Mary Gwynn: Female Leader, Visionary, and Pioneer

In honor of Women’s history month, we want to share an article about our fearless leader, Miss Mary Gwynn, who founded Gwynn Valley as a single woman back in 1935. She was a pioneer on so many fronts. Her values and vision 85 years ago remain the foundation of our camp culture and program today. Miss Mary was a female entrepreneur during a social and economic climate when such action was rare for a single woman on her own. She was an early adopter of international staff exchange programs, bringing international staff to Gwynn Valley and celebrating their culture to create a global village here in the North Carolina mountains. The idea of a co-ed camp was a bit radical for the time, but Miss Mary’s vision was clear and her commitment to the core value of acceptance drove a culture of inclusion. The tradition of socioeconomic inclusion also started with Miss Mary and her practice of providing scholarships for campers of all socio-economic backgrounds. So much of what Miss Mary started makes us the camp that we are today. We celebrate her pioneering spirit today and do our best to uphold the values she instated back in the 1930s. 

Read on for the complete text of an article written by Rick Roghair, who serves as the Professional Development Manager of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young People (IAAEYC). Rick was a staff member here in the 1970s. Among other responsibilities here at camp, Rick served as one of our celebrated camp pianists before Debbie Deboard joined us nearly 40 summers ago. 

MISS MARY GWYNN – A CHILD’S WORLD

Written by Rick Roghair, Professional Development Manager of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young People (IAAEYC)

Mary Gwynn, founder of what became Gwynn Valley Camp, near Brevard, North Carolina, envisioned a special, nurturing environment where younger boys and girls could thrive at a noncompetitive camp that emphasized individual and group achievement. Gwynn Valley nurtured each child by building character and relationships in a community that fostered personal challenge, a connection to nature, and the simple joys of childhood. “Miss Mary” opened her ‘child’s world’ camp in 1935. She combined hiking and pioneering with fine arts, creative writing, and crafts to create something very unique. She fashioned the camp based on the values of simplicity, acceptance, non-competition, and an appreciation of the natural world.

From day one, Miss Mary established her philosophy using a different focus. She wanted to ensure that each child explored her or his sense of self by creating a noncompetitive program. One favorite expression for every child was, “Do something difficult every day.” She embraced a ‘challenge by choice’ philosophy – each child was exposed to a variety of new opportunities every morning, and every afternoon selected an activity to learn more or to build personal skills, surrounded by like-minded children. Each child was encouraged to try something challenging, no matter her or his skill level. Although competition has a value and place, her focus was cooperative skills by participating in group activities each night, followed by campfire, singing, and stories.

Simplicity allowed focus on the “simple joys of childhood,” including camping under the stars, canoeing, singing, swimming, dancing, hiking, archery, and much play. The result was making friends, talking through conflicts, experiential learning, and immersing one’s self in nature. Miss Mary celebrated diversity in all forms, which allowed each camper to fully enjoy being herself or himself. 

Miss Mary provided a nurturing environment to allow each camper to learn and to grow, and to conquer personal fears. No one was a loser and self-confidence soared. Secure and safe relationships with caring adults and other children were the hallmark of her philosophy. Each child developed leadership skills in a safe environment. Miss Mary employed staff from all over the nation and the world – often 12 countries or more. She registered both genders – not very common in the early years – in separate cabins, of course! Miss Mary encouraged children of color to register (one story says she was tarred-and-feathered for this). She provided scholarships for children of poverty. Over time, boys and girls of all ages played against girls and boys of all ages in soccer, other sports, and in other group activities. A child could select English style of horse riding (look that up to understand how it is different), Red Cross swimming instruction (in the lake or with the newts in the freezing cold creek-fed pool), or the arts (using only the best materials). Nature was important, and today, the camp raises 70% of the food consumed, and the ‘older’ side of camp is almost off-the-grid. Simplicity was the key, and to this day, technology is not allowed.

How do I know this? Miss Mary died five years before I became a cabin counselor and musician, and later, Fine Arts Director at Gwynn Valley. Her niece and husband owned and directed camp 31 years, and the current owners uphold her vision today. Miss Mary was a courageous forerunner and woman of vision regarding child development. She established a vision of developmentally appropriate practice. Miss Mary knew the ‘practice’ is about a child’s learning, provides individually appropriate activities, and that developmental practice is culturally important. Her work, begun 85 years ago, still aligns with the NAEYC 12 Principles of Child Development and Learning. Some things are just timeless.

