The Layers of Friendship!

Dear Parents and Friends, 

It’s hard to top July 4th at camp but darn if we didn’t do it today.  It was a bit cooler this morning and everyone was enjoying the nice weather and sunny skies.  Big thunderheads moved in later in the afternoon, but we have our reliable Thorguard to tell us when we are safe to be outdoors and in the open.  Thor did go off today but while we were eating and again just after our 4th activity period.  We have the makings for a good sunset tonight after our very special all camp game.  The Ham Burglar came out to dinner tonight and proceeded to steal all of camp’s dessert, which didn’t go well with our campers in Main Camp.  Our desserts are much too delicious to allow them to be frittered away by the Hamburgerlar and his evil minions.  Our program leaders became superheroes and lent a hand to our cabin groups to get the dessert back from villian’s army.  It wasn’t an easy task, but everyone was still energized from our 4th celebrations. 

I want to drop back in time a bit to provide a little look into the C-1 Session.  Many of our campers are returning from previous years and as they move through each age group and program it’s nice to see them connect on opening day after not seeing one another for a year.  Many have made friends at camp and do make it a habit to stay in touch over the winter months.  I was struck by many meetings and one stuck out.  One of our young SIT men is from Spain and his name is Ignacio.  He was an SIT last year and at lunch on opening day several of his boys from last year recognized him and they gave him hugs.  Obviously, these boys had bonded with Ignacio in the cabin and everyone was a year older and it was nice to see them reuniting after a year. 

Friendship and making new friends is a big part of camp and I think in many ways is the essence of what camp is all about.  Some life-long friends are made here.  I had two young men visit us today who were at camp for several years and their last year being 1998, which was our first year here at GV.  They’ve stayed close these many years and have gravitated to different parts of the country and got together in NC to see one another and visit camp.  Both are married and doing well and have fond memories of GV.  Today was just one of those days when we had 4 different people come by camp who were alums.  Two brought their young children to tour camp and introduce them to GV.   I’m admitting my years of camping in this statement but already this summer I’ve had 4 children attend camp this summer whose parents were campers of mine many years ago.  One of those is actually a summer staff member. 

Tonight, Mountainside is enjoying a relaxed evening of extended Twilight Play where they are participating in a number of activities from Archery to the Farm.  Riverside returned home yesterday after 4 wonderful days climbing in Tenn.  They were on the lake this afternoon getting ready for their next outdoor component – paddling.  They will leave on Sunday to start their next adventure.  Mountainside finished up their mini-adventures today and will choose their end of session adventures in the next day or two.  There will be some training days next week as well as some prep work and good bonding time for those 50 campers up in the cove.  Main Camp heads out on Monday for various trips off site for kayaking, mountain biking, climbing and hiking.  Each will visit our landscapes around Pisgah National Forest and Dupont State Park.   

Our mountain view is a layered picturesque scene much like the generations of campers who have attended camp.  We will be celebrating 85 years at the end of next summer, so all of you are welcome to join that magic time after camp in Aug. of 2020.  Jeff, one our year-round employees who is a part of our crack team maintenance passed me on the trail tonight just before our evening ended and children were in many parts of camps enjoying one another’s time together and twilight activities.  Laughter and shouts permeated the air and Jeff said to me as we passed, “simple joys”.  He was right, another great day at camp and being outdoors.  Stay tuned!

A Fantastic Fourth of July!

Dear Friends and Families, 

Happy 4th of July! What an incredible day we had celebrating Independence Day with the whole of camp. We were woken this morning not by the bell, but by several of our counselors on horseback, shouting traditional Cherokee greetings! As all of the cabins excitedly went down to meet for breakfast, we circled the lake and heard a Cherokee creation story about the land that Gwynn Valley is on. Our story involved several animals and was reenacted by our counselors on the water mat. It certainly made for an educational and entertaining morning. 

A special part of any international day we have at camp is the food we get to try, our kitchen does their best to recreate traditional dishes, and today’s meals were no exception. For breakfast, we enjoyed bacon, cheese, berries, yogurt, granola, and homemade grits which had been ground at our Grist Mill! A classic and delicious southern American breakfast. 

