A Stepping Stone to Amazing Things

Beyond the Summer: Gwynn Valley Staff Updates is a series of blog posts to help share the stories of our amazing staff when they’re not here at Gwynn Valley. This blog celebrates the professional and personal successes of our staff and tells the stories of the journeys along the way. In some cases, their time at Gwynn Valley sets the path, sending our staff on travels to visit places they wouldn’t have had the connection or courage to visit before or on career paths they didn’t yet know were their calling. In other cases, the experience as a Gwynn Valley staff member offers enrichment, helping hone their teamwork and communication skills as they move on to a predetermined field. For all staff, Gwynn Valley is a special place and we want to celebrate the stories of the exceptional people who make the summer experience possible for our campers.

By Chayil Johnson

“My name is Chayil A. Johnson. I attended Gwynn Valley Camp during the summers of 2016 and 2017. I was first hired as a cook when I was 19, after finishing my sophomore year of culinary / entrepreneurship school at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, NC. I was then rehired for my second summer in 2017 as a shift manager in the kitchen. My time at Gwynn Valley gave me more than I could have ever asked for. It helped me to increase my communication skills, further developed my work ethic and ability to lead, while also strengthening my ability to efficiently connect and collaborate with my peers (especially those that are different than myself).

Since my time at GV, I have graduated Johnson & Wales with my associates in Culinary arts and my Bachelors in Food service Entrepreneurship. I started working at a local Charlotte restaurant, The Asbury, right after I graduated in February of 2018. I started as a line cook, worked my way up to a lead-line cook in 4 months, and as of November of 2018, have been promoted to sous-chef. Along with my kitchen job, I am also a board member of a local, Charlotte non-profit organization called “Faith, Hope, and Love”, where for the last 4 years, I have assisted in the mentorship and after-school tutoring help of inner-city Charlotte youth. 

I can thank GV for a lot of my success. GV gave me tools that will continue to help me in the journey of my career to eventually become a culinary educator for youth. GV has connected me with so many wonderful people that will be friends for life. I can’t thank Gwynn Valley, the GV year round team, and the larger GV community for the people I’ve been introduced to, the principles that have been instilled in me, and the ability to always look for the fun, innocence, and love in any aspect of work I will ever be in. Who knows, GV may have not have seen the last of me.”

To read more stories about our staff, go to the Staff Updates page. If you have a story to share, please email katie@gwynnvalley.com.

Growing Up at Gwynn Valley

Beyond the Summer: Gwynn Valley Staff Updates is a series of blog posts to help share the stories of our amazing staff when they’re not here at Gwynn Valley. This blog celebrates the professional and personal successes of our staff and tells the stories of the journeys along the way. In some cases, their time at Gwynn Valley sets the path, sending our staff on travels to visit places they wouldn’t have had the connection or courage to visit before or on career paths they didn’t yet know were their calling. In other cases, the experience as a Gwynn Valley staff member offers enrichment, helping hone their teamwork and communication skills as they move on to a predetermined field. For all staff, Gwynn Valley is a special place and we want to celebrate the stories of the exceptional people who make the summer experience possible for our campers.

At Gwynn Valley, we are fortunate to have many multi-generational families. As they become parents, some camper and staff alumni decide to send their own children to camp. Terry and Wanda Hassler, who first worked on our summer Medical Team in 1998, sent all four of their children to Gwynn Valley. Their three daughters – Leah, Madison, and Hayley – have moved from campers to staff and are now pursuing their careers. It’s awe-inspiring for us to learn how the impact of camp stays with our alumni as they move into subsequent phases of life.

Leah, who is now 28 wrote, “I am currently pursuing my Masters in School Leadership at Harvard. After I graduated from college, I joined Teach for America and became really passionate about educational equity. Growing up going to GV really instilled in me that each child has something unique and special to offer, and that when adults provide spaces for children to flourish, they will. After I graduate, I plan on becoming a principal at a turnaround school where I hope to provide my students with the same sense of home that I have always felt at GV.”

Madison, who attended and worked at camp for a total of 16 years writes, “I am currently working as a operations research analyst at the Pentagon. GV was such a special place for me, and became even more so when I came back as a staff member. Serving as Mountainside Head Counselor taught me so many important leadership lessons that I still utilize in my job today. After I graduated from college, I took a year off to live in Australia and was able to lean on many of the friends I’d met at GV during my travels. GV has provided me with so many lifelong friendships, and granted me the opportunity to pursue so many travel experiences.”

