Why Camp?!

Carpe diem. Lauren & I hope everyone had a meaningful High Holidays and is having a wonderfully sweet fall season. As we continue to explore different ways we might connect more with our camp families during the school year (our “off season”), we wanted to weave through our Directors’ Blog a series of posts that pose difficult questions around the “point” of the summer camp experience. Of course, Lauren & I believe passionately in the transformative possibilities of the Blue Star experience, and we know there are many parents who are not quite sure of the value of a summer at camp. Rather than “preach” one side of the debate, or worse yet shy away from it completely, we choose to embrace it.

Should we send our children to summer camp? There it is.

Last summer we came across the article posted below. It centers on an ongoing dialogue between two friends and colleagues (both active parents!) about the merits of a part of the summer away from home. While I will let both writers speak for themselves, I will offer my brief take.

In short, Lauren & I believe that the Blue Star experience is an integral part of a child’s whole education. At Blue Star we believe that children can and must make their own choices as it relates to what pursuits and activities they want to explore on a deeper level. We believe that children growing up today, including our own Eli, need to learn how to interact face-to-face with other children, reading social cues and navigating peer dynamics. We believe the pure fun that campers enjoy at Blue Star, in addition to the strong community they help build each summer, is essential to their positive growth. *Now see what some others think…


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Summer 2014 Recap…Be Bold, Be Bold, Everyday Be Bold!

The leaves have changed at camp. We have celebrated the Jewish New Year and have reflected during Yom Kippur. As we head further into the fall season and busy school year, we wanted to take a moment to share with you, our camp families, some highlights of this past summer at Blue Star. Summer 2014 was one for the record books, and we are grateful to have been able to share it with your family!

This past summer at camp, our first ever 4-3-7 season, gave us countless opportunities to be Bold! We welcomed rookie campers to Blue Star in our 67th season and began a Horseback Skills Camp too! These new session offerings gave campers and their families more options for Blue Star summer “magic,” created a more harmonious experience for our campers, and infused the summer with excitement.

Creating a seven week summer season allowed us to truly think “outside the box” with all aspects of our camp program. Spirit Day, Color Run, Campstock Festival, Dinner & A Show in HeRo, and camp-wide Shabbat were a few new programmatic elements that we introduced in 2014. We also hosted a wonderful Visiting Day for camp families with a coffee truck, a bluegrass band, and fun camp activities. As always, new evening programs and trip options for some units were enjoyed by our campers this past season. AND we began a “Blue Star options sampler week,” a first in Blue Star history! Campers were able to select different Blue Star options each day for the first week of second session. Returning and new campers loved getting to experience BSC options in this way!

We continued the traditions and camp-wide programs our campers and staff consider “staples” of a Blue Star summer as well with an awesome Red, White and Blue Star Color War on July 4th (what a break-out!), Pinnacle Beach Resort, Camp Carnival, Zimriah, Night at the Granny’s, four team Maccabiah – Battle of the Elements (teams for life), camp-wide Havdalah & BSC TV in the HeRo, Lantern Ceremony on the final Friday night of the summer and so much more.

We sang together in the Chapel at Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, we played at the beach parties and enjoyed Camp’s new AWESOME water toy, we ate delicious food in our lovely newly renovated dining halls.

We learned about our camp Living Wall, a statement of our camp’s commitment to sustainability with a LEED certified landscape architect.

As a camp community, we fully embraced and participated in the Conservation Generation program…we conserved water and other natural resources. We became more aware of ways in which we can become a more sustainable planet and implemented them! And we made some amazing art projects as part of our participation in Conservation Generation too (stay tuned for a full blog on these art projects with beautiful pictures)!

Together we shared so many spectacular moments; the feelings of being in our “forever home” as one Blue Star family, the spirit of friendship, community and open-heartedness that make camp a magical place to be, the individual and collective connection to our best selves. This summer, camp was happy, healthy, innovative, exciting, fun and a truly beautiful experience for campers and staff!