Original Article can be found at http://www.iowaaeyc.org/Miss%20Mary%20Gwynn%202020_03_03.pdf 

Lessons Learned from the 2020 American Camp Association National Conference

At camp we always want to encourage children to try new things.  Whether it’s eating a hand-picked veggie from the Farm, climbing to the top of the tower, or making your first tie-dye; camp is chock full of opportunities to embody a growth mindset.  We also hope that our staff will employ an attitude of openness to new knowledge and experiences, role modeling for the hundreds of bright and impressionable minds that share this space with us each year.  With this intention towards growth mindset, four members of our year round team — Shelley (our registrar), Barbara (our finances maestro), Zeke (one component of our staff hiring brain), and Katie (another component of our staff hiring brain) — set out for sunny San Diego last week where the annual American Camp Association National Conference was being held.  

The ACA National Conference is an annual opportunity for camp professionals to come together and share resources and knowledge in a whole host of camp related fields.  It’s also a great networking opportunity. Our crew ran into a big name in the camping world: Tom Rosenberg. For those who don’t know Tom, he is the current Chief Executive Officer of ACA and a former Director at Blue Star Camps and Camp Judaea in Western NC for many years.  

Below are a few of the standout sessions and takeaways that our team can’t wait to share with the 2020 staff and campers!

Zeke:  I loved that the theme at this year’s conference was connections.  As a previous blog post mentions (A Connection to Camp), camp affords an incredible opportunity to help children explore their connections with the natural world as well as the nurturing community around them.  If I had to pick the most impactful sessions I attended, it would be the two that centered on interactive staff training activities and interactive debriefing techniques respectively.  As I will be stepping into a leadership role in Older Programs come summertime, I can’t wait to incorporate more intentional critical-thinking for camp’s current and future leaders!

Shelley: My favorite sessions focused on youth development.  The Opening keynote speaker David Yeager does research in this field and shared his findings that show how a shift in children’s mindset virtually eliminated the achievement gap.  His research showed that a growth mindset (instead of a fixed mindset) is critical in overcoming challenges, but also identified reframing a stress mindset, or seeing stress as enhancing your ability to grow, as a critical component to overcoming challenges.  Other sessions by Dr. Gilboa, aka “Dr. G”, focused on mental health. She had some really great exercises for staff training and strategies that we can use with our staff to help them learn to deal with stress.

Katie: This was my second ACA conference. I went to sessions focusing on staff and different ways to improve staff training. One of my favorite sessions was called “The Campfire” led by John Jorgenson. We explored the most effective ways to lead games and songs while keeping the campers and staff engaged and having a fun time. Another  session that I really enjoyed was called “Happy Staff are Good for Business”. This session was led by Ivy Cohen of Camp Leaders, one of the international staffing agencies we work with. Ivy focused on ways to improve the job satisfaction of staff during the summer. She also emphasized ways to collect and use feedback from your summer staff. 

Barbara:  I really enjoyed the 2020 ACA conference!  A highlight for me was a session “Alums are the Key”.   Methods of increasing your Alumni database were discussed as well as the value of Alums in referrals of campers and staff and of course donations for the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation. Another nugget was the session “Using Trauma-Informed Training to Bridge Youth Development”.   ACA reaches 10.3 million campers annually; of this number, 6.5 million have experienced some type of traumatic experience.  Thus the need to understand, recognize and respond appropriately to childhood trauma is crucial to creating the ultimate learning environment for our campers.

Attending the ACA National Conference in February is always a great way to inspire our year round team and generate new ideas for the summer ahead. We can’t wait to put our learning into action as campers and staff begin to arrive at camp in a few short months!

Help your child get ready for overnight camp

Congratulations! We are so excited you have chosen to send your child to Gwynn Valley and recognize the significance of the decision you made to enroll your child in overnight camp. Our hope is that each camper will expand their confidence, curiosity and compassion for others. To prepare for a successful camp experience, here are some ways to help your child get ready for overnight camp.

TALK ABOUT HOMESICKNESS WITH YOUR CHILD

Be sure to ask your camper how they’re feeling about camp. Whether excited or anxious (most likely both!), be sure to acknowledge their feelings. Help them pick out a few things that they’re really looking forward to (riding a horse, petting a goat, making new friends, etc.). If they are feeling nervous or anxious, be curious and ask questions to learn exactly what they are concerned about so that you can help them come up with a plan.  