Hayley, 23, worked as our Young Leaders Head Counselor last summer. She writes, “I am currently pursuing my Masters in Microbiology at Clemson. Gwynn Valley taught me how to bring fun into everyday life. The FISH philosophies that were instilled in me as a staff member help bring light and perspective into my research all the time. As a masters student, I teach an undergraduate lab, and the lessons I learned at GV have pushed me to make an otherwise difficult subject matter engaging for my students.”

We are so grateful for our summers with the Hasslers, and our team at Gwynn Valley is excited to see what their young and brilliant lives will bring!

To read more stories about our staff, go to the Staff Updates page. If you have a story to share, please email katie@gwynnvalley.com.

The Newest Member of the Year Round Team

Greetings to our extended GV family and friends,

2019 has arrived and we are so excited to have summer just around the corner. Maggie has been hiring amazing staff to work as counselors, program leaders, adventure counselors, leadership, and support staff! Shelley has been enrolling campers and sending out information and emails to our camper families to help them get ready for the summer. We strive to partner with our families by trying to provide the information that is so important as they help make sure the campers and parents have the necessary tools they all need to have a successful time while their children are with us at camp. Meanwhile Kevin has been taking note of our adventure programs and making sure we have the right equipment, going over our programs, and thinking of new ideas for the future.

While all of this is vital to the success of camp, we have been noticing a role in our year round team that we haven’t had in over seven years. This was not an easy position to fill, though we are proud to say, we have finally found the perfect staff member to take the spot. I am excited to introduce the newest member of our year round team, Nala!

Though Nala is new to our team, and has much to learn, we are sure she will do a great job. She was born October 21, 2018 in South Carolina. She has a love of learning, though her attention span isn’t the greatest, yet. While physical looks aren’t important, she’s got a face anyone would be excited to see. She has a gift of cheering someone up, and we believe she is going to help any child or staff member if they’re struggling with homesickness.

Welcome Nala!

Wishing Everyone Holiday Cheer

The Holiday Season always provides a time to look back on the previous year. Memories recalled and gathering together with friends and loved ones helps us to reflect on all that is good and joyful in our lives and to recall even the challenges. It’s a time to give thanks and recognize all the blessings in our lives and how the holidays provide yearly traditions that we so love and need. Camp has so many traditions and that’s part of it’s magic. You can feel it by the generations of families and staff that come back year after year and by the new campers that say “I don’t wanna leave”. With each of these, we know that the “simple joys” of Gwynn Valley have made an impression. Whether they come back for the familiarity of the traditions: serenade, friendship circle as cabin groups, Tajar Ball, or specific camp songs, we are always excited to see each familiar face.

While the magic is abundant and obvious during the summer, few get to experience it during the other seasons. Each summer brings the joy and laughter of children during the day and nightly sounds of cicadas which put us to sleep. We get gorgeous views of the changing leaves in the fall, while winter can bring blankets of snow and a fresh start for the coming year. Without fail spring brings new growth and a rebirth of nature after months of sleep.

We are wishing all of our Gwynn Valley family holiday cheer as we approach the end of 2018. Looking back, this year brought so many new memories, and experiences to us. We built two new cabins, expanded our Mountainside program to 50 campers, added in Earth Skills as an adventure on MS, built a new shower house for the boys on Brookside, welcomed Kevin into our year round team, and so much more. Our very own Maggie, Associate Director, finished her Masters of Business in Administration (MBA) from the University of NC, Chapel Hill. We’ve even had our first snowfall (14 inches at camp) before Christmas, which hasn’t happened in quite a few years.

I can’t begin to say how much I’ve learned about camp through the years. While growing up at Gwynn Valley, I was privileged to have experiences that ranged from digging potatoes out of the ground at the farm to making a woven basket (that my mom and dad still use for holding napkins), and even testing my limits like climbing a tree, despite my huge fear of heights. Now, I still get to experience the joys of camp and and see the growth and outcomes from a camp experience. After graduating from Guilford, I joined the year round team serving as an office intern and have been able to learn about the inner workings of our office and how much passion, time, and energy our year round staff give in order to make the summer such a wonderful experience for our campers, and seasonal staff.

