Free to be you and me

Dear GV families and friends, 

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

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

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

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

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

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