After breakfast we enjoyed a dance party on the Green with all of camp, it was a fabulous start to the day and made everyone even more excited for a big morning of discoveries, mini-adventures, and more! 
Before lunch, we enjoyed a parade of famous Americans! We were visited by stars such as Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and several other celebrities. The campers cheered them on as the stars made their way through the crowds! It’s amazing how many of these celebrities resembled our staff!

For lunch, we visited Philadelphia and enjoyed some Philly Cheese Steaks, tater tots, and green beans from our farm. There were many seconds and thirds asked for by our campers, definitely a favorite lunch so far! The afternoon was filled with fun activities, lots of laughter, and plenty of sunshine. As Main Camp enjoyed sign-ups, we welcomed our Riversiders back from their four-day climbing adventure! The dining hall felt full having every cabin group around to join in on the fun and celebrations of the 4th.

Mountainside spent an afternoon on their final day of mini-adventures. Once these campers have been assigned an adventure, they will have several training days where they will get to gain skills and challenge themselves on their chosen adventures. 

As dinnertime neared, we were gifted a few rain showers which cooled off the temperatures from the warm day. We enjoyed a delicious dinner of BBQ chicken, mac n cheese, baked beans, coleslaw, and corn from the farm. Thanks to our amazing kitchen crew, we even had a special dessert of homemade cupcakes! It was a delicious meal that left everyone full and happy. 

After dinner, we were entertained by several of our campers and counselors during our campfire. The campfire showed off the greatest hits of the US and informed us about our national monuments, national parks, and even a few favorite dances such as the Cotton Eyed Joe (taught to us by a few of our campers). It was an incredibly fun evening for everyone! 
It wouldn’t be the 4th of July without fireworks! After dinner and campfire, our campers went back to their cabins to change into PJs, enjoy a friendship circle, and get ready for bed. When it finally was getting dark, campers and counselors made their way to sit around the lake with flashlights in hand. Our Maintenance Crew put on an incredible fireworks display across the lake which lit up the sky and left the whole camp amazed. Hearing the oohs and ahhs of campers, and seeing faces light up with excitement was a highlight of the day. 

It has really been an amazing day at camp. Thank you for sharing your campers with us so that they can help to make these amazing memories!

Twilight Play, Adventures, and an Inspection!

Dear Families and Friends, 

Another great day has passed at Gwynn Valley and what a full and exciting day it was! We started our morning enjoying the cool mountain air. It’s always a pleasure waking up to fog over the lake and then watching it dissipate as the sun rises higher in the sky throughout the morning. As the morning warmed up, campers had a chance to enjoy their second day of A Day Discoveries. On the second day, campers have the chance to further a skill they’ve learned, work on a craft they started two days prior, or for some, practice their lines for the upcoming Fine Arts play!
On Mountainside, campers participated in their third day of mini-adventures. These campers will have one final day of minis tomorrow before making their decision about the full-length adventure they will be going on later in the session! 

Our mornings are always exciting at camp, and this morning was no exception, with a visit from our health inspector! Every year we are visited by the health inspector who we show around our cabins, our health hut, and kitchen (to name a few). We strive for a clean and safe environment at camp and do our best each day to make sure that goal is achieved. We were all thrilled to hear that the inspectors were pleased with the standards we uphold and gave us a score of 98! 

As we were busy showing off everything we do for the health and safety of our campers, we were also showing off the parts of camp that make it so fun for our visiting videography crew. We heard more interviews from campers and staff today, talking about why they love camp so much. The best part of my day was being able to listen in on how much our campers are able to take away from their camp experiences. Hearing our campers talk about why they love being able to unplug and make such strong connections with others was such a beautiful experience. 
The rest day was filled with sweet reflections from campers, lots of sunshine, and the general fun that makes camp, camp! 

