What is the secret ingredient in the BSC Magic?!

Carpe diem. Lauren & I hope this finds everyone feeling good and enjoying the holiday season. We hope you had an extra bright Hanukkah and wish you only the very best for the New Year 2016! As we approach the annual ritual of “winter break,” we wanted to share an article that struck us at our core. Those of us in the Blue Star family (all of you!) reminisce and dream often of that Blue Star “magic.” What we might consider less is what actually makes or helps create that magic. That is, what is the secret ingredient (the special sauce, if you will) in the very center of the magic? The answer is below; just keep reading…

A long-time alum and very special friend of Blue Star, Walter Solomon, passed along the following article to Lauren and me from the website, ejewishphilanthropy.com. In the article, The Secret Ingredient of Summer Camp Magic, writer/educator Benjamin Kramarz explains that the recipe can be found in the concept of liminality. Kramarz defines liminality as the “state of being in transition” floating amorphously between one stage or place and the next, whether of development or more concretely as in school grades. Our good work at Blue Star is focused on harnessing that transitional time and space to create the conditions for personal and communal transformation.


How does it work? We intentionally build a community every summer that is filled with “good people” who are almost all in a state of transition. Our counselors are trained vigorously to model “how to be” in this unique state of being and guide their campers through it. Layered in is our meticulously designed program structure that rests on two foundational principles: First, we leave plenty of healthy space for unstructured time where campers are allowed to do what they want to do (with adult supervision and within extremely safe physical surroundings); Second, campers are encouraged and supported in choosing their own main activity options (or electives) where they can discover their best selves. To take the learning and growth to the next level, reflection is built in both informally and formally through myriad activities such as cabin circles, rose n’ thorns, and key log ceremonies.

We have written previously about transition. Transition, or change more broadly, is super difficult for many of us (for me personally). You will be reading this during a transitional time of winter break, between school semesters, and as we shift from one year to the next. The beauty and strength of the Blue Star experience anchors in embracing the in-between state(s) and harnessing their awesome growth potential.

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Guest Blog by Cal Rocks – Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp!

calCal grew up in the Peak District, a hub for adventure activity in northern central England. He began climbing at age 14 through his school and was hooked! His early career in the outdoor industry began at the local outdoor center, coaching the youth climbing club. He then went on to gain more experience within the Outdoor Education realm and in a broader spectrum of activities. Cal has a B.A. in Outdoor Adventure Management from the University of Derby in England. He first joined the Blue Star staff in 2012 and became an AMGA certified Single Pitch Instructor and a certified Wilderness Responder, trainings completed as part of his preparation as a staff member through the Blue Star Training Institute. Cal has been the Director of our Rock Climbing Program for three seasons and is also the Director of our Outdoor Adventure Program. Cal took a lead role in developing and leading our Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp, which we re-introduced in Summer 2015. Here are his thoughts on Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp.


“The wonderful things in life are the things you do, not the things you have.” These are the words of prolific mountaineer Reinhold Messner. Themes of the outdoors and adventure often lend themselves to inspire philosophy. I believe this is not simply down to the beauty and grandeur of adventurous environments, but the way in which we interact with those environments. Feeling small amongst the trees, yet achieving something big. It is in these environments where we can take the skills we have and use them to do something truly wonderful.


We have now had time to reflect on Blue Star’s Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp. What an experience! The week was full of activities that encouraged our campers to seek the challenges of our incredible Western North Carolina landscape. They honed skills in rock climbing, kayaking, and mountain biking, then used these skills not just to achieve goals but to appreciate the outdoors in a unique way. They embraced the choice to take more testing paths through nature’s playground.

Adventure sports provide moments that accelerate personal development, and the outdoors provide an environment that nurtures well-being and mindfulness. When combined you have a super fuel for self-discovery. If you stand at the foot of a climb and look to the summit there is always a little voice that asks, “Can I do that? Am I strong enough in mind and body?” These are big questions. When you can say “yes” to these questions and complete your journey, you gain a little self-esteem and confidence. When you say “no”, but continue to carve a path towards completing that journey, you create a factory for self- esteem and confidence. Through mountain, river, and trail we encouraged our campers to not just take on a challenge but complete it and seek another. This is a cycle that allows for exponential personal growth. Our campers grew in skill, confidence, and awareness of their natural surroundings. They would finish each day with a full tank of self-esteem, but humbled by their future goals; climbing a steeper line, running a stronger rapid, riding a faster trail. It was inspiring to see the outdoors simultaneously inspire and educate our campers.

Aside from the skills learned, the goals achieved and knowledge gained there is one more element that rooted the success of this camp. Happiness. As we spent the final evening watching a slide show of the weeks’ adventures with our campers, revisiting the memories of mountains climbed, rivers paddled and trails ridden, I saw nothing but glowing smiles on every face. A simple but honest indicator of happiness. And in the happiness of our campers we all see success.

