just dance the dance and not worry about it.  Life is fast enough in the male/female lane and camp is focused on being inclusive instead of exclusive.  Through proper supervision and creating an inclusive environment, we feel that boys and girls can coexist in a mutual setting without some of the drama that happens in school and other adolescent venues.

While our Brookside campers were dancing, Hillside campers were just finishing up their first full day of camp with a bang.  They went to various shelters and camping spots built fires and enjoyed a dessert of s’mores  with their cabin mates.  Cabin bonding is important and we work on starting that bond as early as possible.  Camp is all about getting along and coexisting with one another.  Total strangers one day working toward the magic of new friendships over the time they are here is one of our top priorities.

Yesterday was our first day of Discovery and there were many offerings for the morning.  Each camper chooses 4 one hour activities and takes two of those every other day.  The mornings are skill based working toward projects and gaining skills where you can tie your own knot for climbing, start from scratch making a pot, being on stage and learning your lines, bottle feeding a baby calf and knowing if that carrot or onion is ready to be pulled, complete that art project or weaving, wrangling raw iron to hot metal into your first masterpiece in blacksmithing, perfect your T rescue in a kayak, and mostly have fun while doing all of these and more.

We said goodbye to our Mountainside group from MS1-A and it was nice hearing all the wonderful stories that came back from Adventures.  Our new MS1-B campers will arrive on Wed.

Camp is human powered and very hands on.  In this setting, it makes the learning even better.  We are surrounded by the beauty of the natural world and sounds that we don’t often hear for sustained periods of time.  This world of simple joys is Gwynn Valley.  It’s a place where children can reclaim and foster the beauty, wonder, and awe of the natural world and the innocence of childhood.

“B” Session Opening and More!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Opening Day for B Session was awesome.  We had cool weather in morning fading in the perfect afternoon to hold swim assessments and get into activities right off the bat.  Everyone attended lunch and then it was off to the Lodge to choose activities for Discoveries this week.   This is important because there is so much offered in the morning and in the afternoon.  Over the course of 6 days of Discovery, they have 4 activities in the morning and two different ones each afternoon.  For those new to GV, morning sign-ups are for building skills and afternoons more for the experience, possibly adding to those skills and trying new things.  activities that were open in Main Camp this afternoon were as follows:   Pottery, Sports, Fine Arts, Mill, Horses, Crafts, Swimming, Camping Skills and Nature, Climbing, and Farm.  Activities just for today were pre-assigned and get children right into the flow and tomorrow we start on the choices they made today.  Afternoon activities vary each day and everyone chooses two one hour activities or one 2 hour activities.  95% of the afternoon activities are one hour.

Tonight’s dinner was noodles and alfredo sauce along with broccoli and salad from our farm and a giant cookie for each table in the dining room.  Campers sit as cabin groups until tomorrow at lunch and then we all go to different tables and you get a chance with folks that are not in your cabin.   After dinner, there were after supper activities and then a camp-wide scavenger hunt for cabins to experience as a group and work on bonding with one another.

Mountainside had their closing ceremony tonight and Anne went up to the MS shelter to honor them and their time at GV.  Several of those campers have been at camp for as many as 8 years.  What a great crew up on Mountainside and also a great staff.  Hat’s off to the staff for putting together such a great session.   We stuck around for the MS skits which you may see tomorrow if you’re an MS parent.  They, as always, were funny and goofy.  You can tell that the overall has group has bonded as well as the cabin and adventure groups.  That is truly what camp is all about.  Thank you for sharing your Mountainside campers with us for the last 10 days.  I think they’ve had a great experience and wonderful adventures.  We look forward to having them back next year either back on Mountainside or in our Riverside program.  Riversiders will spend their second day on the river tomorrow and will head back to the Green for a longer and more thorough moving water experience.

