Lets Not Stereotype Girls… We All Get Scared!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Recently I was sent a New York Times article by one of our camp parents entitled “Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute To Be Scared”.  Caroline Paul, who wrote the piece, was one of the first women to join the San Francisco Fire Department.  I can relate to this because I run a coed camp and my father was a career fireman who eventually made Chief of the City Fire Department.  I can remember when he began hiring women firefighters into the department and how much flack he caught from those who felt women couldn’t perform or wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of the job of entering burning buildings.  This was way back in the 70’s.  Needless to say I learned very early that women and girls are up to the task.  I coached a couple of soccer teams after college and had two girls on my middle school age team who went to the ball as bravely as any boy and most of the time they were outsized.  I vividly remember visiting a friend of mine who worked for Outward Bound several years later and going climbing with her in Linville Gorge.  I had been climbing for several years and was a fair lead climber (first up placing gear).  I could not for the life of me make this scary overhang move about half way up the climb and had trouble committing to placing the gear and holding on with one hand.  I was scared.  I backed off and was lowered to the ground and Mary scampered up and blew through it like a butterfly.  Grace, skill, and lack of fear were part of her topping out on the climb that day and belaying me through the crux that I couldn’t do.


I love having women teaching and being program leaders in our adventure programs. It helps young girls understand that they can do anything they set their minds to and young boys understand that gender should not limit what a person can accomplish. The role modeling provided in these situations sends all the right messages that girls pick up from female mentors.

This is nothing short of good solid support for the road ahead and debunking the myths surrounding “timid and scared girls”.  The author of the article talks about a study that states “Girls may be less likely than boys to try challenging physical activities, which are important for developing new skills.  The study points to an uncomfortable truth that we think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.”  Not true in my world of camp.  Yes, it is true most girls are more emotionally based and that’s a positive because they communicate better from an early age.  Guys mostly just hold it in and are not willing to verbalize like the girls.

A healthy and respectful sense of fear is good for all of us.  At camp we deal with fear in a way that leads to respect, systems, communication, confidence and grit.  We talk about this in staff training in the context of “perceived risk” vs “actual risk”.  The perceived risk is what the camper sees and it’s the actual risk we’re most concerned about.  In designing program we leave the perceived risk to their discernment and control the actual risk.  We do everything in our power to provide proper instruction, the right equipment and practice in an appropriately progressive way to enable most campers to move forward in a “scary” situation.  The bonus here is they will have multiple chances to try again and hopefully succeed.  Failure is a whole other topic we could talk about here, but let’s get back to our campers.


Camp is a great place to instill the aspects of making the best people. We are equal opportunity dispensers of fun and fear in all the right ways.  Girls have all the same opportunities right alongside their male counterparts and I see this daily here at Gwynn Valley.  It is our obligation to assist campers with making good choices whether it’s on the rock or in cabin/program interactions.   Learning how to communicate about these aspects of navigating life’s challenges and risks are also a part of our work.   At camp, being scared is not gender based.  Our boys and girls need to experience camp participating and learning from one another.  As one camper states in our video “We’re not going to live our lives separate with regard to gender.”  We use the same terms for boys and girls when we think of bravery, grit and resilience as well as compassion when fear does exist.  These are some very big buzzwords in growing young people into healthy and mentally strong adults.  As stated above, we are equal opportunity dispensers of providing the right values to grow in the Gwynn Valley garden of life.

To check out the article from the Times click on this link:   http://nyti.ms/1QaeDZ9      

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Happy Presidents’ Day and hope all is well where you are.  In my last news update on our website, I mentioned that our leadership staff, Andy, Maggie, Barbara, Anne and I were headed to the American Camping Association’s National Conference, held in Atlanta last week.  We had a wonderful time soaking up information and networking with other camp directors from all over the US.  There were over 150 sessions offered to attendees and we divided and conquered for those three and a half days.  The overall content of the sessions were great and each carries some valuable information for us as we head toward our summer season.  There were also three keynote speakers that had their own message on the value of the work that camp is doing with children in our country.


On the drive home we shared much information and will be meeting in the days ahead to bring together the information we harvested from those fruitful and fun days.  Leadership was a major theme throughout our time there and is appropriate on this Presidents’ Day to remind ourselves of the awesome responsibility we hold in guiding the lives of so many children while they are at camp.  It’s a joy and privilege to be a part of Gwynn Valley.  John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. We really enjoy the chance to learn more about the work we do and we look forward to leading our staff and children into the best possible summer ever here at camp.