Appropriate pre-camp preparation is the best “medicine” for homesickness. If your child expresses concerns about being homesick, please let them know this is normal and there are people at camp who will help them. Let them know it is important to talk to their counselor when they are missing their family and home. To set your child up for success, don’t tell them you will come pick them up early if homesick. Rather, reassure them that you know they can do this and that you can’t wait for your child to share camp with you on closing day. 

Here’s a wonderful list of Homesickness Do’s and Don’ts from a fellow camp director in California, Audrey Monke. 

HELP US GET TO KNOW YOUR CHILD 

It’s all in the details!  We carefully review the details you share through the camper application and health history form. Please tell us anything you think might be helpful about your camper’s personality. Include friend requests, challenging behaviors, challenges at home, and anything else to help us get to know your child. 

Please be sure to fill out the Health History form as soon as possible and no later than May 1st. This form allows you to share information about allergies, dietary restrictions, medications, and health conditions. It also asks about other important details like bed-wetting, sleepwalking, or recent family changes (ie. a recent marriage, divorce, or death). Sharing this information early on helps us to best support your camper and create a positive camp experience! 

WATCH OUR CAMP VIDEOS

If you haven’t already, check out our new video, GV Favorite Things. Watching this video can help children picture themselves having a great time at camp. While you’re on that page, watch our 2019 session highlights lower down in the Video Gallery to learn more about Gwynn Valley and the camper experience.

PRACTICE SLEEPOVERS

Schedule some sleep-overs with family or friends. Having a few successful experiences sleeping away from home without their parents around will build a child’s confidence and lower the stakes for their first night at camp. 

COME VISIT CAMP

We are happy to provide tours all year round on weekdays or weekends. If you’re going to be in the area or want to make a special trip up for a visit, please call and schedule a tour. We also host an Open House for new camper families every year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend from 2:00-4:00 when you can visit camp, take a tour, and meet some of our staff.

SPEAK WITH A DIRECTOR

Feel free to give one of our Directors a call to talk through any questions or concerns.  

A Connection to Camp

Although it is early February, we’ve had some beautiful spring weather here at camp with temperatures in the 60s, blue skies, and daffodil shoots pushing up through the ground with their bulbs waiting to open. All these changes in the natural world are reminders that camp is right around the corner, and we are SOOO excited! In just four months, our first campers will arrive for A session and our staff will have just finished a variety of staff training programs. These warm temperatures make us anxiously await all the activity that happens during the summer season.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Video Highlights from each session during the 2019 summer, I recommend it as a great way to get excited about coming to camp in 2020, especially new camper families. Video Highlights offer a peek into the activities at camp and the fun that is had, which may help diminish some of those anxious feelings that all campers experience leading up to the summer season. Our 2019 photo and video team (Liv, Jacob, and Charis) did a wonderful job catching the magic that happens at camp, the smiles and the laughter, the friendships made, the skills learned, and so much more. You can find the video highlights listed by session on our website under the video gallery: https://gwynnvalley.com/who-we-are/video-gallery/. Who knows, maybe you will catch a glimpse of yourselves or our wonderful video team at the Oscars later this month; you never know!  

Each summer, our photo and video team tries to share a glimpse of camp life with our parents and families while their children are at Gwynn Valley. It’s a way for parents who are “camp sick” to get to see snippets of the many activities going on at camp, and to hopefully see their child practicing a newly learned skill, making a new friend, or hanging out with their cabin group. Although we aren’t able to post a photo of every child every day, we do our best to provide families with a link and a connection to camp. 

At the core of what we do, camp creates connections. At Gwynn Valley, we like to say that life begins in the cabin and works outward into program. Making and strengthening authentic friendships is one of the many important skill building opportunities that camp affords to children and teenagers. Community living in the cabin helps create these bonds, which travel out into program and table families. One of the joys of growing older is being able to witness and experience the many strong friendships campers have made throughout the years that have carried into adulthood. We see this in so many of our counselors and staff whose best friends were fellow campers in their cabin or Mountainside adventure group. It’s so amazing to think that this connection to friends and community has been happening since 1935. 