To learn more about Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp, click here!

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Here’s to a new season!


Carpe diem. With the month of September coming to a close and the High Holidays behind us, Lauren & I wish everyone a meaningful and beautiful New Year! In the cycle of our year, marked by the zenith of summer, this quieter time period lends itself naturally to both reflecting on the recent summer past and dreaming big about the future. For reflection we spend time pouring over parent, camper, and staff surveys in an effort to gain more clarity around how we can be better. All the while we re-set our short and long terms goals for the upcoming and future summers, consider our evolving vision, and imagine how we can do our part in healing the planet. In this “big picture” context we want to share three of the Conservation Generation projects our campers participated in this past summer.

Compost…boom! This simple phrase became the centerpiece of our environmental sustainability efforts this summer. All of our campers learned about, cheered on, and practiced composting in their dining halls. Our composting campaign absolutely made a difference on the amount of waste we contributed to our local landfill and added real value to our Farm & Barn organic gardening program. At the same time the Pioneer and Senior Girls even made up a song and dance to garner more excitement and awareness toward composting. Click below to check it out! Sometimes all it takes is collective energy to ignite direct action. We invite and encourage you to engage in this broader effort at home this school year in whatever way(s) makes sense for you.


cd07b186-ddac-4228-8eef-39944875560fMoreover, we partnered informally with a non-profit in Israel, The Ecological Greenhouse, whose mission is to be “a meeting place for youth from the various populations and sectors of Israeli society…by cooperating and engaging in shared challenges and projects these children and teens get to know one another and manage to find common ground.” We raised funds to help support the Ecological Greenhouse of Israel’s mission through our “Pop, Rock and Roll Run” first session! Thank you campers and staff for running, cheering, handing out water and showing your Blue Star spirit for the run!

Our campers and staff also constructed our own Blue Star greenhouse, made primarily 2d282cfb-ec77-483e-89db-2b18f1f0e3ae 58ddf2a5-28f2-4cc1-956c-d910a7d8fbc0out of recycled bottles, to draw attention to the good work we all can do with a concerted effort and communal commitment. The beauty of our greenhouse is that we will be able to grow plants, flowers, and vegetables in it year round that future campers will be able to enjoy. Nature’s cycle continues from summer to summer.

Finally, we led an inter-camp community effort with four other WNC camps to have our own uniquely designed rain barrels displayed on Main Street in Hendersonville. An outcropping of our 6th annual CampStock program, this past summer’s symbolic totem project was implemented in conjunction with the Mayor’s office. Not only did our campers raise awareness of water conservation via these prominently displayed rain barrels, but they also modeled how to build community with our sister and brother camps. It was sweet to engage fellow nearby camps in the spirit and good work of Conservation Generation…we’re all in this together! Be sure to thank your Blue Star campers for doing their part to help heal the world this summer. Shine on!

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Shining on at Blue Star…First Session in Review!


1ff4b879-745e-4e38-87a9-97c309a04071Carpe diem. What an incredible 1st Session we have had here on Mount Pinnacle! Lauren and I wanted to pause, and take a moment, to offer our reflections on 1st Session. We have been reflecting a lot lately about the power of individual moments. Further, we have been inviting and encouraging our staff to think about the positive impact they can have on each one of our campers in the context of singular meaningful moments. An unofficial mantra among our staff has been “making memorable moments.” What follows are just a few such moments…


During our final Friday night Shabbat services in the Chapel, we were reminded of how important it is to create the space for our campers to share their original thoughts in front of all of their peers. Each week many campers from Juniors through Teen Village volunteer to compose privately and share publicly what our summer theme means to them AND how they have lived the theme here at Blue Star. When our Juniors shared their original thoughts about “Shining On,” we were so impressed by the depth, creativity, and authenticity of their ideas. And then more Juniors kept being called up to speak by our Living Judaism directors. For the first time in recent memory four separate groups of multiple Junior campers felt compelled to speak their hearts and minds at our services. Shine On!


Blog pic 4Our amazing activity specialists often go above and beyond to reach and teach our campers, not just technical skills but also life skills. A duo comprised of one returning and one new specialist in our mountain biking program took the initiative in their limited free time to teach one of our younger campers how to ride a bike. This camper had expressed informally wanting to take the bikes options but not knowing how to ride, and these two staff members made it a priority to light the way for him. The staff members did not receive any special accolades nor did they tell everyone about it; they just did it. Now we have one more camper who learned a new technical skill and, more importantly, has had compassion role modeled for him. Shine On!

