Simplify, Simplify: Our Tech & Store Updates

Carpe diem.  Lauren and I would like to take a moment to wish everyone a happy spring…finally.  I then want to offer the words of Henry David Thoreau who wrote in Walden to “Simplify, Simplify.”  One word, repeated twice.  What a useful reminder!  Reading a section of another book recently, I stumbled upon Thoreau’s words.  With this message of simplifying in mind, I want to highlight two healthful updates for this summer toward that end and our thinking behind them.

Unplugged…Our evolving approach to tech on camp.  Camp provides the space for the unique opportunity of an “unplugged” experience.  The focus gets to be on connecting with camp friends, staff, and the beautiful natural surroundings.  Items that interfere with the goals of our camp community simply do not belong in the camp setting.  To be clear, all cell phones (regardless of what their intended use may be and including “back-up” cell phones) are not allowed at camp.  Laptops, I-Pads with Cellular, Kindle Fires and portable DVD players are also NOT allowed.  Bringing a basic I-Pad or I-pod touch to camp is strongly discouraged.  We do acknowledge that there are some items that campers may wish to bring with them for use in the cabin during “downtime.”  Unfortunately, many items campers may bring for “downtime” (hand-held games, e-readers, I-pods, basic I-pads or I-touches) are now almost always internet connectable.  Since we do not want to ban the use of items like these when they are for camp appropriate activities like reading a book or listening to music, we do reluctantly allow their use during quiet time in the cabin.  Internet that is available at camp in order to assist various areas or camp offices in running effectively is locked and cannot be accessed by campers. We hope this helps to clarify both our reasoning behind the nuanced policy AND the actual policy (which will be enforced).  To delve deeper into this hot button issue, check out the following npr interview with Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods:  Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.  We have found it illuminating.

Healthy Choices…What’s new at Granny’s. In addition to trying to create a more healthful space where our campers and staff can be freed up to really explore and more deeply connect, we have put a lot of energy into what we offer at our famous Granny Sara’s Store.  Part of the balance we are looking to strike in this realm is with allowing our campers to make their own choices AND with providing more healthy options from which to choose.  With that, we are happy to announce that we will offer bottled water, Vitamin Water, less soda, and even more nutritious (and still delish) options.  We feel strongly that what we feed our bodies is just as important as what we feed our minds.  Camp provides endless opportunities for being active and being outside.  Being healthful also demands that we give ourselves more of the “right stuff” to help us re-fuel.

Lauren and I welcome the opportunity to talk in more depth with any of our camp families about these two areas.

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Looking forward to Summer 2014

Blue Star is now ready to announce a long-term program of facility enhancements and upgrades starting with (drum roll please)…

We are super excited to share that we are embarking on this process of renewal that will be commencing this summer! Campers and staff will notice that camp and many areas of our “campus” will feel refreshed this summer. These changes to the look and feel of camp will go a long way to make our beautiful summer home even more spectacular.

Our biggest project for this summer is one that will be experienced and enjoyed by our entire camp family. We have enlisted the help of architecture firm, Padgett & Freeman, to guide our dining hall improvements. The character and integrity of these interior spaces will be preserved but enhanced by the aesthetic upgrades they will be receiving, which will add some “comforts” and a higher degree of functionality to the camper and staff experience during meal times.

Here’s what’s happening!

All of our Dining Halls (Girls, Boys and Staff) will be getting the following:
• New flooring in a beautiful “aged oak” color
• New lighting
• Fresh paint in a light, bright hue

The Girls and Boys Dining Halls will also be getting:
• New cabinetry with lovely counter tops to be used to serve items from our yummy newly  revised camp menu
• Corrugated metal paneling to serve as “wainscoting”
• The Girls’ Dining Hall will feature a new “Wall of Murals” which will be a compilation of decades  of camp art work, serving as a focal point of the room
• The Boys’ Dining Hall will have our historic camp mural artworks framed and hung throughout

Additionally, we will be featuring a “Living Wall” on the exterior of the Dining Hall this summer in the spirit of honoring the natural world at Blue Star and as a symbol of our renewed commitment to ecological practices at camp.

We are thrilled to share this exciting news with you and can’t wait to sing the blessings and “break bread” with our camp family in 2014 in these new, beautiful dining halls.

And this is only the beginning…
Stay tuned for emails and post to our facebook page as the summer approaches!