While I always knew we relied on our families to send their children to camp, I have a new appreciation, and am so grateful for the trust parents give us. As Anne and Grant say, “They [the parents] are trusting us [Gwynn Valley] with their most important treasure, their children.” During staff training we tell our staff that we are partnering with parents to help raise their children, and provide each child a multitude of opportunities for their growth. We honor our relationships with our families by sharing daily photos during the summer, posting a daily blog, communicating with parents and families both during the summer and during our off season months, and try to make sure they have all the resources necessary for both the campers and parents to have a positive experience while their children are with us. 

I love this time of year and hope everyone is positively affected by this joyous season. Whether it’s by the Christmas music playing in stores, drinking hot chocolate next to a fire, lighting a candle on the Menorah, decorating homes as per family traditions, or the generous, and kind spirit that spreads like magic in the air. I love seeing and hearing of the stories of people who reach out and help those who are less fortunate, or seeing staff and families who stop by camp during this festive time. In the spirit of gratitude, and in appreciation of all that we have, we would like to thank all of you, our camper families, alumni, and staff, for being a part of Gwynn Valley and helping to carry out our mission for 84 years.

Wishing you and your family a very wonderful, warm, and peaceful holiday season.

Your friends at Gwynn Valley

From the Ground to Our Table – DELICIOUS

Every summer at Gwynn Valley we serve hundreds of campers and staff with food from our self-sustaining farm, and this past year was no different. We grow tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, corn, carrots, green beans, and potatoes, to name a few. Some of the newer vegetables we have grown are kale, and wax beans. We also grow herbs such as chives, and basil. Our campers get to harvest these vegetables as part of our farm program. Once the vegetables are picked by the campers and weighed by the farm staff, they are loaded onto the farm truck and brought up to the kitchen by our wonderful farm program leaders. We will typically grow around 25,000 pounds of vegetables each summer which are all taken to our kitchen and used in upcoming meals. When we have a bumper crop, we also donate produce to the Bread of Life here in Brevard.

While we at Gwynn Valley take great pride in our farm to table program, we also make many of our jams, breads, and pastries from scratch. This side of our kitchen is relatively new, as we started this practice within the last four years. The mastermind behind this part of our service is Chef Megan, a professor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC. Thanks to her, our relationship with JWU has grown and strengthened. In the past four years, we have had 18 staff members who either attend or work at JWU.

Our kitchen staff works hard in order to ensure our campers and staff eat meals that are balanced, healthy, and have at least one item on the table that is homemade and/or a product of our farm program. While the majority of the kitchen staff are either bakers or prep cooks, the kitchen is able to run smoothly all due to the leadership and guidance of our Kitchen Director, Chef Ashton. He’s the one who plans the menu every week incorporating the various vegetables we get from the farm, ensures the food orders are complete, works with our international staff to plan meals for international days that are true to the country’s culture, and keeps the entire kitchen organized.

We have found that through the changing times, more and more children don’t know where their food comes from. Some of our campers are surprised to learn that potatoes grow in the ground, or tomatoes and green beans are from a vine. While it is thrilling to teach our campers that their food doesn’t magically appear in the grocery stores, it is even more rewarding to see campers try new foods because they helped to pick the vegetables that make up the dish. There’s one story that comes to mind in particular. Several years ago, there was a camper who didn’t like green beans at home and had no interest in even trying them. But one day, we served green beans for lunch and he was willing to try them, not because they were cooked differently or in any special way. No. But because he helped to pick the green beans, and he found he really liked them. It brings such joy to our staff, hearing from parents of campers that when they go home, they are willing to try new foods that they learned to like while at camp.

What makes these moments even more special, if that is possible, is when we hear it from the campers themselves. Last week, Anne and I went to Raleigh, NC for a home show. It was fun to visit with new and returning campers and share stories about camp. One of the best parts was when Anne asked the returning campers what their favorite part of camp was, in response two said “THE FOOD!” From the ground to our table – DELICIOUS!

Mountainside is Bigger and Better than Ever: We’re adding a NEW ADVENTURE!

Hello, Gwynn Valley Community! This is Kevin MacDonald, new assistant director at GV. I’m looking forward to meeting you all when camp begins in just a few short months! Today, I’m excited to bring you some updates about GV’s “Mountainside” program. As many of you know, Mountainside is for campers finishing sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, and is offered in ten-day and three-week sessions. During each Mountainside session, campers participate in many of their favorite traditional camp activities (like crafts, sports, and a visit to the Farm). But that’s not all! A major focus of the Mountainside program is outdoor adventure, which means campers get to have tons of fun while learning great new skills and exploring some of the most beautiful wild places in North Carolina! In the past, Mountainside was limited to forty campers per session, and there were four adventure activities they could try: backpacking (also known as “pioneering”), rock climbing, mountain biking, and whitewater canoeing. This summer, Gwynn Valley is adding a new Mountainside cabin (Sunrise), increasing the size of the program to fifty campers per session, and adding a fifth, brand-new adventure activity: Earth Skills. What are Earth Skills? I’m glad you asked!