Seth and I (and our entire year-round team) are already eagerly, excitedly, busily planning for Summer 2015! What new and exciting developments can you expect to see at camp next season? Stay tuned to find out!

Here’s a quick “teaser” for you though. Four words…NEW CUSTOM CLIMBING TOWER!



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Positive Impact of Conservation Generation: Part I

PART 1:  Our Conservation Generation mini-series…

Carpe diem. Blue Star always has been at the forefront of innovation and positive change, doing our small part in helping make our world a better place. Lauren & I are grateful daily to be the current custodians of this movement that has been part of the Popkin family for 68 seasons.

Tikkun Olam is part of our DNA. What is most important to Lauren & me in our parenthood journey with Eli and for us in our camp director journey with Blue Star is creating the space within which children can discover what really makes them happy. Directly connected to this ideal is our strong belief that doing good (for others and for the world) is the central ingredient in the happiness recipe.

So this past summer we launched Conservation Generation in partnership with Avi Djanogly’s Gabi H2O award-winning and world-wide program. This program highlights environmental stewardship and allowed us to put into practice our “programs with a purpose.” Having amazing fun is a guiding principle in everything we do at camp, while learning how to appreciate our beautiful nature surroundings and vital natural resources.

Part of this program involved enlisting the help of our campers and their parents—YOU! Together, in partnership with you, we planted 500 trees with the National Forest Foundation.

Just getting us all to camp left a carbon footprint of over 500 tons of CO2. On average, a broadleaf tree will absorb about 1 ton of CO2 over the course of its estimated 100-year life. By planting 500 trees, our Blue Star family has helped to absorb much of the CO2 emissions made by campers and staff travelling to camp this past summer. Wow!

*Of course, there is a lot more to Conservation Generation. Coming soon in Parts 2 & 3:  Re-cap of all of our camper-led arts projects focused on water conservation AND the three behavior changes at camp & how we made a difference…

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Blue Star’s living wall and new landscape design!

Guest Blogger: Kristen Haaf
Kristen Ford Haaf is a designer and owner of Roots First Design (www.rootsfirst.com). She is passionate about uncovering ecological potential in unlikely places. As a designer, she has worked on projects at a range of scales, from regional open space and mobility plans, to citywide placemaking plans, to several-acre edible forests, to small children’s gardens and playscapes.
As an undergrad at Duke University studying Environmental Policy, Kristen was especially concerned about the connection between public health and the choices we make as a society. After spending several years working with community environmental non-profits in Durham and Ecuador, she went on to receive her Master of City and Regional Planning from UNC and her Master of Landscape Architecture from NC State. Kristen also received a Permaculture Design Certificate from Earthaven EcoVillage in Black Mountain, NC.
Kristen designed a comprehensive landscape plan for Blue Star this summer with an entirely native plant palette as well as designed our new living wall, a statement of Blue Star’s commitment to sustainability. Kristen was on site at camp this past Saturday leading educational sessions with our campers about living walls and vertical gardens.
Kristen is especially excited about projects where she can engage young people in thinking about how to add green to their world.  Kristen cherishes time outside, enjoying hiking and gardening with her husband and three kids.


Entering Blue Star for the first time this year you may have noticed many changes throughout the camp.  Buildings have been painted and renovated and new gardens are growing with plants that are native to the Appalachians of North Carolina.   Most unique among these gardens is the wall of green that is growing at the heart of camp across from the Health Center.

This new installation is a garden, but it’s not the kind you may be used to.  Designed to grow vertically on a wall, rather than horizontally on the ground, we call this garden a green wall, living wall or vertical garden.  Close your eyes and imagine what you think of when you hear the term ‘living wall’.  If you imagined a wall that is breathing with life and teeming with green, then you’ve pictured what we hope for with our first living wall at Blue Star.