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Our third core outcome: A spirit of Tikkun Olam

In an earlier blog Seth introduced you to two major elements that are cornerstones of the Blue Star experience. Part of our camp’s mission has always been to awaken and maintain a spirit of “tikkun olam” or “repairing the world” in the hearts of our campers and staff. Once we discover the best part of ourselves in a setting that allows us to connect to each other as friends and part of our intentional community, the next step is: How do we share this positive, wholesome and happy experience with others? We believe that what our campers learn and experience at Blue Star will empower them to do “good work” that will help transform our planet, creating a kinder and gentler world.

Today, I am announcing our connection to a truly incredible non-profit organization that provides FREE support services to adults and children with cancer and their families. The Cancer Support Community Greater Miami (CSCGM) is one of 51 Cancer Support Community affiliates worldwide. Each affiliate is a separate non-profit within this global network whose mission is “to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.”

We are pleased to tell you that they have selected Rodger and Candy to be the recipients of their 2014 Champions of the Human Spirit Award. It is an honor for Candy and Rodger (and our family) to have this opportunity to help raise awareness and resources to support the important mission of this organization. Rodger and Candy will receive this award in April at their annual Heart & Star Award Dinner.

Sadly, most people have a “story to tell” about cancer’s impact on their lives. Almost everyone has personal experience with this disease. Our loved ones, family, friends, and neighbors have faced and battled this illness. My dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma ten days after our son, Eli, was born. It was a bitter sweet moment for our family; we were humbled by the magic of the new life taking form in our sweet little boy while at the same time feeling intensely vulnerable and frightened. Our personal experience with cancer affirms that the work of Cancer Support Community Greater Miami and its affiliates is a life affirming endeavor; one that helps patients to see their experience with cancer the same way British journalist and broadcaster, John Diamond, did when he said, “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.”

We, and the Blue Star Family, are proud to be partnering with Cancer Support Community Greater Miami and are excited to share with you that our camp has donated a campership for a session of “summer magic” which was included in their annual Golf & Tennis Tournament silent auction.

We encourage you to join with the many Blue Star families who already believe in the value of this worthy organization. Please know that your support will fund FREE cancer programs and services. CSCGM has been providing these programs locally for more than 12 years – having helped more than 23,000 people – all in conjunction with the leading oncology professionals in South Florida. Anything you can do to support this endeavor is so appreciated and will go a long way to assist the Cancer Support Community Greater Miami continue their valuable work.

To read about the award being given to Rodger and Candy, click the link below…

To do a tribute message recognizing Rodger and Candy, click the link below….

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Building community: Our 2nd Core Outcome

Carpe diem. Lauren and I want to begin this 2nd off season blog entry simply by wishing you an extra Happy 2014! As we get ready to enter a New Year, we invite you to create some time to pause and reflect on this past year. At the same time we encourage you to set new goals for yourself and share them with your family and close friends. It is only in a community where we all can truly support each other. One of my personal goals for 2014 is to create time and space every day to practice mindfulness. That might take the form of yoga, meditation, or being more “present” with Eli when spending father and son time together.

This concept of mindfulness also can be thought of as being more “heartful.” One of the most powerful aspects of the Blue Star experience is the forming and deepening of lifelong relationships. Our campers, parent community, and alumni comment consistently on the special friendships they forged at camp. Learning how to be a good friend requires a certain understanding of compassion. That is what being heartful is all about to me.

With this idea of heartfulness in mind we want to highlight the second core outcome we hold for our campers. In last month’s blog post we explored our first core outcome of self-discovery. Once we better know our true selves we begin to make real connections with others. Making connections is the kindling for building community.

Building community. In his book, Leadership Is an Art, Max DePree challenges leaders to re-think what it means to lead. DePree is chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, Inc. and was elected by Fortune magazine to the National Business Hall of Fame. He believes that the intention of an organization must be to build community. “Community is where it happens. In communities we are all given opportunities and the chance to make the most of them.” Further, “Only in communities do we respect and honor and thank the people who contribute to our interdependent lives. Only in communities can we truly forgive each other.” (DePree xi) When I read and re-read these words I think immediately of Blue Star. Building community is our good work; in community we find the lifelong friendships.

At the recent Blue Star reunion in South Florida I was reminded of the power of those very lifelong friendships. Being part of the re-connecting across generations that happened in the two short hours at the reunion re-enforced for me the meaning of that Blue Star Magic. We look forward to turning another page as we enter 2014 and gear up for our 67th season…

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Our vision and core messages…

Carpe diem. Hope everyone is having a beautiful fall season. Lauren and I are inspired to begin an off season blog series. Over the next several months we will be sharing some of our thoughts about our larger vision for camp. In addition, we will offer humbly different take-aways from the latest research in the field of education in an attempt to spark further inquiry on your part. After all, the important work we do as camp directors ultimately leads to the best outcomes for children when we are in partnership with you—their parents. We invite your comments, feedback, and insights as we want this to be a dialogue.