“Earth Skills” are knowledge and techniques that allow people to thrive in the wilderness using only what nature provides. Also known as “primitive arts” or “survival skills,” the basic idea is the same: find resources in the woods (like sticks, rocks, leaves, and clay), then transform them into things you need to survive in the wilderness (like shelter, water, fire, and food). Most Earth Skills are ancient: the techniques we’ll be practicing in Mountainside are the same techniques that hunter-gatherer cultures from all around the world have been doing for thousands of years. As you learn and practice Earth Skills, you’ll connect deeply with the land around you and discover how to be “at home” in the forest. In fact, Earth Skills experts can walk into the woods with nothing but the clothes on their backs and survive quite happily for as long as they want! Getting that good requires many months (and sometimes years) of study and practice–but this summer is a great time to start! Join us for Earth Skills in Mountainside and…

  • Explore firecraft! Learn several ways to create and maintain fire (including how to make fire by rubbing sticks together). Then, harness the power of flame to cook tasty meals and treats.
  • Hone your knife skills. Knives are incredibly useful and versatile tools, and being able to use a knife is a fundamental wilderness (and life) skill. Learn numerous ways to work with knives safely and proficiently!
  • Roam the landscape to gather leaves, nuts, branches, vines, seeds, and fruit. As a “nature artisan,” use these materials to create beautiful and useful items such as baskets, bowls, spoons, pouches, cordage, dye, and jewelry.
  • Get down and dirty tracking and trailing humans and animals. Learn “invisibility” techniques such as natural camouflage and stalking so you can blend into the woods and travel across the landscape undetected.
  • Become a wild-tender of nature’s garden. Learn to identify, harvest, and prepare wild edible plants.
  • Learn about wilderness survival, and discover what to do if you’re lost in the woods. Explore the art of navigation using maps, compasses, and primitive techniques.
  • Construct forts and shelters out of nothing but sticks and leaves.

I put together a quick video of me demonstrating an Earth Skill: the art of making fire by friction using the “hand drill.” Check it out by clicking here!

Of course, “Earth Skills” is just one of the five adventure activities that Mountainsiders get to try. Perhaps you’d rather paddle raging rivers, climb epic cliffs, hike through wild places, or zoom along twisting trails on a mountain bike. In Mountainside, you can try it all! If you’ve never done anything like this before, don’t worry. We teach total beginners everything they need to know to be successful, and campers who have done the activities before will be challenged to grow in their skills, judgement, competence, and confidence.

Hard to believe…but there are only 79 days until our first Mountainside campers arrive! I look forward to seeing you then….

All the best,

Kevin and the GV Team

2017 Session Highlight Video’s Are Here!

Dear Campers, Parents and Friends,

We hope you are well and having a good start to the New Year!  Camp is right around the corner but we’ve experienced everything but summer type weather here in Brevard. Since late fall, we have received about 16 inches of snow from two different weather fronts and it was very cold just after the holidays.  Despite the cold and snow, we are excited about the summer season and working hard to get ready for camp!

There is nothing like sharing some fun memories from the 2017 summer to help everyone dream of warmer weather and camp. We are very excited to post our expanded “highlight videos”  from each 2017 session and our annual “U Rock” video that has shots from all sessions this past summer. Please click on the any session link below to view the fun and true to life days at camp.  Those campers in Mountainside and Riverside will find some footage in some sessions that corresponded with our Main Camp schedule.  We hope you enjoy the video clips!

A Session

B Session

C, C-1, C-2 Session

D Session

E Session

U Rock 2017

If you haven’t registered for camp yet, we still have space available in the following sessions:

C session  (July 1st-20th) – Kindergarten,  1st,  2nd grade girl and boy space

D session  (July 22nd-August 3rd)

E session  (August 5th-12th)

Young Leaders  3  (July 22nd-August 12th) 1 girl / 1 boy space

 

As always, if you have any questions, please let us know.