If you haven’t had a chance to watch the 2019 video highlights or to look through the photos from camp with your child, please do! This is a great way for your family to get excited about the summer, talk about friendships made, discuss the challenges overcome, and to experience a connection to camp.  

Millwheel News 2019

There are so many exciting things happening at Gwynn Valley these days! In this issue of the Gwynn Valley Newsletter, read about our upcoming 85th reunion, staffing updates, new building updates, scholarship fund news, and more! Here’s a snippet of some of the articles in this latest issue:

  • Gwynn Valley turns 85 – and you’re invited to the party!
  • There’s a New Director in Town..
  • Glimpses of GV History
  • Grant’s Refocusing
  • What’s New at Camp?
  • Scholarship Fund News

https://gwynnvalley.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Millwheel-News-Nov-2019-Final.pdf

A Full Last Day of E!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Another day has ended here at GV and we’re about to end our E Session and summer with your arrival tomorrow.  Our campers rose to a cool and overcast day filled with some sun, and a few showers in the afternoon but no thunder.  Activities proceeded as planned.  I was at the pool enjoying the cool water on a hot muggy day along with every camper in Main Camp (not all at once mind you).   We held our last day of Discovery this morning to a slight breeze as the clouds flew overhead.  With the waterfront open many campers took to SUP boards, kayaks and several finished off their Jr. Lifeguard certs.  In other parts of camp, children were ascending trees, finishing off art projects, mountain biking on the Mountainside Trail, building fires, finishing up art projects, searching the woods for critters, and getting ready for tonight’s play and a host of other activities. 

We run a half-day of program because everyone packs in the PM after lunch singing and lost and found is handed out in the Lodge.  After packing, Mountainside heads to the lake along with Riverside and Main Camp as stated earlier goes to the pool.   Despite the rain this afternoon it was a great water day falling from the sky and all around us.  Campers come to the pool with their pillowcases and learned to wet them and then capture air inside and twist the end to form a floating pillow.  It’s a great trick and it really works. 

About 5:00 this afternoon the skies cleared and the sun came back out to bring some bright closure to our day.  After supper activities went as planned as everyone played in their favorite camp games and lounged and relaxed with some art, music, and stories in their favorite camp places.  The Thunderball court attracted the usual suspects of the hardcore players who can’t get enough.  Many dedicated campers went to look for the Tajar but didn’t find him.  My guess is he had too much fun at his own Ball last night and slept through the day.  He is rather old you know but has the energy of a whirlwind when he’s awake.  He loves to sleep and once he dozes off he’s hard to wake up (even with all the commotion of camp).

At campfire tonight we honored the many campers who have attended camp for years.  As a tradition at our final campfire, we honor those who are coming for their 4th and 5th year with a blanket for the 4th year and a wooden plaque for their 5th year.  We also honor those staff, SIT’s and campers who’ve gone beyond the 5-year mark.  Milestones are now 8 years with a compass and 10 years is a sturdy stool that has our logo and name on it.  It’s made by our own Team Maintenance crew and wood from camp.  It’s always special to have these campers stand and be recognized. 

Our fine arts group put on quite a show tonight adapted from several stories from the Jack Tales book.  These are old Appalachian folktales that have passed down for many a year.  They also sang a song that was about an old apple tree. 

Tomorrow when you arrive your children will be waiting for you in their cabins.  At 10:30 there will be a cabin friendship circle where all can join in.  We do these each night and check in with campers to find out how their day has been.  It allows staff to see how the children are doing since they only see them at morning wake-up, rest hour, before and after meals and bedtime.  Our days are full and it’s a good way to learn about the children’s experiences.  Mountainside and Riverside parents will gather earlier at 10:30 as well.  After the friendship circle, there is our program in the Lodge at 11:00 for parents, friends, and campers.  You can stay and enjoy a wonderful GV lunch at noon if you like.  Lunch is early tomorrow, which allows you to join us and still have plenty of daylight for your drive home.

Camp is a place where children can find their direction by learning about new skills that they uncover.  Camp is a place that puts them in direct touch with the outdoors and makes them feel more comfortable in those surroundings. The warmth of the community wraps around you like a blanket and reminds you of all the memories that are created here.  We call that “camp DNA”.  Growing up has never been harder and camp is a great place to learn about oneself and those around you as you grow.  Relationship building is the keystone here and so important throughout life.  Learning to live with those who are different and learning to accept one another for who we all are.  It’s a place of challenge and “successful failure” where you pick yourself up and try again.  It’s a place where “I can” replaces “I can’t”.  While E Session is only 8 days, I hope you’ll see some positive outcomes from your camper’s GV experience.  Drive carefully and see you tomorrow!