As morning activities kick off tomorrow know that your children are in a place where they are accepted and cared for in partnership with you as parents. This is our 83rd year of camping and many more to follow.  Camp takes children to a new level of community life that is hard to beat.  Campers have a chance to make choices and become independent in their time with us.  Camp creates a sense of confidence and resilience.  Camp also offers a sense of belonging to something that is greater than oneself where we still practice the GV values of simplicity, acceptance, a strong connection to the natural world and in a non-competitive setting.  We’re looking forward to a session of the simple joys of childhood for the days ahead.  Stay tuned!

Farewell to Session A and Video Recap!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Thank you for a great ending to our A Session today. We’ve had a wonderful time with your children and will carry lots of good memories from those children that were here for 7 days.  Soon you will receive a link to an evaluation that we are hoping you will participate in.   We appreciate you taking the time to help us keep Gwynn Valley an outstanding program. During today’s campfire, I forgot to convey that we showed a short recap video at last night’s campfire.  The link can be found below and hope you enjoy!

For those of you that have arrived home, we hope that your child’s experience has captured all the magic of what camp can be. We know you will hear stories and songs as the weeks go by and that the camp experience will become a great memory. Placed in the hands of a mature staff a camper really benefits from “playing outside which produces growing inside”.  From all of us, thanks again for sharing your children and a great start to our summer.  Hope to see you next year!

PS   Video Link:  Video Recap – Session A 2018

A Great Session to Start Off the Summer!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It is just after our Friendship Campfire which is always on the last night of the session.  Several cabins are out on the Gatehouse Green watching the sun go down and catching fireflies as they capture the remaining time here with us in the Valley.  It’s been a beautiful last day at camp with sign-ups in the morning and packing along with water fun in the afternoon.

Tonight’s campfire allowed our campers to put on a play about the Tajar as well as a couple of skits and from some of the cabins.  We also recognized those who have attended camp for more than one year and especially those who have been here 4 years or more.  Those attending for 4 years receive a blanket from camp.  Five-year campers get a plaque and we also recognize 8 years and 10-year attendees.  Most of these children come to our longer sessions.  Many of our staff are old campers who have been here 10 to 15 years.  At the end of campfire, we celebrated by showing many of the pictures that you all have been viewing this week as well as a short video.  Our camp photographers Liv, Jacob, and Clair have done a great job of capturing your children over the past 6 days.

Backing up a bit in the day, Mountainside left for their adventures this morning and will be out for two more days returning on Saturday.  This afternoon everyone in Main Camp went to the pool.  It’s a festive affair and lots of fun on a hot sunny day like today. Tonight’s dinner was our traditional pizza night with salad from the garden and pasta for those who were really hungry.  All this was topped off with brownies to die for.

It’s been a great session and the children have made lots of new friends, explored the world around them, and lived in our small intentional community that provides a good bit of nurturing.  As I circulate through camp each day I witness the magic that is played out by those who are experiencing new things for the first time.  I’ve seen children turn from shy to talkative with our table family, show resilience in tackling new challenges, and push themselves in ways that help to raise the bar for future endeavors.  Camp is a stepping stone for life skills and building a sense of confidence in an outdoor world.  All of this has happened without the aid of screens or other distractions in this short session that will end tomorrow.  In an environment created just for them, they’ve learned real life skills, developed self-esteem, and gained a sense of independence and community.  By playing, exploring nature, conquering new heights, and becoming part of a camp family, they have created some memorable moments this week.   I call it creating camp DNA.

Tomorrow when you arrive you may go straight to the cabins.  At 10:30 there will be a friendship circle in your child’s cabin.  We’ll ring a bell at 11:00 for everyone to gather in the Lodge for our final campfire of the session.  After that you are welcome to stay and have lunch with us around noon or just before.  Safe travels and stay tuned!

A Sunny Tajar Ball Day!

Parents and Friends,

We have some catching up to do and it’s been a wonderful day, starting with a little Tajar Folly or Foolery.  Our ever-present Tajar left his mark by leaving our Downtown GV a little bit in disarray this morning.  There were boats on the Green, paddles spelling out his name, inner tubes scattered about, tables moved to the pavilion, and teacups hanging in the trees.   He’s just being the Tajar and getting ready for his birthday party which was tonight.  More on that later.

