Servant Leadership

Dear Families & Friends,

It has been another sunny, gorgeous day here at Gwynn Valley! Campers were busy outside today making the most of every ray of sunshine. This morning marked the 3rd session of A day discoveries, which means that campers have now visited those areas for 3 mornings this week. Returning to an activity over and over as we do in the mornings allows campers to dive more deeply into the activities, focus on skill development, and finish more intricate projects.

This afternoon during sign ups, the waterfront activities were very popular! Almost every camper was in the water for some portion of the afternoon. Even our campers at the farm wrapped up their afternoon by wading in the creek to cool off. Despite the heat, the blacksmith forge was also a popular location for campers. I saw a few camper-made candlestick holders today which look incredible. Also popular this afternoon was a game run by Camping Skills & Nature called Camouflage. Camouflage is a variation of capture the flag played in the shady forest between Pioneer 1 and Pioneer 2 campout shelters, and campers just cannot get enough of it.

Although we teach a lot of hard skills here at Gwynn Valley, a lot of real work we do is kind of nebulous and behind the scenes. Take climbing for example. On the surface, our climbing staff are at the tower teaching campers how to tie a figure eight follow through, how to do a safety check with their belay partner before leaving the ground, and how to climb to the top of the tower 50 feet off the ground. On a deeper level, what we are really teaching them is how to trust, how to pay attention to the details that matter, how to persevere in the face of challenge or adversity. We hope that every camper has fun and enjoys climbing in the moment, and if we turn out a few world class climbers that would be the icing on the cake! But 5, 10 or 20 years from now, we hope what really sticks with these future adults are the lessons behind the lessons. We hope they remember how to trust other people. We hope they remember how to hone in on the details that matter and let go of the rest. We hope that they remember that failure on a first attempt is a learning opportunity and a launch pad for reaching their goals.

This summer Gwynn Valley created a new program for campers finishing 9th grade called Young Leaders. For years the 9th grade summer was the dreaded ‘gap year’ for our campers, and after much demand, we have developed a program that will help fill that gap and help them transition gracefully out of their time as campers. After being a Young Leader, we hope that they will come back as Staff in Training (SITs) or cabin counselors, but the leadership skills we are working to develop in our Young Leaders will serve them anywhere. All session the young leaders have been exploring the concept of leadership through various lenses: individual leadership styles, outdoor adventure as a tool for leadership development, gender & leadership, leadership with children vs. peers, etc. And of course they have been having lots of fun on and off camp by participating in many traditional Main Camp activities as well as a rafting trip on the French Broad, hikes in Dupont and Pisgah, among many other adventures!

One concept that has been a running theme for Young Leaders is Servant Leadership. This concept also happens to be the foundation of our Leadership Team (year round staff, head counselors, and other summer leadership) and thus our greater staff community. The concept of Servant Leadership was popularized by Robert Greenleaf who offers the following definition: A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Greenleaf also states that those under the guidance of servant leaders should become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants.

One way that we cultivate servant leadership with our campers across our Older Programs (mountainside, riverside, young leaders & SITs) is by engaging in service projects. Today, Riverside spend a few hours working on trail maintenance on the GV trail to the Wall Property. This trail is not as heavily used as the trails to the Rock and Connesstee Falls, so every summer we have to do a bit of work to maintain the pathway. All campers who hike this way will benefit from Riverside’s work today! The Young Leaders serve camp daily by setting tables in our dining hall, and today they extended their service to the greater Brevard community by weeding and watering the garden at the local Boys & Girls Club. This is an organization that serves 450 children in Transylvania county, some of whom are also campers at Gwynn Valley. The Boys & Girls Club garden is both an educational and recreational opportunity for their kids; additionally it provides produce for the families who send their children to the Boys & Girls Club.

Stay tuned for more stories of fun, leadership and service in the coming days!