This morning, campers learned and chose activities for our special evening program called Twilight Play. This evening program is a chance for campers to have another activity period during the day! Some campers could enter their names in a lottery to participate in activities such as Sunset Archery, Climbing up the Tower Swing, and even Horse Painting where campers were able to actually paint on the horses! For our campers who didn’t want to participate in the pre-assigned activities, they were able to choose from several other activities such as lake fun, popcorn, and stories at the Mill, and even making Dip Candles with crafts! 
With so much excitement happening, it was certainly a fun and full day, leaving everyone happy, fulfilled, and excited for tomorrow’s 4th of July adventures! 

A Great Day at GV!

Dear Families and Friends, 

Every day at Gwynn Valley feels like the best day, and today was certainly no exception! On Main Camp, we spent the morning enjoying our B Day Discoveries! This was a chance for our campers to dive into two of their chosen activities and they will get two more days to build on their skills. Some campers enjoyed expanding their knowledge in Jr. Lifeguards, some challenged themselves climbing the tower, and others spent a morning at the farm, picking veggies for meals and playing with the baby animals. I was talking to a camper today about how much she loves the opportunity to choose the activities she does. I think it’s such a special part about camp that we can empower our campers to discover what they enjoy and take the opportunities provided to challenge themselves in new ways. 

Our Mountainsiders were able to challenge themselves today on their second day of mini-adventures! These campers get a chance to test out 4 of the 5 adventures to better make their own choice for which adventure they will choose later in the session.

Riversiders have enjoyed their second day of the climbing adventure. We surely miss them at camp but can’t wait to hear their stories when they arrive back on July 4th! 

Young Leaders had a busy day, spending the morning helping out with discoveries on Main Camp. During rest hour they were able to play and lounge on the Lake with the Water Mat. After a full morning, they stretched their leadership muscles in one of their first Leadership Seminars for the session. 

With so much excitement happening around the World Cup, we do something that we don’t often do, and showed the semi-final game today as an afternoon signup. There were so many campers and staff cheering on both the US and England, you could hear the cheers all over camp when the final score came through. Sunday will certainly be a special day knowing that the USA will be making it to the finals!

In other exciting news, we welcomed a crew of videographers to camp today who are busy helping us create new promotional videos to show to prospective campers and staff members! They will be visiting for several days throughout the session and will capture the moments that make camp so special. Today they were busy interviewing staff members and some campers about their favorite things about camp. It was so great being able to listen in and hear all of the wonderful ways camp has shaped so many individuals’ lives. 

As I’m writing this, while the sun is setting and campers are enjoying their respective fire times with cabins or listening to Tajar Tales in the lodge. I’m so grateful for the full and exciting days that camp provides, thank you for sharing your campers with us. Keep an eye out for more excitement this week as we prepare for the Fourth of July and Special Day! 

A Fun Filled First Full Day of C and C1

Dear Parents, Family, and Friends, 

What an amazing first day of our C and C1 session. We had a great opening day with campers choosing what Discoveries they wanted to do, and today they found out. Discoveries are various activities around camp where campers will alternate between their four chosen program areas. Unlike the afternoon sign-ups, Discoveries are for the campers to improve and develop skills in each area. Campers were able to choose between waterfront with Stand Up Paddle Boards, Kayaking, Creek Hiking, and Water Quidditch, or sports with Archery and soccer, horseback riding and horse care, to crafts like wheel throwing in pottery, needle point, basket making, weaving, and so much more! 

This morning we also had our Riversiders head out to their first of three adventures and we have heard that they have arrived safe and sound. Their first adventure is rock climbing at Foster Falls in Sequatchie, Tennessee. These Riverside campers will practice teamwork, communication skills, and begin fostering their small community through their time together doing community chores, and playing games with each other. 

Following morning discoveries campers and staff sat with their assigned table for lunch. These table assignments will remain for the rest of our C1 session. These table assignments allow our campers and staff to get to know people outside of their age range, side of camp, as well as other staff members who they may not otherwise get to know. While learning these new names is tricky and normally takes two or three meals to get down, it’s always so exciting being able to say “hi” to those who sit at your table during activities or in downtown GV. My table and I have already started creating fun memories with each other, like a game of telephone but rather than repeat what you heard, you say what you think of in response to what you were told. For example, the game started with “Grant” which then moved to biking and trees and somehow ended up with avocado. 