Riverside returned to camp today after four days of climbing at Foster Falls in Tenn.  They came back looking rugged and rocky and cleaned up pretty well later on in the day.  The crew had an excellent time as they scaled the many walls around Foster Falls.  Camp is so much fun here but I think anytime we go off site for adventure, it stretches us and we develop a crust or should I say patina that glows with confidence and resilience.  They will be heading out again in a few days on their paddling adventure.

Mountainside will be leaving tomorrow and going in many directions, 5 to be exact.  Bikers will head to Dupont State Forest where over a hundred miles await their rolling thunder.  Paddlers will ply the waters of the Lower Green River near Saluda.  Climbers will ascend into Pisgah to take on Looking Glass Rock.  The Backpackers are headed to Panthertown Valley, a beautiful part of Nantahala National Forest between here and Highlands.  Our Earth Skills crew will tame the wild forests nearby Dupont and have Eden under their feet.  Today was packing day, food checks and general fun at the lake.  They will be returning to camp on Sat. afternoon.

As for Main Camp and all the wonderful children there, we held our last morning Discovery sessions today and had sign-ups this afternoon.  It was a great day with a short shower just before dinner.  Campers are feeling the end is near and for some, it has been the right amount of time.  For others, we are leaving them hungry for more next year.  Each year is so different from my perspective.  Our goal is to provide better experiences each year and while it may seem impossible, it is dynamic in a successful way.  Change and growth are good and it’s difficult to accurately measure.  My method is talking to campers and watching their interactions from day to day.  For campers, there are many places to grow and experience camp life, starting in their cabin, at the table, and in their program areas which are numerous.  Each day you are with different campers and staff and it makes for a broad experience.  I think the great takeaway or outcome from this is building relationships.  While we spend a lot of time having fun and participating in the program, we tend to not pay homage to the day to day aspects of living and participating in a small family like communities.  Communication, collaborative learning, trust, support, a sense of belonging, sharing and getting to know total strangers are just a few areas where campers grow.  Seven days is short, but it does make an impact.

We saw that tonight as we celebrated the Tajar’s Birthday at Tajar Ball on the Athletic Field.  Everyone came in costume and we held our traditional cookout on the Green where all campers and staff assembled for the feast of burgers and dogs with assorted trimmings.  From there it was off to the carnival to participate in a number of games, dessert, and challenges.  There was everything from Face Painting to Hay Rides, and Soccer Shootouts to Water Slides.  I’ll be the first to admit, I’m tired and will sleep very well tonight.

Life at camp goes way too quickly and sessions fly by even faster.  We try to slow things down here and live the simple joys.  Stay tuned for another great day at GV!

Partnering With Others!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Another super day at GV brought more sunshine than we anticipated.  It was supposed to rain today but held off till just before the campfire.  It only lasted for about 30 minutes which was nice for our cabins camping out tonight.  They were scattered about over our property in dry and up off the ground camping huts.  Campfires for food preceded the rain and s’mores followed.  Good food served outdoors and topped off with s’mores ends the perfect evening for some who are maybe going on their first campout.  Coming back from a night camping the campers smell like smoke and woods and showers are a welcome way to enter the land of camp civilization again. Tonight, the rest of our cabins were having some cabin bonding time or dancing in the Lodge.  Our wonderful days give way again to the cool of the evening and we topped off the evening with Mountain Dancing.  Debbie played the piano and I called the dances as she played.  We danced the Hokey Pokey, Sasha (a Russian Folkdance) and Going to Kentucky and a Virginia Reel.  There was a lot of laughter and fun had by everyone.

Backing up a bit Day 2 of Discovery went extremely well.  Our staff activity leaders have been knocking it out of the park creating lots of fun and skills for campers trying new things for the first time and getting lots of chances to try and try again.  “I can’t” is replaced with “I can” when campers have staff encouragement as well as from their peers.  We all excel in different ways and at different times.  I think camp brings out the best of “another day of opportunity”.  We see children tackling not only new skills but also working along with others as were our Mountainside paddlers on the lake today.  They were finishing off their mini adventures and paddling tandem canoes, which is all about partnering with your bow or stern person.  When communication and strokes are working together there’s nothing more beautiful to watch than a tandem team on flat or whitewater.  These folks will soon be on the river and using their combined skills to ply the moving waters.

