What a Way to Celebrate Australia

Dear Parents and Families,

What an amazing day! We had our first International Day here at camp and it was such a blast. What is International Day you may ask? These happen every Tuesday in our B, C, C1, C2, and D sessions. On each of these days we celebrate and learn about one to three countries we have represented in both staff and campers that year. Today we celebrated and learned about Australia.

While the activities still run and not much changes in comparison to our normal schedule, a few things are different. These changes started with our wakeup. Rather than the bell that we use to signal the changes in our day, we had our Australian staff go around to all cabins to wake up our campers with an “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,” and an “Oi, Oi, Oi”. From here our campers and staff got ready and headed down to the dining hall for  a skit where we learned a bit about the founding of Australia featuring Captain Cook and Steve Irwin as our narrator. After that we enjoyed a delicious Australian breakfast with toast, jam, eggs, sausage, bacon, strawberries, bananas, cooked tomato wedges, and cereal.

It was a hearty breakfast to give energy for our second day of discoveries where our campers got to experience their B day activities. They chose these activities on Sunday once they arrived, discoveries and are set up to allow more focused on the progression of a skill or set of skills than trying some of everything, like they do for afternoon sign-ups. Discovery options range from biking, Camping Skills and Nature, to Blacksmithing and Pottery, to Sports and the Farm. There are so many wonderful activities to choose from!

It was such a fun morning that lunch seemed to just pop up out of nowhere, and keeping with our day of Australia we had roast chicken with rice, broccoli, carrots, salad from our farm, and homemade bread rolls with honey butter. We carried over our Australian cultural learning to singing in the lodge where we sang a mix of both traditional camp songs, like It’s a Beautiful Day to Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree. During our afternoon activities, we enjoyed some rain which cooled us off after a warm morning.

Dinner was just as delicious as Breakfast and Lunch with a meat pie, oven chips (or fries and we call them), tomato sauce (Ketchup), green beans, and lamingtons for dessert. With all of this delicious food, and our Mountainside staff being out, it’s always nice to see our community sharing with each other. Tables would send a camper or staff member up with their extra Lamington to give it to another individual in the dining hall that the table agreed on. It’s such a joy receiving that one extra dessert or being able to see that look of appreciation on the person’s face when you share that extra piece with them.

One of the most memorable moments of our International Days has to be campfire. It is through these that our campers are able to have a little more time to learn about the culture, history, and people from the countries we are celebrating. Our campers and staff learned a popular dance they have in Australia in addition to learning about the Aboritional people, and some of the celebrities that call Australia home. Perhaps the only tough thing about International days is that they always add a country onto the list of places for me to learn more about, or visit!

Enjoying the Natural Wonders of Camp! B Session 2019

Dear Families and Friends,

What a wonderful day here at Camp Gwynn Valley! Our first full day of B session was an absolute blast, filled with a morning of discoveries and afternoon sign-ups. In our Main Camp discoveries, campers  were able to make hair pins in the Blacksmithing, go creek hiking around camp, and pick veggies at the farm (to name a few activities)! The weather has been beautiful today, with lots of sun and warmth that made swimming in the lake or making crafts in Shady Grove extra nice.

On Mountainside, we sadly said goodbye to our MS1A campers, wrapping up our first MS session for the summer. As campers and families reunited, there was a buzz of excitement as stories were shared from a fun filled session. Wednesday we will greet our MS1B campers for another 10 days of adventures and fun!

Riverside spent yesterday on the French Broad River for the first day of their adventures, and moved on to the Green River today for another exciting day of paddling. We are looking forward to seeing them in a few days and hearing all about the stories they have to share!

Our Young Leaders enjoyed a cookout on our Hunt Farm and will be camping out there tonight as well! They are one of several cabins on Main Camp who will get to cook their dinner over a fire (s’mores included!) and spend the night outdoors in one of our shelters around camp.

Hearing about all of the adventures and activities that our campers have had today and over the past few days, I’m so grateful for the appreciation of nature that camp allows. From being able to grow and pick the food that we eat at the Farm, canoeing, and camping in the forest, we do our best to spark a connection and appreciation for nature in all our campers.

B Session Opening Day 2019 – A Fun Filled Day!

Dear Families and Friends,

Today was a wonderful day at camp! With the opening of B, the sending off of Riverside on their second adventure, and the final day of MS1A, there was so much to do! We saw many familiar faces as well as some new ones as we greeted our Main Campers this morning. The love that everyone was feeling for camp was palpable in the air. You couldn’t help but smile as former bunkmates were reunited for another summer, and new campers were warmly greeted by cabinmates who would soon find themselves as best friends.