Living walls can be built inside or outside on a wall of a building or as a freestanding screen like the one here at camp.  This particular living wall is made up of 54 Woolly Pockets, which are modular, breathable garden planters that are light enough to hang on a wall but durable enough to hold soil and plants and keep them watered.  Planted with species that are tough enough to grow sideways, these vertical gardens help to purify the air we breathe and can be used to improve water quality when they are set up to capture rainwater from roofs.  They are also linked to lower stress levels in people who work near green walls and they can serve as a palette for public art.  Living walls are often used in urban areas without a lot of trees because they can make a big green impact in relatively small, leftover spaces.

But we’re not in a city, so why do we have one here? Almost more important than the positive environmental effects of green walls is the way that they can capture our imagination.  As public art, a green wall tells a story about a place and serves as a symbol of positive change.  Our green wall is made up of six interconnected panels that symbolize the six camps of Blue Star.  The swooshing pattern of plants that flows along the length of the wall symbolizes the way that these six camps are tied together as one.  Perhaps even more importantly, our green wall signals a hope for the future, a wish that we not only continue to introduce more and more sustainability efforts around camp, but also that the campers who see our green wall every day start to imagine new ways to build buildings and cities and dream of a greener world for the future.

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From Generation to Generation – Conservation Generation

Guest Blogger – Avi Djanogly
Avi Djanogly is a long time staff member and camp alumnus. In 2009 Avi co-founded and created the award–winning interactive Gabi H2O Measurable Water Conservation Education program. He is an informal educator through and through after spending over 20 summers at Blue Star. Avi also founded “Conservation Generation”, an organization that seeks to empower children to change the world by changing both their own practices regarding sustainability as well as being role models for their parent’s generation. The concept is simple; children can influence their parents’ behavior regarding water usage and other practices that help to create a more sustainable world. He is married to Sylvie; they have three kids and an exceptionally smart Collie Cross dog.

From Lauren and Seth:

As “Conservation Generation’s” pilot camp, Blue Star campers will gain awareness of best practices regarding water conservation and other sustainable practices. Our goal is to raise awareness, share knowledge and change behavior this summer at camp! Jenna Mehler, a representative from Conservation Generation, spoke with Blue Star campers at Shabbat services about ways to conserve water and other natural resources. Our campers’ progress in these water saving endeavors will be documented throughout the summer using the Gabi H20 measurability standards. Campers will also participate in art projects that highlight water conservation, which will be showcased at the American Camp Association National Convention in February. Keep a look out for awesome rain barrels, rain chains, and “public service announcement” videos, all created by our Blue Star campers! Tomorrow, all campers and staff  (whether running or just “cheering on”) will participate in our camp-wide “Conservation Generation Color Run”, which will raise funds for non-profits that focus on water conservation and water quality across the globe.

L’ Dor V’Dor From Generation to Generation to Conservation Generation

Guest Blog by Avi Djanogly

“The world we build tomorrow is born in the experiences we give our children today.”

Last Friday night I had the pleasure of sitting in the Blue Star Chapel once again. It was the first service of summer. The gathering of the entire staff. For 6 days they had lived together, trained together, bonded with each other all in anticipation of the arrival of the campers. Now here we all were at the Elmore Solomon Chapel…as the strains of Hine Ma Tov Uma Nayim slowly washed over me, I couldn’t help but go on a journey down memory lane.

At the beginning of the summer it appears endless, that the summer will last forever. But that’s an illusion. The summer flies by. Over all too soon. Yet the experiences we and our children have are far more impactful at camp because Blue Star is so unique.

The outside world stops at camp’s gates. Each and every summer at camp our children get the chance to re-create their universe. Camp is kid-centric in a way that the outside world can never be. The opportunities for our children to discover their talents, to nurture their skills, to develop friendships and to see the world from a different perspective are endless. Camp is life changing. Camp is a gift. Camp is also an opportunity to learn to heal the world.

At our camp, the Jewish concept of Tikun Olam “Healing The World” runs through the Blue Star experience. Herman and his brothers embodied this principle. This has taken many forms throughout the years but knowing the value and wisdom of nature, we have always stressed the importance of conservation and sustainability. (The Chapel itself is a living example of re-using and recycling. From the stain glass windows discarded by an Atlanta synagogue, to the Torah we use which came from a congregation which was closing in Clarksdale Mississippi). Inherent in this is that we must pay attention to the resources we use and how we use them.