Free to be you and me

Dear GV families and friends, 

The blue skies were totally uninterrupted today at Gwynn Valley, which was a reflection of our day overall – perfect weather, happy campers, and smooth sailing in camp! On day six of E session, campers are well into their discoveries, making progress and developing skills in the areas they’ve selected for morning classes. Afternoon sign ups had a few special end-of-summer activities on offer including the Snappy Release Party, in which we set free the orphaned snapping turtle who has been part of our Camping Skills & Nature program all summer, along with some classics such as tubing in the French Broad River, trail rides on horseback, speedy skits (improv) with fine arts, kumihimos in the shade (not Shady Grove) with crafts, and free swim at the pool, among others! With hot temperatures and no rain clouds in sight, waterfront was especially popular this afternoon. 

Evening program tonight is always a camper favorite of the session. Tajar Ball is our end-of-session carnival celebration and costume party honoring the Tajar’s birthday. The day starts with folly and mischief as campers come down to the dining hall. Kayaks and tubes were out on the green and Debbie (our blind camp pianist) was up on a lifeguard stand at the lake!! Don’t worry, no one was in the water… but both Debbie and campers had a big laugh about the Tajar ‘promoting’ her to head lifeguard! Silliness followed us throughout the day with creative spelling on our menus and other touches of the Tajar’s folly. 

Of course, the biggest celebration of the day was the ball this evening. Our amazing kitchen team prepared a massive cookout feast complete with hamburgers and hotdogs, watermelon, coleslaw, baked beans, edamame, and all the toppings you could want for a burger or dog. Cabins picnic-ed on the green and the free-flow of dinner offered a more informal meal time with campers free-playing while waiting for their turn to get food or after finishing their meal. Of course, everyone was eating dinner in full costume, so when you looked out on the green you saw jedis and wizards breaking bread with princesses and celebrities. After dinner, the real party began complete with 20+ carnival stations like hay rides, balloon darts, tin can toss, giant bubbles, face painting, guess-the-number of skittles, cornhole, a photo booth, limbo, and an amazing dance floor in the middle of the carnival. Campers also enjoyed ice cream and cookies for dessert at their own pace throughout the evening. 

One of my greatest joys each summer is watching campers step into the freedom that camp offers. From the backdrop of our 400 acres of natural playground to the programmatic emphasis on choice, Gwynn Valley is a place where children are set up with opportunities to explore and express themselves. Of course there is always a safety net in the form of staffing or policies that manage for the risk involved, but the kids don’t necessarily see those nets that are set up to catch them when they test our their camp wings for the first time. All they know is that they are flying when they complete that first project at blacksmithing or put their arm around a new friend.   

There is also a freedom that comes from the pure, unfiltered celebration of simple joys. Campers are free to just be kids here in a way that isn’t always possible in our fast-moving and high-pressure modern world. Whether crawling in the mud or singing silly songs with your friends, we are a judgement free zone that helps kids (and staff!) get in touch with their inner child. Unfiltered joy was on display tonight in a big way at Tajar Ball. Gwynn Valley was originally designed for younger campers and we do keep our focus on that 5 – 13 year old range, but I sometimes see this celebration of inner child even more strongly in our teen campers. Watching the Young Leaders and Riverside campers stay late at Tajar Ball and do laps on the massive, inflatable water slide was a perfect example of these fleeting expressions of unbridled joy in our teenagers. Parents – I wish you could have been here to witness it! Not a screen in sight, and no thought of doing-it-for-the-gram (instagram)…. just huge, goofy grins and shrieks of joy as these teens went down the waterslide again and again as the sun set and the moon rose and the stars emerged one by one. 

Tune in tomorrow to hear about and see the celebrations of simple joys that are sure to unfold tomorrow.

Mountainside has returned!

Hello, families and friends!

Guess what! There’s a guest author for today’s Gwynn Valley news! Allow me to introduce myself. I am…the Mountainside Shelter.