As camp greeted many campers for B session, Riverside headed out for their second adventure of three, to go paddling off camp for four days.
Every Main Camp cabin had a chance to cool off in the pool for their swim assessments, as well as enjoy more cabin bonding at activities such as horseback riding, milling, and playing improv games in fine arts (to name a few)! Throughout the session, campers will be able to sign up for more of these activities during the afternoons as well as get a more in-depth exploration of four activities for their morning discoveries.

As we welcome our B session campers, we are sadly preparing to say goodbye to our MS1A campers who have spent the last 10 days with us. They enjoyed a morning of signups with activities such as capture the flag, watermat, and friendship bracelets! In the afternoon they packed and enjoyed some lake time, and finished off their day with a friendship campfire.

Over the past 10 days, friendships have been formed and memories have been made, as we enter into this new session, we are looking forward to more of the moments that make camp so special!

Adventures Home and Some Just Starting!

Dear Campers and Friends, 

For those of you that have campers here from Mountainside, Riverside, Young Leaders and the stayovers for Main Camp, it’s been another beautiful day.  All of Mountainside ended their adventures today and all are back in camp safe and sound after three days of being in the field learning, challenging themselves and sleeping under the stars.  Fortunately, we’ve had great weather so it’s been a great time to be adventuring. 

Riverside will be leaving tomorrow for their canoeing component.  I spent several hours on the lake with them over the last couple of days and they are getting their flat-water transition to whitewater legs.  Robert Dye, our yearly resident canoe guru will be with them for the next four days.  It’s an excellent crew and I enjoyed my short few hours with them. 

As many of you know A Session closed yesterday, so today has been very relaxing for those staying over and those here.  We are all looking forward to hearing about Mountainside’s adventures and inviting new campers into our community tomorrow morning.  Stay tuned!

Friendship Campfire and Closing of A

Dear Parents and Friends,

After another action-packed day at Gwynn Valley, camp is quiet again. We started the day with one last morning of sign up activities. Campers were able to choose from over 20 activities including making hemlock tea with Camping Skills & Nature, rock climbing at the tower, candle making at crafts, trail rides in horseback riding, archery with sports, making wands at blacksmithing (Harry Potter is still cool at camp!) and paddling around the lake on Stand-up-Paddle Boards…. among many others!

The activities are of course amazing, but in many ways they are just a lens for the real work that’s going on with our campers. 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 nurturing backdrop.  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 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. It’s such a gift to watch them shine here at GV!

Tonight we enjoyed a performance by campers who participated in our Fine Arts Discovery. This session, campers worked on turning a classic camp song (Señor Don Gato) into a performance piece to share with all of camp. Everyone knows the song since it’s a favorite from Singing-in-the-Lodge, and it was so fun to see the story come to life. We ended the night with Friendship Campfire, where we recognize those campers who have attended camp for more than one year, especially those who have been here 4 years or more.  Fourth year campers receive a blanket from camp to remind them of their bunk and their cabin. Fifth-year campers get a plaque made of poplar to remind them of our connection to our trees and the land. In longer sessions, we often celebrate campers who have been here for 8 and 10 years as well. 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 Charis 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! They will remain off camp for two more days returning on Saturday. We can’t wait to hear more about their experiences mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking, white water paddling, and practicing earth skills. If you have a camper in MS1A, you can rest easy knowing they’ll be having an amazing time playing in the sun! We’re grateful for the sunny weather we’ve had to round out this week.  

If you’re picking up an A session camper tomorrow, you’ll be able to go straight to the cabins when you arrive at camp.  At 10:30 there will be a Friendship Circle in your child’s cabin where they’ll share a bit more about their session. 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 a farm-fresh lunch with us around noon or just before. Safe travels!

Sunshine and Smiles – A Session 2019

Dear Families and Friends,

After several rain showers the last few days, a warm sunny day was greatly appreciated by all. We continued with our third day of Main Camp discoveries where campers were able to build on the skills they were introduced to two days ago in activities such as weaving, climbing, and horseback riding to name a few! All around camp there were many smiling faces, grateful for the gift of sun, blue skies, and adventures to be had.

While main campers were busy with their discoveries, our Mountainsiders learned which three day adventure they will be a part of starting Thursday. The next few days will be filled with training and packing for these adventures along with other fun activities.