So I will begin with our big vision. From there I will connect to the first of the three core outcomes we want your children to experience as Blue Star campers. Lauren and I envision a sustainable space at Blue Star that is a living and breathing microcosm of what we think the larger world can become. Lauren’s father and director emeritus, Rodger Popkin, often reminds us of a quote from Gandhi. “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” Of course, the bumper sticker version goes something like…”Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The point remains the same. We believe Blue Star is a place where children discover their best selves, make connections in an intentional community, and learn to practice Tikkun Olam.

Self-discovery. This is where our camp journey begins. It is the foundation for everything else that happens through the Blue Star experience. Lauren’s grandfather and co-founder of Blue Star, Herman Popkin, used to say that every child possesses a unique gift. The work of camp then is to encourage each camper to discover what her passion is and to go for it. We create a safe haven amidst the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains where every camper is able to gain confidence and independence in discovering his best self. I leave you for now with the link to a TED talk by the spoken word artist, Sarah Kay. In it she describes her own exploration of self-discovery, and I find it inspiring.

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Carpe diem. Hope everyone had a sweet Memorial Day Weekend. Lauren and I are settled in at camp with Eli now. As we have navigated the journey up to camp, I have tried to “step up to the balcony” and remind myself of the bigger picture. My mind has taken me back more often than not to the nitty gritty details of what to pack, how to organize the car with all of Eli’s toys (and some clothes), and then where to fit all of our stuff in our summer log cabin. Once in a while I am able to stay present and realize that all of this movement is naturally part of transition.

Our small family’s transition flows together with the larger transition from off-season to summer camp. Being part of this “pre-camp” process is exhilarating, eye-opening, and sometimes a little daunting. Every day there are so many moving parts, all working harmoniously as part of the greater whole (even if it doesn’t always sound like a symphony). For example, our long-time caretakers—Uzi & Wayne—assemble as many summer staff as they can to transform this spot into the beautiful camp we all know it as. At the same time, we are hosting and running various staff training programs.

Not only do we have all of our outdoor adventure and waterfront activity specialists go through the most rigorous courses in their fields, but we also host our very own Blue Star Training Institute where we host staff members from other camps who want to take the classes. More broadly, we are laying the foundation for the safest, most fun, and greatest skill developing summer.

Lauren and I can never say too much how much we deeply appreciate all of the work and thoughtfulness that all of our team pour into pre-camp. It is amazing to be part of the transition. For sure, it’s beginning to look a lot like Camp…

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Find Magic * Do Good * Live Humbly

Announcing our Summer Theme…

Carved into the Elmore Solomon Chapel is one of “Uncle Herman’s” favorite Biblical proverbs from the Prophet Micah.
“What does the Lord Require of Thee? Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God.”

As we honor our past and look to the future, we have adapted that expression to guide our campers’ summer experience at Blue Star in 2013…


Magic has always been at the core of the Blue Star experience. Something beyond explanation happens when campers connect with one another, our beautiful natural setting and their own spirituality. For every person at camp this summer the “spirit” that we call Blue Star magic will be discovered and expressed in unique ways.

Doing good provides an active balance to the part of camp that is all about pure fun. We encourage all of our campers and staff to look at their planet with new and understanding eyes. We challenge our campers to develop into what Uncle Herman called “good people” that are committed to making the world a better place.

Living humbly requires us to see the big picture, how we fit into the whole. As our belief in ourselves and our abilities is affirmed by forming new friendships and developing new skills, we must be mindful of how we use that power. Finding that balance between feeling good about ourselves and helping others to do the same is an important part of the shared camp experience. Living humbly also gives us a venue for which to feel and experience gratitude. Every day spent at Blue Star should be appreciated to the fullest!

These three messages come together to represent a more complete ideal but all together, really speak to what Blue Star strives to be about each and every summer. We can’t wait to welcome our campers and staff to Find the Magic, Do Good and Live Humbly together in 2013!