Camp is a magical place where we really live and exist just for children.  It’s a child’s world and one where you become the very best version of yourself as Maggie says.  I think that goes for staff also. After several days of camp our adult lives take on a whole new meaning.  While camp is certainly busy, it moves at a slower, more consistent pace. Sometimes slow and consistent really keeps us on track and is great for all involved.  Camp is that kid “happy place” where you don’t have to worry about anything except why can’t I take all the activities each and every day. As adults we talk about not enough hours in the day to sometimes get all the work done and at camp there’s not enough hours in the day to enjoy all the fun.  It’s that place where children can make decisions, set and achieve goals, try new things, understand a sense of belonging to a group larger than oneself (cabin, activity & table), develop grit, resilience, confidence and all under the guidance of some very cool counselors you will hear about when your camper returns home.  We call it the Simple Joys here at GV. 

A Great Opening Day! C Session 2019

Dear Families and Friends, 

What a wonderful day we had at camp! Today was our opening of C and C1, MS2, RS2, and YL2 sessions! With an influx of campers and parents, camp felt full and everyone’s excitement was palpable. There were cheers and hugs as campers eagerly learned what cabin they will be in and who their cabinmates will be for the next 10 day or 3-week sessions. 

Our Main Campers spent the morning getting to know one another in the cabin and settling into their homes for the session. When the afternoon rolled along, cabin groups were able to participate in an assigned activity. Some groups were able to tie-dye shirts (something every cabin will get to do throughout the session), some groups went on a horseback ride, while other cabins were able to shoot bows and arrows at archery! Our Main Campers will all have a chance to try out all of the activities offered throughout the session during their discoveries and afternoon sign-ups! 

It was a warm afternoon, and luckily every cabin was able to enjoy a swim in the pool or lake for their swim assessments! There’s nothing quite like jumping into a cool body of water on a hot summer day in the mountains. After our Riversiders had their swim assessments, they went straight to belay school, where they learned proper belay and climbing techniques for their upcoming climbing adventure. These amazing campers will leave tomorrow morning for a four-day climbing trip in Tennessee. We’re excited about their adventures and already missing them at camp! 

On Mountainside, the campers joined in a scavenger hunt all over camp to find their mini-adventure preference forms! Over the next few days, the mountainside campers will get to participate in training days where they will get a taste of four out of the five adventures offered (climbing, biking, paddling, hiking, and earth skills). After the campers try out each mini, they will get to choose which full adventure they will spend three days on!

With so much happening on camp, and such perfect weather to enjoy it in, it’s been a fantastic opening day! We are so grateful you all have shared your children with us this session and are looking forward to the days and weeks to come! We hope you all had safe travels home and are enjoying your own adventures over the next few weeks. 

B Session Closing Day 2019

Dear Families & Friends,

Thank you for a great ending to our B Session today! We’ve had a wonderful time with your children and will carry lots of good memories from this incredible two week session. 

For those of you that have arrived home we hope that your child’s experience has captured all the magic of what camp can be. We know you will hear stories and songs as the weeks go by and that the camp experience will become a great memory. Placed in the hands of a mature staff a camper really gains a good bit from “playing outside which allows growing inside”.  From all of us, thanks again for sharing your children with us for two weeks. Hope to see you next year!

To see highlights of the session, watch our B session video here!

The Perfect End to an Amazing Session

Dear Parents, Family, and Friends,

The final night of B session is here at Gwynn Valley. It has been an amazing time with such awesome and awe inspiring campers. Those of us on the leadership team, counselors, and program leaders have seen growth in our campers. From trying new foods, challenging their fears and pushing outside of their comfort zones, it’s brings me joy when I get to see these campers broaden themselves. 

Our Friendship Campfire has finished, where we recognized our campers who have been coming for 4, 5, 8, and 10 summers. In addition to verbally recognizing these campers, we give them a fleece blanket for four summers, a plaque for five, compass for 8, and step stool for 10 years. In addition to these campers, we also recognized our Young Leaders and gave them this years staff t-shirt as they transition from campers to staff. We also watched a video that our videography team put together, in addition to a slideshow with some of the photos taken. 