Our best,

Your friends at Gwynn Valley

Happy New Year! 2018 Brings Change and Growth With the Arrival of Our New Assistant Director!

One of the great things about ringing in the New Year is a renewed sense of purpose, an opportunity to set goals, and look toward the future while appreciating and being grateful for the past year. It’s a time to reflect and to think about change, growth, and what we have learned.

Gwynn Valley’s new, beautiful, timber frame dining room and kitchen in 2017 was a wonderful change. For the first time, all of camp including Riverside, Young Leaders, and Day Camp were all able to dine together at the same time. Due to the additional space, we are excited about the opportunity to grow Mountainside by one cabin in 2018. By adding a cabin and 5th adventure, more campers will be able to participate in a program that helps young teenagers develop a new sense of confidence, competence, community skills, and an even deeper appreciation of the natural world.  To lead this group and our other older programs, we are really excited to welcome Kevin MacDonald who will be serving as GV’s Program Director and Adventure Coordinator.

Kevin comes to Gwynn Valley as a passionate outdoor educator who has spent many years in the field and the classroom, teaching children and adults.  He and his wife McNeill are moving from Virginia where they ran a nonprofit educational center related to nature connection, environmental stewardship, self-reliance, sustainability, and community development.  Through the years, Kevin has led wilderness adventure trips for several other western NC outdoor programs/camps both in our mountains and the Pacific Northwest.  He has also led trips abroad to Thailand where community service, adventure, language studies and life skills were a focus for the groups in his charge.

His formal education during college provided him with a degree in art from Houghton College in New York with concentrations in drawing and ceramics.  While pursuing his degree in art, he studied in England, Tanzania, Honduras and Italy.  During and after college, he pursued his desire in the outdoor worlds of paddling, climbing, mountaineering, caving, backpacking and a bit of mountain biking.  He is an accomplished paddler and loves the world of primitive skills (fire by friction, plant identification, buckskin tanning, flint knapping and more).  He makes a bit of magic, juggles, and tells stories as well as plays the fiddle and can call dances.

We are pleased to have him join our year round team and excited about his skills and talent that fit with our mission here at camp.  As Assistant Director, Kevin will be overseeing our program and guiding our staff in the care and teaching of our campers as well as working with children in areas where his own skills will shine.

Kevin understands the transformative power of a positive experience at camp and in the outdoors for today’s youth. “During the dozens of outdoor expeditions I’ve led with teenagers, I’ve seen firsthand the profound growth that occurs when people participate in wilderness adventure. I’ve seen timid, apprehensive kids become decisive, confident, resilient leaders as they paddle rivers, climb rocks, and explore caves. I’ve seen groups of strangers become effective teams – and communities of friends – as they hike mountain trails, make camp in the rain, and tell stories around crackling fires. For cultivating the best in people, there’s nothing better than the beauty, complexity, and authenticity of the natural world.

We are very excited to have him on board and know you will welcome Kevin to our thriving program.

As stated above, we are grateful for a wonderful 2017 summer and are working on making 2018 even better.  As we get excited about the New Year, the goals we have set, and our mission, we are thankful that you continue to allow Gwynn Valley to nurture your children by building character and relationships in a community that fosters personal challenge, a connection to nature, and the simple joys of childhood.

Happy New Year!

Stayed tuned for more exciting news about program, staff, and new construction!

What’s Important About a Camp Experience!

Dear Parents & Friends,

As I write, leaves are falling and the beauty of camp captivates my attention pulling me outside to the clean crisp air and all things natural.  The fall season brings back reality after weeks of wishing that camp went on through the warm months of Sept. and early Oct.  We had a wonderful summer and we’re looking ahead to 2018 with great anticipation.  A boys shower/bathroom facility is being added on to the Brookside Shelter bathrooms. It was your turn fellas, after the girls got an upgrade several years ago.  When we constructed the new dining room we lost some staff housing, so right down Brookside Avenue, from the new boy’s facility, will be a new building to hold some of our leadership and activity staff.  There’s also talk of a new camper cabin and we’re still deciding where to locate that.