One of my favorite parts of the day are our mealtimes. Not just because of our delicious food cooked fresh for us by our incredibly talented kitchen staff, but also because of the variety of campers and counselors we share a table with each meal. Over the session we get to sit with a group of campers from Hillside to Young Leaders, along with counselors and Program Leaders from all areas of camp. During these meals we get a chance to share how we’ve spent our days. One Island Ford camper told me she spent a fun afternoon making animal themed costumes for Fine Arts while a Mountainside camper shared with the table his pride in finally conquering the Hunt Farm Biking Trail after years of it challenging him. Our conversation over dinner became even more elated as we discussed costumes for the Tajar Ball and the return or our Riversiders both happening tomorrow. These meetings three times a day are the perfect glimpse into the magic that makes camp happen, reminding all of us of the amazing things that happen at Gwynn Valley every day.

After dinner, we enjoyed a variety of After Supper Activities throughout camp, where the sounds of laughter could be heard all over Downtown GV. We spent our evening program with main camp playing Bingo and Mountain Dancing in the Lodge while a few cabins camped out at shelters around camp. Sleeping outside and listening to the sounds of nature after eating a delicious meal cooked over a real fire is one of the traditions of camp that many staff and campers recall as their favorite moment even years later.

As I’m writing this, with the sun setting over the Blue Ridge Mountains, I can see our Young Leaders playing Frisbee and catching fireflies together. Enjoying the beauty and simplicity of camp. I hope you all enjoy the little moments you can have with nature this week as we enjoy our last few days of our wonderful A session.

Another Great Day

Dear Family and Friends,

Another great day has passed at Gwynn Valley. Each day brings more fun and excitement with more experiences to have. Today has been no different and we have been busy in many activities, making more new friends, and have had less rain with the sun coming out late this afternoon – Yea! Although we did get some scattered rain showers we were able to carry on with activities as normal. Campers enjoyed their other two discovery choices, so they have now had the opportunity to enjoy all four of their morning activities and will build more skills in these activities tomorrow. They enjoyed signing up for two more hours of activities this afternoon and we all played after dinner! Mountainside has completed their mini-adventures and will learn their adventure selection tomorrow. Riverside is on their first adventure, and are enjoying climbing in Tennessee.

A session always seems to go by so quickly, and yet even with the unpredictability of rain, and the week that seems to fly by, nothing can stop cabins from getting some quality time with each other. Those cabins that were supposed to camp out last night were still able to have their quality time with each other around campfires (under shelters), cooking their food, roasting marshmallows, and rounding out the evening with the joy of camping out on the floor of their cabins.

While it is important for cabins to get together and have quality time, activities always seem to take up the heart of the day. Our afternoon activities had a list of options that numbered in the twenties. From Tye-Dye, to The Mill, to sports, and kayaking on the lake, all areas of camp seemed to buzz with the energy that only our campers can create. The Mill got rainbow trout put into the pond today so now campers are able to fish as well as grind corn, make johnny cakes, and play old fashioned games. Campers were able to pick lettuce at the farm that we will be having tomorrow for salad, and Camping Skills and Nature made smores. Walking around each of these activities, it made me truly appreciate the amount of joy and excitement that campers are able to put into everything they do. And through seeing their smiling faces, I’m wishing I was a child again, able to experience all the joys of camp has to offer as though everything were new and exciting.

Following the wonderful surprise of light sun showers, our amazing kitchen staff seems to read what our campers and staff needed, vegetable soup with turkey melts and grilled cheese for lunch, and warm braised beef roast for dinner with homemade dinner rolls and strawberry shortcake for dessert. What a wonderful way to end the day, with full bellies, the laughter of campers, and in the event of Playhouse, the joy of catching fireflies with your cabin.

The Simple Joys of Camp

Dear Families and Friends,

As our first full day of A session comes to an end, I’m reflecting on the day we’ve enjoyed as a camp community. We often say at camp that the days feel long but the weeks feel short and this day is no exception. It’s amazing how many incredible activities and adventures we are able to pack into a single day!

We started the morning with some rain showers, which have been much appreciated by our forest and farm after many dry weeks. The rain cleared for most of the morning, giving our Riversiders a dry send off as they rose for an early breakfast to depart on their Climbing Adventure in Foster Falls, TN. This is the first of three four-day trips they will experience over the next three weeks. Our main campers enjoyed some delicious homemade biscuits among other things for breakfast which fueled them for their first day of morning Discoveries. As showers came and went throughout the day, the activities continued and there were sounds of laughter from all over camp, something we as staff have been looking forward to since the start of staff training. Whether it was SUPS on the lake, archery on the field, or weaving at Shady Grove, there was a pervasive sense of joy felt all over camp. While our Main Campers were busy with Discoveries and sign up activities, Mountainsiders were spending the morning and afternoon trying out two mini-adventures activities. Each Mountainsider will choose 4 of the 5 adventure activities to sample (rock climbing, mountain biking, white water canoeing, backpacking, and earth skills). After sampling, each Mountainside camper will choose one activity to experience more in depth later this session — more on those adventures later in the week!