The Mountainside Shelter? Hold on a second! you might say. The Mountainside Shelter! Isn’t that a…building? And you would be correct. I am the 50-foot-by-30-foot pavilion up in Mountainside that serves as the gathering place for 65 Mountainside campers and staff throughout the summer. Depending on the day or time, you might see Mountainsiders convene in me to attend outdoor skills classes, choose sign-up activities, perform skits, organize adventure gear, play games, have discussions, gather around a fire in my fireplace, and sing songs. I have a great life, and I love providing my campers with a beautiful space to congregate. Though my primary function is to protect people from hot sun and cold rain, I’m more than just a pretty roof. I’m also a writer! And today, I was asked to compose Gwynn Valley’s news update. And I couldn’t be happier!

Well…it’s true that I’m happy NOW. But during the last few days I’ve actually been…pretty lonely. You see, as most of you know, a big focus of Mountainside is outdoor adventure. Shortly after arriving at GV, all the campers get to try out five adventure activities: backpacking, earth skills, mountain biking, rock climbing, and whitewater canoeing. Then, they pick their favorite activity and receive two additional days of training in that activity. The culminating event in Mountainside is the “Adventure.” That’s when all fifty Mountainsiders–plus their amazing staff–split into five groups and depart on four-day trips away from camp to pursue their chosen activity. This session’s Adventure started this past Monday. The campers were so excited! Right after the wake-up bell rang, they all gathered inside me to collect the adventure gear–tarps, tents, stakes, stoves, pots, and much more–that they had compiled the day before. Then, they carried all the gear down to the Dining Hall, ate a quick breakfast, loaded themselves (and their gear) into vans…and they were off! The vehicles disappeared over the horizon, bound for distant forests, rocks, and rivers. I was very happy for them…but I also missed them. The rest of the day Monday–and all day Tuesday and Wednesday–were totally quiet.

Hours passed. A few leaves fell. Butterflies drifted by on the breeze. Carson Creek babbled nearby. But for those three days, I remained empty. No campers gathered on my floor to swap jokes and tell stories. No staff huddled together in my corners to confirm the plan for the next activity they were about to lead.

Sure, it was a little sad. But every time I felt sad, I reminded myself about the true purpose of camp. You see, as I’ve heard the Mountainside Head Counselor explain to groups of campers many times, there’s a lot more to camp than just playing games and singing songs. When you look under the surface, you’ll see that camp is really about helping people grow and develop into their “best selves.” It’s about expanding comfort zones, and building character, and engaging with people face-to-face, and making deep friendships, and learning how to live as part of a community. And–as the Head Counselor likes to say–outdoor adventure is an AMAZING teacher of all these qualities.

For example, consider whitewater canoeing, in which two paddlers have to work together to guide their boat down churning rapids. Simply put, success in whitewater canoeing requires TEAMWORK and COMMUNICATION. On the first day, things may look a little awkward. Both paddlers are still getting the hang of the different strokes, and they haven’t figured out how to coordinate their efforts. But by day four, that same boat is starting to look like a well-oiled machine. The paddlers have learned how to talk to each other, to synchronize their strokes, and to put their canoe right where they want it on the river.

How about rock climbing? What an incredible teacher of PERSEVERANCE and the value of ENCOURAGEMENT! At the rock site, campers have the opportunity to try climbs with a variety of difficulty levels. Imagine a camper who has ascended dozens of feet up a sheer cliff. Just when she’s not sure she can go any further, she hears a chorus of voices shouting from below: it’s her friends, cheering her on! Buoyed by the support of her community, she overcomes the next hard move. Another twenty feet up, however–her foot slips. She falls. The rope catches her. And she faces a choice: try again, or ask to be lowered. Her belayer calls up, “You can do it! I believe in you!” And our climber reaches out, grips the rock…and ascends. She falls again. A third time. And a fourth. But does she quit? No. She. Keeps. Trying. Finally–accompanied by an eruption of cheers from below–she completes the climb!

And what about mountain biking? Pedaling up a long uphill teaches GRIT. Rising again after the occasional fall teaches RESILIENCE. Flowing down a twisty, turny downhill trail teaches the power and joy of LIVING IN THE MOMENT.

I could go on…but wait a minute? What’s that I hear? The sound of a 15-passenger van pulling into camp! Oh, joy! The campers are returning! As the afternoon proceeds, one van after another arrives at Gwynn Valley. The vehicle doors swing open, and a tribe of adventurers emerges. Dirty, tired, scratched, and a little bug-bitten, yes–but glowing with the joy, accomplishment, and satisfaction of their journeys.