Looking back at the beginning of the day, we had a delicious breakfast to supply energy for our morning of activities and in some cases, for the Brookside and Hillside campers who left after breakfast for their off camp trips. These campers were invited to go on these trips after demonstrating their skills in either biking, kayaking, camping skills and nature, or climbing through discoveries and/or sign-ups over the course of the session. For the Hillsiders and the other Brookside campers, they moved to the Lodge after breakfast for their final day of sign-ups. We offered horseback riding, bead babies, broom making, and candle dipping in crafts, tree climbing, and water mat on the lake to name a few. 

Following morning sign-ups, we had a filling lunch of Mexican street tacos with adobe chicken, four and corn tortillas, housemade cabbage pico, black beans, rice, sour cream, chips, and fresh salsa. During lunch we even had our kitchen, maintenance, and housekeeping staff come out into the dining hall and gave them a large round of applause for what they do for us. It was such a heartwarming scene with all of the campers, program leaders, and counselors showing their appreciation to these staff for their hard work that helps make camp function. These staff members work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure our campers are fed, their cabins are safe and functional, and the buildings around camp are clean. 

From lunch campers and staff went to shuck corn, and have their final afternoon of singing in the Lodge. After dismissal, campers went back to their cabins to begin packing their belongings for maintenance to pick up. It seems like many campers have mixed emotions during this time period. Many are excited about being able to go home and see their family and friends, while they are also sad because it means they will go home and have to say “see you next year” to the friends they made while at camp. Despite these mixed feelings, campers always seem to enjoy Pillow Case day. All cabins will go down to the pool with a pillow case to swim and enjoy the cool water. We wrapped the day with our tradition of homemade pizza, salad, and grapes with Chef Megan’s brownies.

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.  These friendship circles allow 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. At 11:00 and after the gathering in the cabin there is our campfire program in the Lodge for parents, friends and campers. After this, family and friends are welcome to join us for our farm buffet lunch. Thank you for sharing your children with us for these past 2 or 3 weeks.  We’ve had a wonderful session and hope to see all of these children back again next summer. It’s been a great session and a great group of children.

A Great Day Shared on Two Wheels!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Tajar Ball has just finished on this beautiful Wednesday night and a few of the older campers are lingering in the Gatehouse field watching the last light disappear behind the mountains.  Our view day in and day out is unmatched and we’re so lucky to be at this gem we call Gwynn Valley.  As we wind down from the session, tonight was the icing on the cake in the FUN category.  Campers come to the Tajar Ball in costume and there’s always a picnic with burgers, dogs, watermelon and all the trimmings.  Ice cream and other assorted snacks are served at the Ball which takes place on the soccer field.  I will tell you that campers will sleep well tonight after a full day of activity and then the Ball. 

It’s been a fantastic second week to our session.  One of my favorite places at camp is my table and I’ve been blessed with great table mates for both weeks.  Friendships abound at GV and this was witnessed firsthand at table 4 this week.  One of my campers brought her “new friend” to our table since hers was closed.  At the introduction of Lily’s new friend Liza, I learned they had met at camp in their cabin on the first day and you could tell that there was this instant bonding.  Several Leadership Staff were in the office today going through old pictures and pointing out all their old friends they had gone through camp with.  More than a few are here as staff and enjoying the friendship and company that was built on many years in the program together.  This is truly one of the magical aspects of camp. 

It’s been a great week for introducing fun new aspects of camp.  Kevin our assistant director for outdoor programs created and built the Jedi Training Center using locusts’ logs, a swinging soft rubber ball on a string and pool noodle bats.  It’s a great game and I’ll let your children explain it to you.  It’s been a real hit. 