Making Camp Better!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Tomorrow Feb. 9th, several of us on our leadership team head out to the American Camp Association’s National Conference in Atlanta, GA.  It is 4 days of sessions, speakers, other camp directors and middle management staff all together for the purpose of creating the best possible camping experience for children.  We try and attend this conference every year because it is full of quality education, social and issue based sessions, a lot of networking, and is a boost to everyone’s professional development. Creativity abounds and the sharing of ideas flow freely as we immerse ourselves in the world of enriching children’s lives through camp.

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The key to this, as Anne says, is to come home and really implement much of that wisdom that we’ve soaked up.  It’s so easy to just keep doing the things we’ve been doing for years and it takes more work to implement change.  The theme for this year’s conference is “Envision”.  The world is changing fast and “Camping” has changed a great deal since I got involved many moons ago.   Summer camp is actually  much better for the child than it’s ever been.  We know a whole lot more about child development and what makes children tick.  And children do tick differently in the camp environs.  It’s a proven fact.  Add some great programming to that and the learning and fun begins.

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And while change and vision are good, some aspects don’t change like the values that make Gwynn Valley a great place to spend a session of camp.  Technology has crept into how we run camp but it stops at the office door and does not interfere with gaining a greater sense of self through relationship building in a nature focused environment.  Through the years we’ve added new programs like mountain biking, ropes courses, stand up paddle boarding, more sophisticated arts and so on.  The essence of all these is learning through doing and gaining confidence and resilience in our human powered environment.  We empower children to seize opportunities, to make new friends and try new things independent of parents.  Children at camp learn to create their own fun without the aid of electronics and sometimes with the simplest objects they can collect.  We do a great job of teaching camp skills as well as real life skills.  Where the real growth comes is when they are working with one another in a cooperative relationship and building trust and competence in communication, acceptance and a greater appreciation of the simple joys of childhood.  Of course all this is done under the guidance of a great staff.  As Maggie says, “The camp environment creates the best version of ourselves”.

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Life moves fast and our value of simplicity speaks large in slowing us down to learn where our food comes from and how much work it takes to get those potatoes out of the ground and to the table.  When you get your hands dirty and find those balls of carbohydrates just below the surface, food takes on a whole different perspective.  How many children will ever get a chance to feed a baby calf or milk a mother cow.  That whole circle of life theme can be found every day at our farm.

Camp does children a world of good and we aim to fill our cups this week and bring back more of the good for Gwynn Valley.  Stay tuned!

Nature and Camp – The Right Medicine!

I was probably in high school or college when I realized that I had ADD. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s we were kids that had somewhat mild behavior issues (which explains the “Unsatisfactory” and “Needs Improvement” on my report card in my elementary grade years). I don’t think I was hyperactive but had a really hard time listening and focusing. Testing was difficult and any distraction or noise during those times just about drove me crazy. Outdoor sports were parts of life that I looked forward to. When I got into outdoor adventure activities in my late teens and early 20’s I realized how much more focused I was when I was in nature and performing some tasks that really required my full attention. I loved climbing because you had to be right there all the time and I realized that I could focus and keep my attention span for more than a few minutes.

Recently two articles (see link below) on nature and our brains and children with ADD/ADHD were written by a woman named Florence Williams. One appeared in National Geographic and the other in Outside Magazine. The article in Outside specifically targeted teens with ADD/ADHD and how an outdoor program called SOAR has had a great deal of success in working with these groups (mostly boys) and how they met with that success. SOAR just happens to be in our backyard right up the mountain from Gwynn Valley. What’s worked for them is shifting the whole academic year outdoors, where they alternate two weeks in their basecamp (rural and wooded) and then two weeks in the field. Their executive director states, “We’re not reinventing the wheel—we threw out the wheel.” They’ve found that outdoor pursuits like climbing, backpacking and paddling were a magic fit for their students. Ms. Williams states, “If you look at the symptoms of ADHD, maybe they’re not really symptoms anymore if you get in the right profession or the right ecological niche. We learned some of this by looking at extreme athletes, who found that niche.” The traditional classroom is probably not the place for these kids.


For these and all children, camp is such a respite from those classrooms where great things can and do happen, but it’s nature and the outdoors that we need so much. We need nature for the reasons above and to get us away from those screens that occupy so much of our time. You know the statistics and I won’t go there. Camp promotes exercise and fitness and studies consistently show that aerobic activity targets the same attentional networks that ADHD medication does.

In Ms. Williams Nat Geo article, “This is Your Brain on Nature”, she discusses how scientists are looking at how nature affects our brains and bodies. ”Everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers—indicate that when we spend time in green space, there is something profound going on. In 2009 a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space.” What researchers suspect is that nature works by lowering stress. Just a simple view from a window can make a huge difference.