After dinner this evening, the victorious Mountainsiders once again gathered beneath my humble roof. How wonderful to have them back! It was a delight to listen to their stories. The earth skills group, for example, told the tale of their Earth Skills Olympics, and how much it taught them about CREATIVITY and PROBLEM SOLVING when they had to transport water without using store-bought containers, make string using only plant fibers, then burn through that string using a fire built without matches or lighters. The backpackers explained how they developed CONFIDENCE throughout the course of their trip. For instance, they described how, when they hiked four miles on day one, it felt exhausting and overwhelming. But on day three, when they hiked EIGHT miles–it seemed easy and fun!

So…even though I miss my campers when they’re out on adventure, I love knowing that they’re building such amazing life skills in the process. The rivers and rocks, trees and trails, mountains and valleys have much to teach, and the campers return from the wilderness a little stronger and wiser than when they departed.

That’s it for now! Until next time…this is the Mountainside Shelter, over and out.

What a DAY!

Dear Parents & Friends,

It’s been an incredibly beautiful day in the mountains.  I was not at camp all day but coming back around dinner time tonight it was just perfect weather for being a camper at Gwynn Valley.  I spent the day with one of our Mountainside groups paddling on the Tuckaseegee River.  More on that later. 

It’s the perfect night for a campout here at camp.  For all of you new to GV, we have about 11 different campout shelters scattered around the camp.  They are three-sided huts with a floor and up off the ground a foot or two. Each site has a fire ring and each shelter can fit a whole cabin.  Some are next to creeks and others are just around the corner from camp and ”downtown GV”.  All are quite primitive, and you can’t really tell that you’re nearby and for all intents and purposes, one could be on a million acres in Pisgah National Forest.  They are the perfect place to spend your first night out and many of our campers have never camped out before.  The groups always take dinner with them and cook over an open fire.  With not a raindrop in sight today – it was perfect for outdoor cookery.  Island Ford, Peter Pan, Raccoon Ridge, Possum Manor, Chestnut Hollow, Aching Legs, and 7th Heaven are all out tonight. 

Brookside is Mountain Dancing in the Lodge tonight; which Hillside did two nights ago.  The Brookside cabins can take on a few more sophisticated dances than the Hillside group so it’s a different night for them. 

Tomorrow is another day of Discoveries here with campers working on skills in the morning and choosing different activities in the afternoon.  Those who love certain activities can usually go back in the afternoon to experience those again.  With the good weather today, waterfront activities were quite popular.  Creek Hikes are fun in the afternoon when it’s hot.  We have multiple creek sections to hike in (literally hiking in the creek) and some are deep enough to swim in along with several small waterfalls you can get under.  For the more advanced creek hikers, you can walk up the creek from Mountainside to Connesstee Falls which is spectacular.  The farm continues to thrive in so many ways and our corn and vegetable crops are roaring.  Sweet corn and glazed carrots, potatoes, beef brisket, freshly baked bread and homemade cheesecake were for dinner tonight.  I was hungry returning from the river, and it was a wonderful meal.  My table had clean plates with no leftovers in the bowls. 

As we skip through this last week of camp, take note that about 65 of our campers are in a three-week session in our Mountainside and Riverside programs.  All of them are out adventuring this week and will return tomorrow night.  Mountainside bikers are in Dupont State Forest; hikers are up in Pisgah hiking around Shining Rock and areas nearby; Earth Skills is based near Dupont on a private piece of land and living the primitive life; Paddlers are on the Tuck one more day; and Climbers are in Linville Gorge taking on the rock and magnificent views there.  Our oldest group, Riverside, is hiking the Art Loeb trail from 6,200 feet down to the Davidson River Campground and will have taken thousands of steps in their 25-mile hike.     

Life is good whether you’re here in Main Camp enjoying all the activities or out in the wilds of Pisgah and beyond.  Many of our campers are new to Gwynn Valley and new to the many activities that are being offered.  Whether you’re crafty making something with your hands or wily as you stalk the creek creatures, or try to ring the bell at the top of the climbing wall, or bounce along our single track trails mountain biking, or learn about and feed the many baby animals at the farm, there is always something fun and something to challenge you at camp.  Look no further than our small community crisscrossed by wonderful mountain streams with worlds of interesting things right underfoot.  It’s the kind of place where friendships begin and many blossom into bonds lasting a lifetime.  Most of all, it’s the simple joys of childhood. 