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Directors’ Blog: The Power of the Family Story

Carpe diem.  Hope you had a meaningful Passover. Lauren and I thought we would seize the day by updating our blog in anticipation of this summer 2013. We will frame these spring entries as a “Directors’ Blog” where we share ideas we are thinking about that relate to camp in some way. Of course, we might sprinkle them with some behind-the-scenes insider info to let you in on some of what’s going on to get ready for our 66th summer of Blue Star magic.

One read that caught my attention recently was actually an article my dad emailed to me in what has become a Herschthal family ritual of weekly shared e-readings. It is an article about the importance of a family story, or narrative, that connects its members and gets passed down from generation to generation. On multiple levels it really is hitting home for me. Of course, it reminds me of the unifying story we tell each spring during Passover. Also I see connections to the generational transition at Blue Star in which I am grateful to be playing a small part. Continuing to tell Blue Star’s unique story and beginning to add new chapters is exactly what we are venturing to do. Further, the article has me thinking of the stories and rituals Lauren and I will create with Eli as we honor one of our core values of family time.

On a different note…all of our Camp Leaders and our Program/Special Events Directors were in town last month for our annual visioning and planning retreat. Lots of giant post-its were strewn across the walls with tons of cool ideas for things like Color War theme (that’s all you’re getting out of us here!), new In-House Options, and a brand new camp-wide “Weekly Show.” Everyone was fired up all weekend and brought a lot of positive energy. We are excited that we now have sprung forward (though we wish we could get that hour of sleep back) because the next season looks like summer…

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Best Kept Secret – Maccabiah

Best Kept Secret – Maccabiah

August 01, 2012

Posted by Jennifer Finch

Camp News

The final two weeks of camp are often the most exciting of the summer. The staff are all well versed with their jobs and have tweaked and adjusted to be performing at their absolute maximum. Camp wide programs such as Pinnacle Beach Beach Resort and the Camp Drama Production along with special individual camp trips and events help camp finish on a high note. One of the best kept secrets of camp is how and when Maccabiah or Color War will break out. This years event did not disappoint.

Late Sunday night under the guise of many excuses, Pioneers and Juniors were asked to form cabin lines on the black top. Simultaneously, the same was happening with Seniors and Teen Village in the Rec Hall. As per usual, rumors of the cancellation of Maccabiah had been circulating for days but experienced campers suspected differently and excitement was thick in the air. Chants rang out from both locations but were silenced quickly with the entrance of four hooded and masked, shadows carrying flame torches. Four sets of names were called and requested to silently line up in front of their appointed leaders. Rope was laid and grasped as campers were led to secret locations throughout camp.

Spread to the four corners of Blue Star, each Element, White Wind, Green Earth, Blue Water and Red Fire performed secret initiation ceremonies announcing for the first time in Blue Star history a life long team membership. Campers will forever be members of their element.

On the completion of each ceremony, all campers combined with the other teams on the middle athletic field to watch and participate in the opening ceremony. Not long after 10:30pm, competitors dispersed to their cabins in anticipation of the following day’s events.

By 7:30am campers were roused by their team captains and encouraged dress in their colors and clean their cabins before breakfast. Silent meals, along with silent cheers are the norm but at the end of each meal cheering competitions are held. Voices rise along with the roof as each team tries to outdo the other. Rolling from the dining hall to team meetings, campers were told of the days schedule and had the opportunity to articulate their personal skills by volunteering for the various events and positions available. Some fight to represent their colors with glitter plaques and murals, while testosterone drives some of the boys to be the king of the watermelon. All skill sets are needed however, as the events are as varied as our personalities. Ranging from the most sporty to the most creative, from intellectual to dextrous.

By the time the second round of option, athletic and waterfront events were completed, all were well and truly ready for food, hydration and rest hour. Energy was needed for one of the most unique and exciting events of the day; The Pinnacle Mountain Relay.

The Pinnacle Mountain Relay is a 49 station event involving nearly every location in camp. Starting with Juniors hitting a floor hockey puck from the front gate to the volleyball courts, a baton is passed to the next team member who then performs the next task. At one point a Pioneer Boy must order a ‘Big Bopper’ from Granny’s and eat it.

Another, a Pioneer Girl must perform 65 jumping jacks. A Senior Girl must climb to the top of the climbing wall and a Senior Boy must hammer nails. A Teen Villager must sit on every bench in the chapel. As the event progresses all preceding spectators and competitors meet on the Middle field to complete the last of the tasks. It all culminated and was won by a Senior Girl screaming “I AM RED FIRE!” to which the collective team responded “WE ARE RED FIRE!” and the winner was declared.