One Stanford researcher says “Nature may influence how you allocate your attention and whether or not you focus on negative emotions.” Somewhere in our DNA we still have that connection to nature. Spending more time outdoors might be the antidote for our modern lifestyle and that distant connection to our primitive self.

I think camp is certainly much more than the antidote. When kids engage at camp, they stimulate the areas of their brain responsible for problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and creative thinking. They learn to cooperate living and working together and solving problems together. They gain resilience, perseverance, curiosity, self-control, and more! I urge you to read these two articles and get out there yourself and with your own children to enjoy the green space around you.



GV Campers at Cyclo-cross Nationals!

We sometimes say that “camp is a human powered event”.  I see that every day in the summer, as our campers move, jog, bike, climb, use their hands, hike, run, swim, paddle and of course use their brain to combine with all of these movements.  Camp is also a place that is an open door to many activities that we either don’t have a chance to do at home or have the time.  Camp can introduce and propel us into activities and hobbies that we can participate in for years.

This past week Asheville, NC and the Biltmore Estate hosted the National Cyclo-cross Championships.  If you’re new to the sport it’s kind of like a bicycle steeplechase.  Riders ride, run, cross over short barriers, go up steps and all kind of steep terrain up and down.  Bikes are similar to road bikes with slightly wider knobby tires and drop bars found on road bikes.  I volunteered a couple of days for the races and thoroughly enjoyed watching the riders, friends, parents and fans cheer on their favorites.  I did say parents because riders as young as 9 years old were out there to ride and compete on a national level.  Nationals also included men and women up to 80, so it’s not a young person’s sport.

I ran into Alex and Madalyn Green, both GV campers at the race and they were both racing.  Alex was interested in bikes before coming to camp and our mountain biking program perked his interest even more.   Alex and Madalyn were campers at GV for 5 years.  For the past couple of summers he’s been racing bikes and also gotten in cyclo-cross.  In talking with Alex and his parents he thoroughly enjoyed his time learning the trails around camp and surrounding Brevard.  I didn’t get to see Madalyn, because she was racing when I took the pic below.  Madalyn just started racing and is looking ahead in this new endeavor.  You go girl!  Out of a field of 77, Alex came in 22nd.  Keep in mind this is National’s and not some local race.  Congrats to him for a strong showing.


It’s great to see how campers flourish and take skills to the next level.  Camp is an outlet to learn new skills and push the envelope and comfort zone in a safe and fun way.  It introduces you to different and new environments that are not familiar or like home.  It stretches us physically mentally, emotionally and provides guidance by staff who act as parents while at camp.  And it’s human powered, getting us out there in the great environment of our surrounding forests and fields.  It’s playing outside and growing inside here at Gwynn Valley.  I’ll leave you with this quote, “Life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance you must keep moving forward. “

Unscheduled Free Time – A Great Gift to Give a Child!

As the holidays roll into town in the next few days, I’ve seen the need for the scheduled to be unscheduled in my own family.  My two college age children are home catching up with friends, going to movies, sleeping late and taking advantage of their short lived unscheduled lives.  My guess is that you as parents are seeing the same thing in your school aged children as they get a break from their routines.  This time of year chances are you are feeling the effects of the frantic pace we live in.  My own mom says how things are different and we’re (my family) all so busy and involved in so much.

According to a national study released by the University of Michigan, kids today have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago.  Does the overscheduled child gain from this?  According to the study from a brain development standpoint, some feel it is quite the opposite.  When kids engage in unstructured play, they stimulate the areas of their brain responsible for problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and creative thinking.  It is the empty hours that children learn to become self-reliant and responsible, which are critical life skills.  By over-scheduling our children, we are depriving them of something very special: just being a kid or as we call it at camp; “the simple joys of childhood”.

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Here at camp we think kids need time to recharge after a couple of hours of activities (that they choose on their own).  Before lunch there’s 45 minutes to wind down before eating.  After lunch there’s rest hour which can be spent daydreaming, reading, writing home (we do our best mom and dad), or playing quiet games in the cabin.  Not too many children sleep during this time.  It’s hard enough to keep them in their cabins.  Then there’s two more hours of activity and thirty minutes of free time before dinner.  After dinner is our most unstructured time at camp where you can choose any number of activities and those being more in the spirit of unstructured free play.  You may choose to burn some calories in a soccer game that may turn into kickball or a short hike may stop at a creek and its shoes off and feet in.  Listening to stories at lakeside might turn into cloud gazing and the child’s mind drifts in and out of the day’s events and life at camp.  Sitting with your friends on the Green Wall next to the Mill is wind down time.  Time to chat and listen to the sounds of the mountain song evening.