PS – Just a note about paddling today with Mountainside – It’s one of my favorite activities at camp.  We took lots of photos and video and hopefully, you’ll see it over the months ahead.  Stay Tuned!

Celebrating sunshine and friends from afar!

God aften Gwynn Valley families and friends! 

Every Tuesday throughout the summer, campers and staff celebrate a country or group of countries represented by members of our community. The 40 or so international staff members who are hired each year through the J-1 Visa are actually here on a cultural exchange program – not a work program. The primary goal of their travels is to share their culture and ideas with the people of the United States and for them to learn about our culture. 

On previous international days this summer we celebrated staff and campers from Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, England, Scotland, and South Africa. Today we celebrated our staff from Denmark and Ireland! Campers learned about these two countries through food, music, children’s stories, photos, videos, maps, language lessons, bits of history, and more! Lessons on Danish and Irish culture were sprinkled throughout the day, like little treasures to be found on a cultural scavenger hunt. 

Food is an important part of our international celebrations here at camp. Humans have built identity and connection through food for as long as we have existed, and we find that the act of sharing food from home that is familiar to you but new for others can be a really fun and powerful experience for our international staff. To kick off the day, campers enjoyed a full Irish breakfast complete with eggs, bangers (sausage), baked beans, roasted tomatoes & mushrooms (more of a hit with counselors than campers…!), soda bread (a traditional Irish quickbread that rises with baking soda and buttermilk instead of yeast), and fruit. For lunch, we traveled north to Denmark for Danish meatballs, orzo salad, green salad, rye bread, and fruit. One camper at my table said the meatballs were “much better than at Ikea” which Mads (our resident Dane) interpreted as a great success. For our last meal, we returned to Ireland for a classic dinner of roast chicken and potatoes, green beans, carrots, green salad, and homemade dinner bread. It was the kind of hearty meal that you might see on a Sunday dinner table back in Ireland or across the Atlantic here in the southeastern US. The crowd favorite for the day were the homemade apple danish loaves, which were served for dessert this evening. With children, it’s hard to beat dessert no matter what language you’re speaking! 

Campfire tonight was another great opportunity to learn about the culture and history of our friends overseas. Campers did an amazing job helping share that culture through Irish dance and by acting out a Tajar Tale in which the Tajar mailed himself to Denmark. For those of you at home who haven’t heard about the Tajar, he’s part myth and part GV mascot; he’s had lots of stories written about his adventures and folly over the years. Tonight’s story was brand new to us as Mads wrote it just for our international campfire! The Tajar took us along as he learned about Danish family traditions, the Danish language, legos, music festivals, cold swims and warm saunas, and the secret to being voted the happiest nation in the world for 7 consecutive years. We also took a trip to Ireland with an Irish-American staff member (Conor OShaughnessy) who brought us along as he reconnected with his cultural roots, aided by our Irish staff members Hannah and Emma.      

Of course, today was also a typical day in camp complete with a morning of discovery activities like mountain biking, blacksmithing, pottery, camping skills, nature, archery, horseback riding and many more! This was the first of three classes for our B day discoveries, meaning campers were attending classes for the first time and will continue to visit these areas and deepen their knowledge base as the week goes on. 

This afternoon held another round of ‘sign ups’ or free choice activities that campers can attend to try out new activities or revisit the ones they know they love. Sign ups included classics such as leaf print bowls at pottery, fishing at the mill, a creek hike to Connestee Falls, and watermat at the lake. There were also some internationally-inspired activities like making Christmas hearts out of paper (a Danish tradition) and Irish dancing, which campers performed at campfire tonight. 

The weather was absolutely gorgeous today starting with a cool foggy morning, peaking with some afternoon sun that made the lake very inviting, and then returning to cooler evening temperatures that inspire campers to snuggle down into their bunk beds or sleeping bags. As I walked through camp this evening, I relished the sound of the secret serenaders who sing a goodnight song to each cabin on camp. Tomorrow will be the half-way point for E session, but these last few days of E will also be our last days of the 2019 summer season. With nostalgia already setting in, we are cherishing each moment with the E campers!