As each team completed their 49th task a quick breath was taken prior to the last of the athletic and waterfront events. Final team meetings were held prior to hot dogs and watermelon outside the Rec Hall. Now for the culmination of the days events.

Located at the Imagination Station, each Element sang their own song interpretation of the day. Glitter plaques and murals were presented along with four very different competitive videos. Cheers echoed from Pinnacle and back as scores were announced, with the loudest roar saved for the collective day’s winner……..Green Earth. To complete a most wonderful day of events was an “ooohhh ahhhh” fireworks display that rivaled anything Disney has ever shown.

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First Ever SB Iron Chef Chicken Wing Challenge

First Ever Iron Chef Chicken Wing Challenge

August 01, 2012

Posted by Jennifer Finch

Camp News

Certain special events are reserved for the last 2 weeks of camp. Camp wide events such as Pinnacle Beach Resort, where campers are treated as guests at a resort location and choose their activities to reflect that and Color War, which is always held in the second half of the session. Individual camp events are also held. Senior Boys had a hamburger cookout on SB hill, competitive basketball games against other campers and their trip to Carowinds, just to name a few.

This year we added something completely new and exciting -  the inaugural Senior Boy Iron Chef Chicken Wing Challenge.  Evan Grabois, Senior Boy Camp Leader came up with this crazy scheme and once he presented it to Kitchen Manager, Tracey Kirwan, they ran with the idea. Evan saw it as “an opportunity for boys to experience cooking at its finest and to gain a better understanding of what our chefs have to do to feed everyone at camp.”

The stakes were high as each cabin selected two representatives to prepare their wings. First place, a cabin pizza party, second, an ice-cream party and third an omelet breakfast. Are you catching the ‘food’ theme here?  Flavors were drawn at random out of a hat. Choices were diverse and ranged from spicy to sweet; citrus to BBQ – ten in all. Subsequent stations were set up with appropriate ingredients.

As part of the learning experience, special attention was made to explain hygiene rules that apply to our kosher kitchen. All hands were washed and gloves and chef hats donned. Boys were then given free reign to create their own masterpiece marinades, all under the careful, culinary eye and advice of Tracey (although not a trained chef, Tracey is a wonderful cook!). They were encouraged to taste and change their mixes. As Tracey said “ if it tastes bad now, it won’t taste better cooked!”

Once the wings were tossed in the marinades and placed on trays, they were carefully wrapped and refrigerated in the meat cooler for 5 hours to soak up their flavors. Prior to lighting the grill, and as per guidelines, the wings were pre cooked in our meat ovens. It should be noted that special attention was paid at all times to keep our allergic kids safe by keeping peanut satay wings separate on all occasions.

Now came time for our second pair of cabin reps to place the final char on our contenders at Jimmy’s BBQ Palace. Two large grills were prepared with hot coals and divided into sections to allow each of the ten flavors of wings to be cooked and finished to perfection. The boys got to experience the extreme conditions of standing in front of a smoking hot grill on an equally smoking hot afternoon, leaving them with even more appreciation of what it takes to prepare the food that they often take for granted.

Once completed the wings were separately whisked into the boys dining hall where eager judges and campers awaited the final adjudication. Our auspicious judges were – Ben, Program Director; George, “Salad Man” and Kenny, Chef. At one point Kenny was required back in the kitchen so Tracey (reluctantly) took his place. Many a wing was eaten by campers and judges alike before the final scoring round took place. As each cabin and flavor was called the judges raised their scores; with the final victor being SB-5 with their amazing “Spiced Crumb” wings.

Jacob from SB-1 who helped prepare Lemon Pepper wings said, “I think the coolest part was actually learning how to make the sauce and be in the kitchen to see how the chefs at camp have to prepare food every day. It took a lot to prepare just 30 wings, I can’t imagine how much these chefs have to cook.” Andrew from SB-11 helped make BBQ wings, “I really liked being in the kitchen and watching all the chefs prepare the food and also cooking for senior boys.” Zack, also from SB-11, thought “that we did really well even though we came in last. I learned basically how to prep the wings and how to marinade them and I think the coolest part was cooking dinner for senior boys. I cook at home sometimes but for breakfast usually. I learned that teamwork really helps and I think that Andrew and I worked really well together as a team.”

The first ever Senior Boy Iron Chef Chicken Wing Challenge was without a doubt one of the culinary and overall highlights of the last two seeks for the senior boys. It created not only a wonderful exciting learning experience, but a new appreciation for the campers of what it takes to satisfy the nutritional needs of Blue star campers and staff.

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