Welcome New Year Round Staff

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Greetings from Gwynn Valley, 

A new year always brings opportunities for growth, change, and hope and we are especially excited about 2021 and this summer! We really missed having our campers at Gwynn Valley last year and can’t wait to welcome you back or for the first time when we open camp on June 5. 

We also are excited to welcome some new staff to our director team who bring with them a lot of talent, skills, creativity, and experience. Although it is always hard to say goodbye to strong staff members with whom we have worked closely, change is inevitable and transitions can bring new opportunities for growth. 

At the end of January, we are saying goodbye to our Program Director, Kevin MacDonald, who will be leaving Gwynn Valley to pursue a career in graphic design. Besides leading our Older Programs, Kevin has worked diligently to improve our adventure activities, reorganizing and planning curriculum for paddling, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, camping skills, and archery. Whether he was starting a fire by hand-drill, performing magic tricks, or showing up to Tajar Ball in his T-Rex costume, Kevin amazed staff and campers alike with his vast array of skills. We will miss him and wish him the best on the next step of his journey.    

We are very excited to announce three new members joining the year-round team. 

Lauren Rekhelman, long-time summer staff member and former camper, has joined our team as the Assistant Director of Staff and Main Camp. Lauren first came to Gwynn Valley as a camper in 2004, and has spent a total of 15 summers at camp. As a summer staff member, Lauren has been a cabin counselor, program leader, and brookside head counselor. Lauren graduated from Whitman College with a BA in Theatre, and worked for several years as a theatre educator and actor. In 2019 she became the Program Director for Hillel at Georgia Tech, where she connected students to Jewish life on campus. Now, she is incredibly excited to join the GV year-round team where she will help oversee staff hiring and main camp program. Lauren loves working with campers and staff to support them in their goals and help them grow through their challenges. In her free time, you can find Lauren in her kitchen trying out new recipes, or out on the trail hiking or backpacking with her dog, Abbie. 

After his role last year as a Staff and Program Intern, Zeke Cochrane will be rejoining the year-round team this coming May as the Assistant Director of Older Programs. Zeke has worked at Gwynn Valley for 10 summers and started at GV by spending two seasons working in the Gwynn Valley kitchen. He went on to be a Hillside cabin counselor for three years, before stepping in as a program leader- running our 1890’s grist mill. Zeke has worked in a leadership role in both our Mountainside and Riverside programs as well as working with the Director team to run Family Camp in 2020. Zeke graduated from UNC Chapel Hill where he majored in astrophysics, but after graduating has largely pursued his true passion of outdoor education. Before he re-joins us in May, Zeke will be finishing up a year as a Resident Wilderness Educator at the Outdoor Academy here in Brevard. Zeke has previously worked at YMCA Camp Raukawa in New Zealand as well as Camp High Rocks just down the road. Zeke has a deep love for backpacking, white-water paddling, and rock climbing. He is enthusiastic about using these outdoor pursuits to teach youth the importance of community and self-confidence. You can look for him instructing in these areas on the trails, rivers, and crags come summertime!

We are also excited to welcome Chris Tarpey to the team as an Adventure Program Intern. Chris graduated in December, a semester early, from Western Carolina University with a degree in Parks and Recreation Management. Chris worked at Gwynn Valley in 2018 in our Main Camp Program and spent the last three weeks of the summer as a counselor on Riverside. He returned to Riverside in 2019 as a counselor and trip leader in climbing, whitewater paddling, and backpacking. Chris helped his campers develop skills and comfort in the outdoors, a strong community, and confidence. Chris has a passion for rock climbing, backpacking, whitewater paddling and fishing, including fly fishing. He has his American Canoe Association Level 2 Canoe Instructor, and Rescue 3 international Whitewater Rescue Technician. He also has his Level 4 Swiftwater Rescue certification. Since he wasn’t able to move into his role as our whitewater paddling director last summer due to COVID, he spent those months working for the Nantahala Outdoor Center as a raft guide. Chris loves the outdoors and teaching skills to kids of all ages; one of his goals is to share his appreciation of the natural world with others, a core value here at Gwynn Valley. One of his professors and mentors described Chris in this way. “He has an incredible ability to connect with others, is incredibly kind and compassionate, and truly has a servant’s heart.” 

We all need camp more than ever and are so excited to welcome these three dynamic people to our team. We are working hard to plan, hire great staff, create fun and creative programs, order equipment, and get GV ready for our 2021 campers. Can’t wait to see you and gather in our community again.