Camp promotion and travel began this week with Maggie out on the road in the eastern part of our state.  I will hit the road this weekend heading to parts of SC and GA and then off to other cities and towns south with Anne in the weeks ahead.  We hope to see you at one of these camp home shows so check our travel schedule on the website by clicking here.  travel schedule

After camp this year Anne and I ventured to the Yukon for a 12 day canoe trip down the Beaver River.  We went with 9 other friends, some from Brevard and others from near and far.  An old acquaintance named Mike Fischesser, organized and researched the trip and we got to reap the fruits of his interest in that area.  No one going on the trip had ever paddled the Beaver, but Mike did have some fairly detailed notes from a fishing/hunting guide who had been down the river 10 years earlier.  We flew into Whitehorse and after a day and a half of prep (food, gear, boats and forming our team), we drove 5 hours to Watson Lake.  That same day we took an hour long float plane into Toobally Lakes and then a 20 minute helicopter ride to the river put-in.  Needless to say the next 12 days and 130 miles of paddling  and camping were filled with adventure, fishing, hot springs, several challenging rapids, many animal sightings, beautiful scenery, and the joy of friendships and good times together sharing food and each day’s journey.  For 12 days we saw no other humans, brilliant stars, the northern lights and not so much as a jet trail in the sky.

Beautiful Yukon day on the Beaver River

Nature at it’s best

Campsite camaraderie around mealtime

I could go on to describe so many parts of that trip that stand out, but what was really poignant was the relationship building among the participants and being so close to the natural world each and every moment we were out there.  I reaffirmed my convictions of how being out in nature really brings us back to the simple joys of our lives, much as it does here at camp during the summer.  I for one, must have this connection for my own soul to be free from the everyday 24/7 world of screens, automobiles, and all the things that distract us and make our lives move too quickly.  As mentioned above, our connection to each other is equally important and that too is so true here at camp.  First on our list with our campers is making sure they are adjusting to their new community, cabin, program and table group.  It’s all about meeting new people and being able to live, work and play together where no one is at the center but everyone plays a vital role.  Camp plain and simple is good for us, me included.

I also want to share an article that was sent to me by one our camp dads.  It’s a piece that wholeheartedly embraces the benefits of camp for children.  I can certainly attest there’s no perfect way to raise our children.  Camp is different for different people, but I do think a camp experience and specifically a Gwynn Valley experience is very positive for those children who attend.  I hope you enjoy this parent’s opinion of the camp experience.  Stay tuned!


Overnight summer camps are better for your kids than SAT prep classes.

By LAURA CLYDESDALE  The Washington Post

May  2016

“Do you even like your children?” the woman I had just met asked me. The audacity of the question took my breath away. I had been chatting with her, explaining that my kids go to sleep-away camp for two months every year. I quickly realized two things at once: she was obnoxious, and she actually didn’t care if I missed my kids during the summer. She was talking about something else. I didn’t have to tell her the reason I “send them away” for most of the summer is because I like them. They adore camp, and it’s actually harder on me than it is on them. I often tell people that the first year they were both gone, it felt like I had lost an arm. I wandered around the house from room to room experiencing phantom limb pain.

Now, instead of being offended, I got excited. I was going to be able to tell her something that my husband and I rarely get to explain: we do it because we truly think it will help our kids be successful in life. With underemployment and a stagnating labor market looming in their future, an all-around, sleep-away summer camp is one of the best competitive advantages we can give our children. Huh? Surely, college admissions officers aren’t going to be impressed with killer friendship bracelets or knowing all the words to the never-ending camp song “Charlie on the M.T.A.” Who cares if they can pitch a tent or build a fire?

Indeed, every summer, my kids “miss out” on the specialized, résumé-building summers that their peers have. Their friends go to one-sport summer camps and take summer school to skip ahead in math. Older peers go to SAT/ACT prep classes. One kid worked in his dad’s business as an intern, while another enrolled in a summer program that helped him write all his college essays.

Many (this woman included) would say that I’m doing my children a serious disservice by choosing a quaint and out-of-date ideal instead. There are online “Ivy League Coaches” that might say we are making a terrible mistake. We don’t think this is a mistake at all. It might not be something to put on the college application (unless my child eventually becomes a counsellor), but that isn’t the goal for us. Our goal is bigger.

We are consciously opting out of the things-to-put-on-the-college-application arms race and instead betting on three huge benefits of summer camp, which we believe will give them a true competitive advantage in life:

  1. Building creativity.
  2. Developing broadly as a human being.
  3. Not-living-in-my-basement-as-an-adult independence.

MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson says in his book The Second Machine Age that we have reached a pivotal moment where technology is replacing skills and people at an accelerated pace. He argues that creativity and innovation are becoming competitive advantages in the race against artificial intelligence, because creativity is something a machine has a hard time replicating. The problem is that creativity seems so intangible. Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” He believed that people invent when they connect the dots between the experiences they’ve had. To do this, he argued, we need to have more experiences and spend more time thinking about those experiences. Indeed.