This holiday break we’re in is a great opportunity to retool our schedules and our priorities, slow down and set aside time for our children to just be kids.  Here are six ways to inspire us.

Get off the Frenzy Train – This is a great time of year to reflect on what our family priorities are and give thanks for time together.

Be the Role Model – Carve out time to turn off your cell phone, don’t check your email while waiting for the movie to start and just be with the fam.

Un-plan – Start to think about ways to unscheduled and reschedule with unstructured activities

Schedule Unstructured Family Time – And keep it sacred on that one day a week where you all watch a movie together or play a game of monopoly.

Tune Out “I’m Bored” – With children and teens this will happen.  Let them figure it out on their own and try not to cave to screen time.

Screen Free – Hold out as long as you can because he’s the only one in his class without a cell phone.  Be intentional about screens in your child’s life.  Whatever requires a cord or charger probably doesn’t inspire creativity or problem solving.

And Last But Not Least “Get Outside” –  I loved it this year when the major outdoor retailer REI didn’t open for Black Friday.  Their message was to get outdoors.  Get your family outside and do something together fun in a new outdoor place.  Take a picnic with some treats and just going to a local creek or stream and throwing rocks is part of the simple joys.  Outdoor play stimulates the brain and senses even more and you’ll have quality time with your crew.

As our Holiday card said.  Let there be Peace!  Here’s hoping you have the best Holly Days ahead and Happy New Year to one and all!

Inclusive Sports at GV – I Like It!

I just read a short blog about Inclusive Sports on the American Camp Association’s website and thought of our own values here at camp as it relates to inclusive or non competitive activities.  I like that term “inclusive” and we use that term a lot here at Gwynn Valley.  As we all know almost every turn in life carries some competitive overtones to it.  On the sports field and other venues, we refer to this concept at camp as a GV tie with no winners or losers.  Our emphasis and purpose in the GV tie is that we acknowledge our growth in the activity and no one comes away as being defeated, feeling failure, deflated, unsuccessful, non athletic etc.  Most children who play know the score at the end of the game.  Our role as staff and mentors is to de-escalate the winner – loser aspect and promote the fair play and skills learned by those on both sides and what a great game it was.

In our camp world where several age groups play together, you also have to consider that some campers are physically more gifted with size, strength, and age.  We’ve all heard the adage playing up and becoming better because of playing with those more gifted than you. As a young athlete growing up I used to love to play with the bigger guys and learned a lot from them and in some cases improved my own play by trying to play at their level.  Most times this was not so successful and sometimes when it was, it gave me confidence to try new things, move to another level and feel more confident.    A couple of good passes in soccer or basketball can result in a score and you don’t have to be the one to score to receive the accolades that go with it.  Any good coach or mentor realizes the assist is as key as the goal itself and it has to start somewhere.  Stephen Curry of the NBA Warriors, is a phenomenal shooter but he is also great at feeding assists to those who score.  That assist can also come in the form of support of a cabin mate who is up on the ropes course and feeling nervous. Thursday Morning Activities 114

Team play is crucial here at camp.  I believe the camp experience is a stepping stone and link in the chain of life.  You’ll play for a team one day; a work team, a project team, a surgical team, and you’ve got to become a team player.  Camp teaches you to live in a cabin as a team, eat at the table as a team, share food as a team after hiking 10 miles with a backpack through the rain, and carry those boats to load on the trailer after an exhilarating and hard day on the river.  Phil Jackson, NBA coach once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member.  The strength of each member is the team”.

Children learn in so many different ways and some of them learn by observance, watching a touch on the soccer ball, a behind the back dribble, or just keeping your heels down when trying to smear your climbing shoe on steep piece of rock.  “We learn to predict (think about) our movements before we execute them (move) so that we control them better (Flanagan, Vetter, Johansson, & Wolpert, 2003). This ability suggests that all motor activity is preceded by quick thought processes that set goals, analyze variables, predict outcomes, and execute movements.” Pulling this off requires widespread connections to all sensory areas and culminates in the brain’s cerebellum, which controls balance, movement and coordination.  Maybe I can do that and viola, it’s copied, practiced and improved on.  Others have to have that coach or counselor to help them through those steps and again practice until confident on their own.  And some may never get to that skill set, so we have to figure out what skills that child does have.  One camper may be able to climb like a monkey on the wall but is deathly afraid of heights 20 feet off the ground.  Another camper may flail on the wall but slowly makes it to the top.  They both have much to learn and through trial and error, they can see one another gaining more skills as they try for new levels of achievement each time.

