Blacksmithing, Mill Cookery and Good Counseling!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Another hot and sunny day here at camp and everyone is taking advantage of the shade and water.  We’re slathering on the sunscreen and drinking lots of water to keep everyone cool.  While we feel it’s hot for this time of the year it was only 86 in Brevard.  Camp temps are always a couple of degrees lower out here than in town.

In spite of the heat we’ve got two activities that are heat oriented.  Something we’ve never done before is Blacksmithing, which is operating up near the Mountainside creek because they need the cool water from the stream.  Scotty is teaching Blacksmithing at camp this year and has 4 campers per hour.  Scotty is only here for B session this summer, so those in this session are getting a rare treat.  It’s nice to have an activity that is so primitive in its origins.  It certainly harkens way way back before even the Mill was built in 1890. I’m sure there was a blacksmith involved in helping to create many of the metal parts that the Mill used.    The camper’s who took the morning Discovery are working toward more than one project while those that sign-up for the afternoons are getting a project done in an hour.  It’s been a great new activity and everyone’s talking about it.  I suppose the down side is that you have to be 10 and up.  I’m sure you’ve seen some of the photos over the past few days.   Scotty uses a propane furnace to heat the metal instead of coke or coal.  It burns much cleaner and hotter and you don’t breath the smoke from the aforementioned.  The campers have made a variety of things to use and wear – Candleholders to hooks for the wall.

The other activity that’s getting lots of action is a GV staple and that’s the Mill.  Cathy is running the Mill this year and her history in food carries it to a different level.  She was a camper here many years ago and her mother and father have worked at camp for quite some time.  Cathy and her husband ran the West End Bakery in Asheville for many years.  The recently sold the bakery and we recruited her to work at camp this summer.  She brings a whole different level of outdoor cooking to the Mill.  A couple of days ago she and campers made two dutch ovens full of blueberry cobbler.  Today it was zucchini bread over the fire.  Both were out of this world.  Beside the milling, catching fish and making ice cream off the water powered wheel, the world of pioneer cooking has been revived by her presence and enthusiasm.

It’s so nice to have such a diverse staff.  One of our counselors hails from Denmark and she taught a new game today for sign-ups called HOVDINGEBOLD.  I can’t even begin to help you with the pronunciation.  It’s akin to our dodgeball game but with a whole different strategy and set of rules.  I can see how it would be a great camp game, slightly competitive and just on the edge of our limits there.  It’s pretty fast paced and all that participated today loved it.  The balls are very soft and you don’t need a big area to play in.

As mentioned earlier in the session our staff are our greatest asset with the exception of your children.  We do our best to partner with you to make camp an extension of your home and the ideals you want to set for your children while here.  I mentioned in an earlier piece that being a consistent disciplinarian  and how the Golden Rule reigns at camp.

Also very important is being available for talk time, because children need to have conversation just as much as we do.  Listening is critical here and after listening, passing along information that may be of help here or at home.   The conversation could range from favorite ice cream flavors to asking about their most memorable vacation and where they’ve traveled.  Children also need to know their opinions count and in so doing our staff learn even more about their personality.  At camp we have talk time every night in the cabin after campfire and it’s called friendship circle.  While this is a much more organized way to get a feel for the camper’s day, any cabin time should be talk time.  Meal time is another great talk time.  Many years ago when I worked for Outward Bound we started our 21 day course with six days on the Deschutes River in Oregon.  As the two staff leading the trip we paddled the oar/equipment boat and the students paddled the 4 person rafts (usually three rafts per group).  Each day we would spend time taking one student at a time on the oar raft to just talk and get to know that person better.  By the time our river component ended we as staff had really benefited from that special time bonding with our students and it made a huge impact on the rest of our course.

Set a good example – Much of what our staff do at camp is watched and followed closely by the children.  What they say, how they treat one another, how they dress, what words they choose, and most everything they do.   Campers might not seem to be paying attention or watching our staff but they are, from up close and afar.  Good behavior is expected here and our staff are an extension of you the parent at home.  I challenge my staff and ask, would you make that comment if the parent were standing there next to you or if I was standing there next to you.

Lastly, our staff unplug in the presence of campers and during the activity times when children are around.  Phones, tablets and ipods cannot be used in the cabin and only have restricted use in certain parts of camp at certain times.  You will not see a counselor talking on their cell phone as they stroll through camp.  Children need to see that their counselors are not dominated by electronic devices but are users of other equipment at camp like bikes, pottery wheels, carabiners, horse reins, bows, and a gentle touch given to a baby farm animal.

It’s not a perfect world and we strive to do our best.  We start preparing by sending our staff these value based messages in preparation for entering our child oriented world early in the Spring.  When staff training comes in late May, we re-emphasize the importance of the simple joys of childhood and why their role as a camp counselor is so important.  In the end I see that children really remember their counselors more than anything else at camp.  They may have had fun on the climbing wall but it was that counselor who talked them through the difficult section and praised their resilience for getting to the top.  That memory is what I call creating “Camp DNA” or good camp memories.  Our staff play the vital role in that Camp DNA.  We strive to partner with parents in creating the best possible camp experience that we can have here at Gwynn Valley.  Stay tuned!