According to Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, researchers at Michigan State University found that to receive the Nobel Prize, you need deep study in your field and those broad experiences Jobs was talking about. They studied the winning scientists from 1901 through 2005 and compared them with typical scientists living at the same time. Grant writes that the Nobel Prize winners were:

  • Two times more likely to play an instrument, compose or conduct.
  • Seven times more likely to draw, paint or sculpt.
  • Seven-and-a-half times more likely to do woodwork or be a mechanic, electrician or glass-blower.
  • Twelve times more likely to write poetry, plays, novels or short stories.
  • And 22 times more likely to be an amateur actor, dancer or magician.

You read that right. Magician!

It’s not just that this kind of original thinker actively seeks out creative pursuits. These original experiences provide a new way of looking at the world, which helped the prizewinners think differently in their day jobs. The beauty of summer camp is that not only do kids get to do all sorts of crazy new things, they also get to do it in nature, which lends its own creative boost. Most importantly, my kids have such intensely packed schedules full of sports, music, art classes, community service and technological stimulation throughout the school year that it makes finding these all-important quiet mental spaces more difficult. Summers provide a much-needed opportunity for my children to unplug, achieve focus and develop those creative thought processes and connections. OK, OK. Creativity might be a compelling tool to beat out that neighbor girl applying to the same college, but what about this “developing broadly as a human being” stuff? I didn’t come up with that phrase. Harvard did.

William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard, has penned a compelling letter to parents. It practically begs and pleads with them to re-evaluate the summer extracurricular race and to “bring summer back,” with an “old-fashioned summer job” perhaps, or simply time to “gather strength for the school year ahead.” Fitzsimmons writes, “What can be negative is when people lose sight of the fact that it’s important to develop broadly as a human being, as opposed to being an achievement machine. In the end, people will do much better reflecting, perhaps through some down time, in the summer.” In terms of “developing broadly as a human being,” summer camp can provide an impressive list of life skills.

Studies over the past decade have shown outdoor programs stimulate the development of interpersonal competencies, enhance leadership skills and have positive effects on adolescents’ sense of empowerment, self-control, independence, self-understanding, assertiveness, decision-making skills, self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality and interpersonal relations. Now for the cherry on top: independence.

Michael Thompson, the author of Homesick and Happy, has written, “ … there are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micromanage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out. That’s what makes camp such a life-changing experience for children.”

So, yes, Ms. Tiger Mom, I am letting my children walk out the door and make useless lanyards for two months. They might not have anything “constructive” to place on their college application, but they will reflect, unwind, think and laugh. They will explore, perform skits they wrote themselves and make those endless friendship bracelets to tie onto the wrists of lifelong friends. The result will be that when they come back through our door, we’re pretty sure that, in addition to having gobs of creativity and independence, they’ll be more comfortable with who they are as people.

And just maybe they’ll even bring back a few magic tricks.

 

 

 

Eclipse at Gwynn Valley Was Spectacular!

Parents and friends,

The recent solar eclipse at GV was spectacular.  We hosted several groups of friends and family who scattered themselves all over the property where there was an open view.  We had a few clouds, but were able to see about 95% of the evolution to totality and back which was amazing.  See video link here:  Eclipse at Gwynn Valley

With camp over, it’s been too quiet around here.  Our last post-camp work staff are leaving today and tomorrow as we’ve properly closed camp.  The next big event will be registration opening on Sept. 1 and later on we’ll be hitting the road for our annual promo tour.  We’ve got some great video footage from the summer that we’ll be bringing on the road of every session as well as an update to our promotional video.  Also expect to see the newest version of our annual “You Rock at GV” video.  I think you’ll like it.

As the fall and winter approach there are several big projects in view.  We hope to have a new website up and running in Oct. and will be building a new staff cabin on the Brook.  We lost some staff housing with our new construction of dining room and kitchen last year and need to replenish some space for the coming summer.  We’ll keep you posted on other happenings as they occur.

Thanks for sharing your children during our 82nd summer here at GV.  Anne says it was our best summer ever and I tend to agree.  Hats off to our staff who made it so and many thanks to all who contributed in so many ways.  Hope that you and your family has had a great start to the school year.  Let us know if you have camp feedback and stay tuned!