Fri MA 146The good news is that movement and athletic endeavors are good for mind, body and soul.  People who exercise have far more cortical mass than those who don’t. Simple biology supports an obvious link between movement and learning. Oxygen is essential for brain function, and enhanced blood flow increases the amount of oxygen transported to the brain. Physical activity is a reliable way to increase blood flow, and hence oxygen, to the brain.  We all benefit from play!

Camp is a great place where failure or feeling like a loser most always leads to success because we can try again and again.  Gwynn Valley is a trusting environment where we achieve growth in our activities under the guidance of a mature and caring staff.  That is what we do best with a constant eye on those playing on the fields or out in the field. We make sure that camp includes all levels of fair play and in the end we all win.  Inclusive – I like that word.

Be a Helper!

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

– Fred Rogers

Dear Parents and Friends,

As families gather all over our land for Thanksgiving, we must remember those who don’t have the comforts and freedoms that many of us are provided in this country.  Thanksgiving is that time that brings most of our country together in the spirit of welcoming one another home and rekindling the family ties and love that binds us.  One of camp’s values is simplicity and that first Thanksgiving started out as a simple welcoming gesture extended to the Pilgrims by Samoset, a chief of the Eastern Abenaki tribe.  That welcome came from a group who had every reason to be fearful.

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Acceptance is another value we treasure here at camp and that is played out in the work to bring diversity to our camper and staff ranks.  As Paris and other cities struck by terrorism, takes a place in our thoughts this holiday season, we all must strive to understand one another and seek out the peace that our world so desperately needs.  Through the ages our country has been a beacon and refuge for those wanting a better life and where fear is not lurking over your shoulder.  Let us keep our thoughts and prayers focused on those who don’t have a home to go to or a country to live in.

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While uncertainty surrounds us sometimes, we must remember what Fred Rogers’ mother told him, “Look for the helpers”.  We must look for and be the helpers in a servant leadership role that each of us have in us.   We are thankful for your children who attend Gwynn Valley.  We are grateful  for our own families here at work and we wish you all the best this Thanksgiving holiday.  May the “simple joys” surround you and yours in the days ahead.

Grant Sails Into Wilmington!


Dear GV Families and Friends,

I was in Wilmington, NC last night for a show hosted by the Jean and Connor Keller and their three daughters, Callie, Jeannie and Diana. The girls invited friends and classmates, and we had a great turn out. Everyone enjoyed talking about camp and viewing our new video and video highlights from 2015!  In true Gwynn Valley style, all the children took home a piece of the farm in the form of popcorn grown on site.We raise the corn during the late summer and it was harvested about a month ago. It was a great evening in a great NC city with a lot of history.

I’ll be in Winston Salem tonight and hope to folks there!


New “You Rock Supercamper Video” and More!

Dear Parents, Campers and Friends,

Greetings from camp and hope all is well out there in homeland.  Downtown GV has been bustling in the past few weeks and even without campers here, lots of work is going on.  Andy, Maggie, Anne and Grant have all been out on the promo trail and will continue to do so in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.  Come out and see us at one of our shows, view our new promotional video, get a copy of last summer’s highlights video and take home some farm grown GV popcorn that was just harvested a few weeks ago.

Speaking of video we just put out our 2015 “You Rock Supercamper Video” and it’s on the homepage of our website (https://vimeo.com/143261483).  It was a fun project and makes me want to start our 2016 season tomorrow.  Who will join me?  It might be a bit cold.  Another Fall/Winter project will be to update our website with some changes that will take place into the new year.

As our weather cools we are making some improvements to various parts of camp and beginning to order gear for the summer.  Chestnut Hollow will be getting a bit of a facelift.  We drained the Lake several weeks ago to get a track hoe in to dig out a portion of the lake for a rope swing we hope to install sometime in winter or early Spring.  We’re also hoping to put a roof on the climbing tower for next summer so stay tuned for news about that.

Probably our biggest news is the beginning of our Young Leaders program which will kick off next summer.  Young Leaders is a leadership program focusing on whole person development to help teens transition from the role of camper to camp leader. The program will combine elements of leadership training, community building, service work, learning opportunities, first aid training, skill development, and age appropriate fun! Young Leaders will be given greater responsibility than in previous camper years under the guidance and supervision of 2 dedicated staff.  We’re excited to get this program underway and looking forward to having our first participants this summer.

Lots happening here at GV, so stay tuned!