A Leap of Faith

In 1998, Grant and I put our newly built house on the market, sent our paperwork to Vietnam for our second adoption, and took a huge leap of faith taking over the leadership and stewardship of Gwynn Valley. It was a daunting and exciting year as we moved into this calling. We are so thankful for all of the connections, simple joys, and friendships we have experienced for the past 23 years.  It’s an amazing gift to have the opportunity to watch so many children grow up and return to camp as staff members, to watch them carry the torch, and spread the values they learned at GV out into the world. We have such talented staff and they will continue to do good work and touch lives everywhere they go. They continue to give me hope for our future. 

During such a difficult year, the GV team and I have decided to focus on some of the silver linings, to hold on to hope, and to work hard to make 2021 one of the best summers yet. We continue to read and learn about the best ways to run camp during this pandemic, to meet about protocols and policies for COVID-19, to plan for changes to our program such as living in family groups (your cabin), having a neighborhood for several cabins to be able to choose activities (while social distancing), or to gather for an outdoor campfire in smaller numbers. We learned so much from running family camp this past summer and continue to expand upon the knowledge we gained, and to plan for the 2021 summer. It is hard to know where we will be by the end of May next year, but we will continue to work hard, learn, and plan in order to be ready. 

An important part of being ready means hiring great staff. We are thankful for all the returning and new people who are applying and interviewing during crunch time at school, and who are excited to work at Gwynn Valley next summer. We are grateful for our medical staff who are committed to coming and working to keep us healthy as well as for the work they have done all year trying to adjust to the many changes they have had to implement. As Dr. David said in a zoom meeting this spring, “the only constant right now is change”. We have all endured a lot in 2020. My heart goes out to all of those who have been working on the frontlines whether in hospitals or grocery stores, those whose businesses have been impacted, those who are trying to balance work and virtual learning, and most of all to those whose loved ones have been ill. 

We need camp more than ever! As we plan, prepare, work on changes, and dream about Gwynn Valley, we hope you will take a minute to enjoy this video depicting a day in the life at camp. Our videography team from 2019, Liv and Jacob, put it together and we have been waiting for the right moment to share it with you. Sit back, breathe, enjoy the video, and remember to look for the silver linings. Sometimes it just takes a leap of faith. 

Climb to new heights!

When you think about getting outside of your comfort zone at camp, climbing is often the first thing people think of. Getting 50 feet off the ground makes most people feel a little nervous, which is honestly probably a good thing when you think about it! Even if you know intellectually that we have safety systems in place to manage the actual risk [check out this video with Andy and Elizabeth for a run down of our climbing systems at the tower!], there is still a high level of perceived risk. This is what makes your heart start to beat a little faster when you’re climbing, even though you’re tied in and you know you’ll be safe if you take a fall.

Climbing lesson at the tower with Andy and Elizabeth!

At Gwynn Valley, our founder (Miss Mary) encouraged everyone to ‘do something difficult every day.’ Some days, this might be climbing, but other days it might be saying “hi” first to a new friend, or giving a presentation in front of your peers, or remembering to be compassionate in the heat of a political disagreement. Every time we work through a challenge, we are building resiliency skills and collecting tools that will serve us in each future challenge, however big or small, for the rest of our lives. Remembering what we have accomplished can help us feel strong and confident!

If quarantine has you running low on dinner table conversation topics try asking – What difficult thing did you try today? What was that like? What big challenges have you overcome in your life? How have they made you stronger?

Keep climbing!

Mountain Biking is good for the body and soul!

As we settle into new school routines (and navigate all the challenges that come with school in the midst of a pandemic!), we want to share this reminder of camp. If your lives are like ours, we bet most of you are spending hours and hours each week in front of screens for virtual school, remote work, etc … don’t forget to make time to get outside! At Gwynn Valley, one of our favorite ways to release stress and pent up energy is by mountain biking. This video gives a tour of our brand new bike depot as well as some tips on how to keep your bike clean and ready to ride. Watch to the very end for some sweet footage from our favorite trail ride in WNC! 

A Virtual Visit to the Farm at Gwynn Valley

We hope you are finding ways to enjoy your summer. We really miss all of our campers and we know you miss us too. Here’s a little video about our farm program, highlighting some of our animals. We hope you enjoy this little virtual visit to the farm!

Summer Leadership Staff show appreciation for GV team in parody of “Firework”

We just received the most incredible gift, and we just can’t keep this to ourselves! Summer leadership staff from the last decade came together across continents to surprise us with a music video reminding us that our connection to camp – and each other – endures even through this unusual summer. At camp, we seek out creative ways to show gratitude and appreciation for our staff and community members, but this one really takes the cake! Get yourself a tissue and prepare for your heart to burst!

Tajar Tales with Andy

We hope that our wonderful camp community is faring well all across the globe.  Today we want to share a little treat that comes to us all the way from New Zealand.  Please enjoy this rendition of the Tajar Tale “A Noise in the Kitchen” read to you all by our very dear friend Andy Savage, who worked at GV for over twenty years!  Many of our staff and camper families will no doubt remember Andy, his wife Beth, and their two thespian daughters..  

We wish ya’ll a happy #tajarthursday … or a #follyfriday to those tuning in from New Zealand!


Somewhere South

At Gwynn Valley we LOVE celebrating local agriculture and honoring food cultures both locally and from our international staff around the world! For this reason, the Bullard family has loved watching Vivian Howard’s new show “Somewhere South” on PBS. Watching this series, we learned so much about other people and their food traditions across the Southeast. Each episode, Vivian takes viewers on a journey to learn more about how a particular regional food culture came to be and what makes the food so unique depending on what region she is in. If you’re looking for a family friendly show that celebrates the nuances of southern food culture, check out Somewhere South by PBS! You can find all 6 episodes of the first season here: 


Green Sign Design Contest with Green Camps

Green Camps is hosting a contest where participants can design signs “that will inspire green behavior change”. As you know, sustainable living is very important to us at Gwynn Valley! How do we do this? Many of our campers, families, and staff are aware of our Farm to Table program which supplies 60% of the produce we consume and the fact that we recycle here at camp. Less widely known is that we heat 40% of the water used at camp through burning the wood that has fallen down on site; that our older program cabins are powered with car batteries, which limits the amount of electricity we use; and that we use low flow toilets and showers, which helps conserve water. Sustainability is a broad term that applies to many aspects of camp operations. 

If you feel inspired, please submit your own design before the contest ends on May 22 at 8pm! Be sure to tag Gwynn Valley! Contest rules and instructions to participate can all be found here: https://www.greencamps.org/signcontest/

Special thanks to Janey for submitting a design on behalf of Gwynn Valley already! 

White Rabbit

White Rabbit to our extended Gwynn Valley family! For those of you who don’t know, it is a tradition at camp to say “white rabbit” to others on the first of the month. This tradition is meant to bring good luck and seeing who can say it first each month is always a great source of amusement! While we don’t have white rabbits at camp, or at least, any who were kind enough to pose for a photo … however, we do have a white dog: Nala! As an added bonus, here are some scenic views around camp. Everything is so green and beautiful! We hope that these photos remind each of you to recognize the beauty that surrounds you wherever you are.

Singing in the Lodge 3

Thank you for everyone who called and videoed in to our third virtual Singing in the Lodge! It was so exciting seeing campers, staff, and alumni, especially those who wore costumes. Here is a link where you can find our video and sing along at home to some new songs and some classics: https://vimeo.com/414040878. We hope to see you all next time.