After lunch we gathered as a community for our Sunday Service, which we have as a chance to reflect on the day, our experiences, and the gifts that camp brings. Today our theme was Simple Joys, giving us a chance to reflect on the amount of joy camp can bring in the midst of simplicity. Even as the rain came and went during the afternoon activities, and plans changed, there were hundreds of small moments to appreciate: the laughter of those playing games on the Pavilion, a camper feeding a calf for the first time, or even the sound of rain on a tin roof. We’re so lucky to be in place that connects us with nature and brings out the simplest of joys of childhood for us all. Even now as I write this, I can hear the music from the lodge as half our main campers join in for mountain dancing and the sound of cheers as the other half plays Bingo in the Dining Hall. There are moments of celebration everywhere!

This has been an incredible start to the summer and we are so grateful that you all have shared your wonderful children with us. I hope you all enjoy the simple joys in your life back home and know that we are certainly doing the same here at camp.

Opening Day Session A – 2019

Dear Parents and Friends,

We hope you are safe and dry back in your home or maybe on the way to your next destination.  Thank you all for a smooth opening for Session A and the beginning to another great summer at GV. This is our 85th year of operation and certainly a milestone for camp and the many children and adults who have attended.  We have wonderful staff this summer filled with those who grew up at camp.  Daniel, Lauren, MK, and Zeke (head counselors for Hill, Brook, Mountainside, and Riverside) spent many years here as campers.  Multiple other former campers, now staff members are here to fill in the counselor, logistics, activity heads and support staff roles for the 2019 summer.  At our last night of staff training, I told our staff, “Our strength comes through your guidance and direction, as you assist campers in realizing new talents and personal strengths through new self-confidence. My hope for you all this summer is to gain a new appreciation for our child-centered world here at camp and experience the chance to stretch your skills as a parent, friend and teacher.” It’s an awesome responsibility that brings great rewards. 

Opening day is always full even without the rain that we experienced this afternoon.  Camp is spontaneous and flexible.  A fire in the Pavilion warmed those that had just finished their swim assessments.  Other activities today included: Tie Dye, Camping Skills and Nature, Horses, Pottery, Fine Arts, Crafts, Archery, The Mill, Lake Fun, Climbing and Sports.  Everyone stayed busy dodging raindrops and going from activity to activity.  Campers also took time to sign up for activities and they will learn their schedules tomorrow morning before breakfast. 

Mountainside and Riverside spent the afternoon getting to know one another and prepping for their upcoming days of training and adventure.  Riverside will leave for Foster Falls tomorrow as they begin their climbing component.  After being regular campers for many years, Young Leaders will be getting their feet wet in a new role for many of them at camp.  Moving toward maturity and leadership they will embark on their 3-week journey toward gaining new skills and prepping to hopefully becoming full staff at some point in the future.  

This first night for all of camp is about community building.  For the first three meals, we will eat as cabin groups and then lunch tomorrow we will break into table groups for the remainder of the week.  Campers of all ages will gather at preassigned tables and meet new folks from our many age groups and cabins.  Eating is great at GV mostly because of the food but also because of the time we take to converse at the table and socialize.  I love meal time and getting to know our campers in the table setting. 

Tonight at campfire, we spent time getting to know one another by seeing where everyone is from. Debbie played the piano as we sang several songs and each cabin let everyone know what their “rose-Bud” (what they are looking forward to) for the week.  Each night in the cabin we circle up and each camper expresses their thoughts on the day.  Rose is something positive and fun; bud is looking forward and thorn may be something challenging or hard. 

After campfire, everyone went back to their cabin to settle in for the evening and the Serenaders (singers) came through the camp to proclaim lights out and bedtime.  This tradition has been happening since 1935.  Traditions abound at Gwynn Valley and that is one reason that camp is so special.  Over the days ahead we will post pictures of your children in activities having fun and experiencing all aspects of camp.  We will also post a blog each day to let you know what’s happening in our camp world.  In the past, I have been the GV blogger with an occasional writer taking over on my day off.  This summer I’m stepping back to refocus on more program interaction and will turn most of the blogs over to others.  I know you will enjoy hearing different perspectives and seeing why we call Gwynn Valley the Simple Joys of Childhood.  Thanks so much for the chance to host your children! Stay tuned!