The climber and belayer have the same relationship in that they both depend on one another and communication is key.  Signals and keywords are used to convey what’s going at both ends of the rope.  Partnering with people and animals is possible at camp and nowhere is it truer than at Horseback riding.  Like us, horses can have a mind of their own and we have to be gentle and firm at the same time.  In working with children, we call it discipline with dignity.  I think the same is true with horses and you have to win their respect as you steer and guide them in the ring and on trails.

It’s that time of day when all of camp has wound down.  As one young man said this morning, “I don’t think it took me more than a minute to fall asleep and I didn’t wake until I heard the wake-up bell.  I compare this to a pack of 230 young puppies, playing all day long and just collapsing into deep sleep and dreams of more to come tomorrow.  We hope you have pleasant dreams as well.  Stay tuned!

Playing Outside and Growing Inside!

Today was a great start to our regular days here in session A.  We started our Morning Discovery Activities and I was able to make it around to a good many of our first day activities.  On the athletic field campers and staff were playing the most popular game in the world – soccer or football or futbol depending on where you come from.  It was a small game with about 8 a side but none the less active.  The morning shade on the field helped to keep the energy high.  Just near the soccer field is our mountain bike shop and bike shed.  We had a full house both sessions this morning in Discovery and everyone did quite well.  We’re pleased to welcome back Christian Jackson, an outdoor educator who teaches at Appalachian State University and is also a Level 3 Mountain Bike Instructor.  He has a gift with teaching and mentoring our staff for this first session.  Each year we learn from his depth of knowledge. While he is an expert rider, it’s all about safety first and good riding technique as you learn those basic skills to build confidence.

The morning was a flurry of active learning as campers headed off to climbing, horses, farm, mill, batik, dance, archery, pottery, weaving, creek hiking, kayaking, outdoor living skills, and more! The archers managed a few bullseyes after the initial practice shots, but even those who didn’t snag a bull’s eye managed to get closer to the middle as the lesson went on. Every potter I saw had muddy hands and happy faces; they were working on making coil pots which came out well.  The very enthusiastic kayakers were working on their wet exits and forward strokes up until the last second of the lesson. Farmers split their time between harvesting veggies and meeting the newest babies on the farm (so far many baby calves, a hand full of goat kids and oodles’ of baby chicks). Farm folks also got to milk a mama goat and collect eggs from the chicken coop. Everyone was plugged into activities where they were meeting new friends and learning new skills!

Mountainside continued their mini adventures today staying on site to bike, climb, paddle, learn some pioneering skills and our newest program, earth skills.  They, of course, are trying some activities “on” to see which adventure they will choose to end their session.  It would be a hard choice for me and yet I feel that some of them have already made up their minds.  Riverside took off early this morning to begin their climbing component at Foster Falls in Tennessee.  With the hot weather, climbing near the bottom of a waterfall is a good place to be.  I’m sure they will take advantage of daily swim opportunities.

Main camp ended their evening with mountain dancing and campfire time with their cabin where something sweet and sticky got sandwiched between something soft and chocolaty.  Six cabins were on campouts tonight at various shelters on our property.  Each shelter is a three-sided hut with a wooden floor built up off the ground and a campfire circle.  Many of our campers have never camped out before so this is a way to ease them into the experience on our property.  The staff cooks dinner over an open fire and gets everyone fed and then usually the stars are out and it’s about that time to slumber off to dreamland.  I’m sure this experience stretches some of our campers, and it’s so good for building resilience and stepping outside their comfort zones.

