Camp – A Place to Learn and Grow


Camp has always been a place for our campers to grow. Away from the comfortability of home our campers cultivate both resilience and independence. Campers are free at camp to choose what they wish to pursue and our non-competitive program builds a community around them to support them in the endeavor. From trying new things at the table to climbing on rope for the first time, camp affords so many kids with limitless new possibilities.

Gwynn Valley has been many things in my own life’s journey; perhaps most of all as a springboard into the act of lifelong learning. It is easy to imagine how this magical place, tucked away in the mountains, has also been a place of new learnings for our seasonal staff. Our staff come from all over the world, having experienced some of the rich permutations that being a human on this beautiful planet provides. They come here for reasons all their own to share in Gwynn Valley’s mission. They are future (and often current) educators, medical professionals, entrepreneurs, engineers, and farmers. As anyone who’s worked at camp for long can attest: no two summers are alike. From this simple truth you can imagine that each of our staff take from this place learnings totally unique to their experience.

We wanted to take the time to celebrate just a few members of our wide reaching community, two of whom will be working at Gwynn Valley this upcoming summer! We asked each of them a few questions about what drew them here from such different places and how this experience has impacted their lives.

Schayla Hopkins

Shayla first worked at camp this past summer as a Cabin Counselor in Firefly Cove. Schayla received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2019 and has been working as a traveling physical therapist. Schayla wanted to work at GV because she “always loved working with children and when I was younger, I worked at a few day camps. Since high school, I have always wanted to work at a residential camp since the activities are so different compared to a day camp and the activities seem more fun. Also, because who doesn’t love a change of scenery and I hadn’t been to western NC much.” Shayla’s campers from last summer will be over the moon to hear that she has reapplied to spend at least some of her summer with us again in 2023!

Working at camp, “I improved my patience, empathy, listening, time management and conflict resolution skills.” These are skills that would be invaluable in any profession, but are especially valuable to someone in the healthcare profession. Oftentimes we think of camp as a fun job, and it absolutely is! But there are so many interpersonal skills that our staff are able to hone as well. I loved hearing Schayla describe how she cultivated some of these skills here at GV: “Several kids referred to me as a ‘temporary mom’ since that’s basically what I was. I learned to really be patient, listen, and do my best to understand what they are experiencing and be a responsible and fun leader while they are away from their parents.”


We loved having Schayla work on our waterfront and helping to plan special events– Special Day and Tajar Ball to name a few– this past summer and can’t wait to have her back again!

“What is my favorite aspect of camp? I love that camp encourages kids to try new things and be brave. Kids are exposed to so many new activities and even new foods at camp and they get to try things that they might not get to try otherwise. Camp also creates a sense of home for not only the campers, but for staff as well. We end up staying at this place that at first seems huge and overwhelming and quickly becomes familiar and welcoming. The returning staff are so welcoming and helpful that you quickly settle in.”

Sophie Peck 

Sophie Peck’s first year at camp was in 2012! In her words “I owe some of my closest friendships and formative experiences to my eight years as a camper and two years on staff.” Sophie is part of the Kenyon College Class of 2025, where she is pursuing an English Major. When she considers what drew her to work at camp she describes finding “a great sense of fulfillment from working with kids and giving back to a place that had such a big impact on my own childhood. Getting to facilitate the Gwynn Valley experience that I had for a new generation of campers is such a special feeling.”

Last summer Sophie worked in our Young Leaders program (where she will be working again in 2023!). She’s the first former Young Leader camper to also work in this area of camp! Her perspective has been invaluable in imparting on these impressionable teens a wide array of leadership skills. “Working at camp has taught me a variety of skills that I can apply in both my personal life and in the workplace. Effective communication is one of the more important lessons that I’ve learned, which is necessary for literally any career. Gwynn Valley has also taught me personal discipline, persistence and flexibility, and the overall ability to choose my attitude and appreciate the simple joys of life.” We can’t think of anyone better equipped to be passing on these same learnings to our Young Leaders!

“My favorite part of camp has always been the sense of community. Growing up I was really shy and had difficulty connecting to others and feeling like I belonged. Gwynn Valley welcomed me into the community with open arms. Gwynn Valley provided an environment in which I could grow and be myself without fear. Now, as a staff member, I am a part of an even broader community of leaders and role models that I know I can rely on both during the camp season and in my personal life for years to come.”

Niall Ringrose

For the sake of space I might be better off listing the few things Niall HASN’T done at camp. The last summer that Niall worked at GV was in 2019 as a Rock Climbing specialist. Niall learned how to facilitate a range of climbing activities we do onsite, how to place traditional climbing gear, and upped his technical climbing skills. In total, Niall worked at camp for 5 summers! He worked as a Day Camp Counselor, Main Camp Counselor, Assistant Program Leader in our Stables, and Day Camp Director before ending up on Adventure Staff.

When asked what drew him to GV Niall says “I can’t sit still for long and I’ve always loved adventures. So, when I realised my summer break at uni would be 4 months I knew I needed to plan something mega to fill that time.” Niall attended the University of Liverpool studying Sports and Exercise Science over the course of his time at GV. In considering how Gwynn Valley impacted his life: “GV has impacted my life in a monumentally positive way. I’ve made unbreakable bonds with incredible people, climbed mountains and traveled the world; mostly due to the influence of GV. The main impact has been my decision to become a teacher.” After leaving camp in 2019, Niall decided to get his Postgraduate in Education through Hull University. He has been working as a Primary School Teacher since 2020 near his hometown of Beverly in East Yorkshire, England. His compassion for the children in his care is evident in how he describes the “endless joy that simple things can bring them” such as “learning something new, overcoming a challenge or feeling part of a community.”

“There are an abundance of skills I learnt at Gwynn Valley; the one that I find myself actively using on a daily basis is my personal skills. I know that’s extremely broad, so I’ll give an example. GV showed me that the best environment to get people working collaboratively and effectively is an environment that shows care and understanding for each other. I try to replicate that in my workplace each day by checking in with people when I can, by showing small acts of kindness. I always remember how I felt at GV when people did the same for me on a regular basis. It makes you want to work harder for the people around you because you know they care, which I believe is one of the most powerful motivators. Also, I learnt how to start fires.”

Gwynn Valley and the campers we serve are blessed to have such amazing staff! They come from such diverse backgrounds and return to their respective communities equipped with interpersonal and technical skills. We can’t wait to see all the new and returning faces this upcoming summer who will add to the legacies of these folks and countless others!