Another addition to camp this week has been two Auto Belay systems that we’ve added to our climbing wall.  These are mechanical devices that are clipped into the camper’s harness and retracts into a round cylinder as they climb.  At any point should they not be able to continue, reach the top of the wall or simply slip, the “True Blue” gently lowers them to the ground.  We’ve placed these on our intermediate wall and still teach traditional belay procedures to our beginning climbers.  I’ve been looking at these for several years and just had them installed a couple of weeks ago.  We researched and prepared our operating procedures and put them into action.  Our climbing staff fully tested them for a week before we let campers use them.  The Auto Belays allow campers to climb more independently and not hang on the staff belayer when they tire or can’t go further.  They spend less time “hang dogging” and more time climbing.  It also simulates what real climbing is like and not being too dependent on the belayer to hold you up on the climb. The campers love it and it’s a nice addition to our program.

Being at camp offers so many positives and creates so many good memories.  Yesterday I spent the whole day on the Mountainside Biking Adventure.  I met them early at their campsite and we spent over 6 hours riding the trails of Dupont State Forest.  Great group of kids and a beautiful place to be!  It was a hot day but 95% of the trails are in the shade so it was a terrific way to sweat a little on the uphill’s and cool off on the downs.  They swam at Wintergreen Falls, had a nice lunch at Grassy Falls and biked almost the length of the park.  Several hills were challenging, and we got off our bikes to “scout” our line to the top which was sometimes blocked by rocks and roots.  They gave it their all and most of them came very close to riding these technical sections “clean” and no “dabs”.   Challenged in their efforts and rewarded with good meals, comradery, nice scenery, and fun experiences, they are stronger for their resilience and grit.  

I returned to camp having spent quality time with a small group of our campers and after dinner just walked around camp observing children enjoying the cool active evening after dinner activities.  The soccer field was hosting a great game on 9 on 9 with a good many goals scored.  Thunderball captured the interest of many campers and they thundered their enthusiasm around its wooden walls.  The basketball ball court provided Knock Out for all ages and I loved it when one of our Young Leaders was ousted by a camper half his age.  The Young Leader is a good basketball player and I quietly told him it was a good character-building experience.  You could tell his pride was hurt.  “Nuke em” was on the volleyball court for those not quite ready for real volleyball.  And Nine Square was shuttling through players laughing and trying to get out the king or queen in the middle. 

We live an active lifestyle and one in which everyone gains.  Camp satisfies so many needs and provides so many wonderful experiences throughout the day.  I’m sorry to see our session end on Friday.  We have more work to do as more campers join our ranks on Sunday.  One camper told me at Tajar Ball tonight, “I wish tomorrow would last another week”.  I simply said, “I do too”!  Stay tuned!

A Fantastic International Day!

Dear Families and Friends, 

What a wonderful day we had at camp! Every Tuesday we have an International Day to celebrate staff members who live all over the world. Today we celebrated our staff from South Africa as well as Turkey. We started the day off with a delicious Turkish breakfast and got to hear the national anthems of both countries. As always, the morning was a full one with campers choosing from a wide variety of sign-up activities. Feeling confident with their discovery activities behind them, campers had the chance to participate in some more unique and in-depth program offerings today. While some chose a relaxing tubing trip down the nearby French Broad River for two hours, others enjoyed an active “Bike & Swim” afternoon. Still, others were able to hone their skills down at the stables with some lessons in trotting. 

After a full day of activities, we enjoyed an amazing South African feast for dinner followed by our international day campfire. We learned about the history and culture of both South Africa and Turkey, and we even got to learn a traditional Turkish dance! Thanks to our Fine Arts campers we also enjoyed lively enactments of South African folktales. We are so fortunate to have such a globally diverse community here at camp. One of our core values at Gwynn Valley is acceptance, and learning about different cultures on international days helps to enrich our campers’ sense of community and understanding.

It’s certainly been a fulfilling day here on Main Camp, and we are looking forward to welcoming our Mountainside and Riverside campers back from their adventures tomorrow. Tomorrow night’s Tajar Ball is the perfect opportunity to come back together and celebrate as a whole camp community! We can’t believe how quickly this session has flown by and we know there are many more memories to be made with these amazing kids in our last few days together.