As the generation of climate change, melting glaciers, rising seas, drought and flood, we need to both acknowledge and commit ourselves to saving the planet. Camp is a springboard to building the world of tomorrow. A world where natural resources are valued, where Tikun Olam is at the forefront of our thinking and actions and where Jewish identity is taken on by our children.

That’s why Conservation Generation is launching our award-winning program in the USA starting at Blue Star this summer and why we are looking forward to sharing our program with ACA camps across the country in Summer 2015! Camp (especially Blue Star) is a place where our children learn that their actions can make a difference and the true importance of “L’ Dor V’dor, From Generation to Generation”.

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Summer theme: be bold.

Carpe diem.  Lauren and I recently moved onto camp for this summer and along with Eli (who is very much in the “terrible twos” now) have embraced this seasonal transition.  Really, leaving our off season home and life to drive with cars packed to camp is more like a family tradition.  Here we are, and we can’t wait for all of you to join us!

With the Old Lake and vibrant green trees outside of my office window it is time to announce our summer THEME:  be bold. Let’s start with the more literal translation of being bold in the context of the Blue Star experience.  We encourage our campers to stretch beyond their comfort zones in trying new activities, reaching out to a new cabin mate to begin a lifelong friendship, and standing up for what they believe.  In addition to the word—bold—in and of itself, we are taking it a step further by turning “b.o.l.d.” into an acronym that represents our three core outcomes (which we have blogged about throughout this off season).

Build community.

Open our hearts (to do good and practice the philosophy of tikkun olam).

Learn to Discover our best selves.

In order to fulfill these core outcomes we all must take a leap of faith.  It takes boldness to extend a hand to a cabin mate who is having a difficult time adjusting to cabin life.  In so doing we might make a new friend or, at the least, share kindness with others.  Along the way we are indeed building community.  That’s bold.

It takes boldness to think beyond ourselves and consider the impact we have on our surroundings.  Every individual impacts in some way on the other people with whom she or he interacts and impacts on our natural environment.  This summer we will launch our Conservation Generation initiative in partnership with Gabi H2O and the American Camp Association as the pilot camp in a creative effort to positively change behavior around water conservation.  Each camper will have  opportunities through this project and myriad other venues to do good.  That’s bold.

Lauren and I believe that it takes boldness to discover what makes us truly happy.  The process of self-discovery can be illuminating and liberating, even if the change it inspires is subtle.  We believe that what is most important about this process is that our campers find happiness.  That is what becoming successful in life means to us.  We think that’s bold.

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Horseback Skills Camps…a really exciting addition to our summer program offerings

Our second and third generation families may recall our week-long “Skill Sessions” which were offered in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Our “Skill Session” camps allowed campers the opportunity to participate in concentrated skill development programs in several key activity areas offered at camp.

This summer, under the direction of Louise Hardman, our year-round Equestrian Director, we are re-introducing a one-week skills camp at Blue Star! An Equestrian Skills Camp will be offered Sunday, June 8th through Saturday, June 14th.

A truly unique camp experience, our Horseback Skills Camp will provide campers the opportunity to become stronger riders along side other campers that are motivated to further develop Equestrian skills and knowledge. ​Dedicated time spent at the barn during Horseback Skills Camp will create opportunities for advancement in riding skills well beyond what is possible in a normal camp session. Blue Star Horseback Skills Camp will be all about developing friendships and embracing adventures in the ring and on the trail!​

We are proud to be providing our campers with this unique opportunity to “concentrate” on horseback skill development this summer AND are considering adding additional “skill development” sessions in other Blue Star activity areas for future summers!

Let us know what “skill sessions” you would like to see introduced in future summers by email, tweet, instagram or our facebook page!

And be sure to check out our Horseback Skills Camp E-brochure to learn more about this wonderful new camp program!

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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….http://cancersupportcommunitymiami.org/heart&star_entry.htm

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