Imagination is a big part of our lives sometimes and especially in children here at camp.  Thinking about an experience can excite us or perhaps make us a little nervous about experiences.  Our imagination is also our ability to form new ideas. The innovations, wild notions, and original concepts we dream up are thanks to us putting our imagination to work. Creativity is the process of realizing our imagination with action. It sets the processes in motion that bring a new idea to life.  Most of us think of imagination and creativity in terms of entertainment or the arts, but creative people use their resourcefulness in any situation, starting at a very young age. Pretending  and make-believe comes naturally to children, who create whole worlds in the blink of an eye. Pretending is where children first learn to engage their imagination and express their creativity.  Children who are encouraged in imaginative play, making art, or solving problems and puzzles are more likely to use this creative thinking with confidence as they grow.  In every field of work or study, imagination and creativity are assets to growth, positive change, and success. We’ve all heard the phrase, “think outside the box?” Creativity and imagination are essential to being more collaborative, open, and accepting of others. They allow us to see the big picture, learn to take initiative, and find a way to get things done when no one else can find a solution.

Near the end of the dance tonight, I could tell that many of the little ones were ready for bed.  Days are long here and we stay on the move.  There’s a lot going on, a lot of information to be processed and it’s not coming from a screen.  I think at the end of a normal day, we are all ready to curl up and catch some zzzz’s.  We play hard outside as we grow inside.  Stay tuned for more of the simple joys!

Opening Day A Session!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Welcome to Session A and another great year of Gwynn Valley.  We had a wonderful opening day here and we’re off to a terrific start.  After a buffet lunch at noon today, we all headed to the Lodge for a bit of singing with Debbie on the 88’s and then made choices for our morning “Discovery Activities”.  These are all skill based and embrace all the programs we teach here at camp.  Swim assessments followed sign-ups and then campers were off to various activities for the rest of day including: Sports, Archery, The Mill, Tie-Dye, Camping Skills and Nature, Crafts, Pottery, Horseback Riding, Swimming, Fine Arts, Climbing and of course The Farm.  We believe in jumping right into activities to provide the campers with a busy first day in case anyone has a touch of homesickness.

Mountainside followed suit and began their mini adventures which will continue for a few days.  Riverside began their ground school for climbing and they will be leaving tomorrow to head over to Tenn. for their climbing component.  Life is full here at camp and especially in downtown GV on the first day.  Tonight we had our first dinner together with all of our groups meeting under one roof in the Dining Room.  We had our very child-friendly spaghetti and sauce with fresh salad from the garden and home baked dinner rolls. First night’s dinner is not complete without the Giant Chocolate Chip cookie that each table gets.  After supper activities followed and then we held a campwide scavenger hunt to find the program leaders.  Rumor has it that the “Tajar” (you’ll learn more about our friend later) enticed all the program leaders to a meeting with brownies and then sent them off in many directions on a goose chase.  The campers “Mission Impossible” was to track them down and bring them back to Downtown GV. From there it was off to bed and Friendship Circles in each cabin.

If you’re reading this, today was National Get Outdoors Day!  I want to thank you all for your commitment to Gwynn Valley in providing this outdoor opportunity to your children.   Our outdoor learning is human powered and hands-on where campers are encouraged to try something difficult every day.  Camp should be and is a transformational experience that is outside the comforts of home and parent involvement.  It’s a place where big ideas meet action that gives birth to reaching new heights and spreading your independent wings.  It’s a place where new friendships are made and flourish.  It’s a place where the effervescence of fun and laughter abound.  We, of course, cannot take your place as parents but we can partner with you in creating a wholesome and balanced experience that will create lots of happy memories for your camper.   Last night at campfire with just our staff, I spoke with them about the awesome responsibility they are about to undertake.  Throughout our training week, we’ve challenged them to be the adult that you as parents represent and not to forget their own childhood and the joys therein.

My personal goal each and every summer was also something I shared with them.  I have it written and attached to my computer, so I see it every day.  It reads, “to foster and reclaim the beauty, wonder, awe, potential, and innocence of childhood”.  Here at camp we simply say, “the simple joys of childhood”!  Stay tuned for nightly updates and glimpses of camp from our eyes and perspective.  We are excited to begin our 83rd summer of Gwynn Valley.  Thank you for providing this great group of campers.