As we conclude this reflection and wind down our 1st session, we will end where we began atop Mount Pinnacle. A long-time camper who had not previously hiked up the mountain really set an intention to reach the top this year, her final year as a camper. With the unconditional support of her camp leader, counselors, and friends, she did it! Stretching beyond her comfort zone not only made her feel really good, but also gives her the self-knowledge that she can accomplish what she sets out to with confidence and resilience. Lauren and I are proud of all of our campers for being their best selves and doing good. Keep shining on…

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Pre-Camp Education Session

Carpe diem. A gentle yet steady breeze. Five hundred shades of green trees behind an emerald lake. Gravel roads lining nature’s paths. These are just a few of the reminders of the sheer natural beauty of these mountains and our safe space at Blue Star. It also makes it easier, even refreshing, to settle in for the summer as Lauren and I transition from our off season to our “playoff” season. With that, our focus pivots fully to getting our incredible staff as prepared as possible for the potentially transformative work they are about to do.

To help us with our staff training preparation over the past couple seasons, we have connected with Dr. Michael Thompson—a psychologist, school/camp consultant, and nationally recognized leader in the field of child development. Below is an article he wrote a few years ago on the positive impact camp counselors can and do have on children’s lives. Our intention here also is to share some of our learning with our parent community as we partner together to create a meaningful experience for our campers.


Some of my takeaways from this article are that parents have the opportunity to allow other adult mentors to enter their children’s lives at summer camp in a much more unique environment for learning than at home. That is, campers are away from their parents and so really can grow to lean on and learn from their counselors. Thompson writes, “College-age students possess a completely different kind of authority than do parents [and they are able to] teach character and community, caring and sacrifice.” Camp counselors are cool, hip, and more like older role models who campers want to emulate. Looking up to them, campers will follow strict guidelines, try on new rituals, and make some selfless choices to be an active participant in their own community.

During staff training, we will remind our counselors and activity specialists of the powerful opportunity they have this summer. Further, we will show them how to channel their role to be fully present with their campers, meeting them where they are at and gently nudging them out of their comfort zones. Let the good work continue! See you all very soon…

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Summer Theme…Shine On!

Carpe diem. Lauren and I are so excited to introduce our theme for summer 2015. Our theme is “Shine On”. The idea connects to our first organizational internal core value to Let your Light shine. It is about giving our campers (and staff) permission to truly be themselves. Let THAT inner light shine and be shared with everyone in our camp community (and out in the larger world). All we ultimately set as an expectation for each camper is to be kind to others. Having a kind and caring heart and thinking of how we can be of service to others is one thing towards which we always can strive. As the Dalai Lama reminds us, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

We grew up at a time where there were growing pressures put on us to be a certain way and follow a prescribed path toward success in life. Now societal pressures have magnified exponentially, and as parents, we already are aware of this. Lauren and I view camp as a sacred and safe space where we can provide a sort of antidote to some of these outside pressures. At camp we invite and encourage all of our campers to find their best selves. We try to create the conditions within which each camper can feel comfortable just being.

How do we create these conditions at Blue Star? We spend a lot of time and energy behind the scenes, with our team, devoted to designing an overall program structure and specific daily programming aimed at just this. For example, our campers are given the opportunity to choose themselves what their primary two “options” (or daily camp activities) will be. In other words, they do not just go with their whole cabin to every activity already pre-selected for them. While that might seem quite simple, it actually provides many of our campers the unique experience of choosing and pursuing what they really want to explore as their main focus (without their parents’ input). This is one example of how we consciously are carrying out a foundational philosophy at Blue Star passed down to Lauren and me from Herman Popkin and directly through Rodger. That is, every child possesses a unique gift(s), and it is our mission to help her/him discover that.

Lauren and I believe that it is such important work to discover what makes each of 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. When we are truly happy we really do “Shine On”.

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More exciting news from camp!

Summer 2015 is right around the corner, so we wanted to take a moment to share some exciting news from camp with you.

Custom Climbing Tower and Top Lake Zip Line…Did you know that, just as you are reading this, the final finishing touches are being made to Blue Star’s brand new custom climbing tower? Our friends from Challenge Towers (www.challenge towers.com) have been wonderful to work with, have done a fabulous job, and are about to start work on our new tree-house zip line at the top lake. That’s right…new custom rock climbing tower AND a new awesome top lake zip line!

That is not the only new fun to be had at Blue Star this summer though. We are introducing TWO new Blue Star options in 2015….Dance and Cooking! We are formally offering dance this summer (with a full time dance specialist) and also starting a cooking option (yum!). We are going to be redesigning a special space for our cooking option and look forward to sampling all of the delicious dishes prepared by our campers in the cooking option.

Sprucing up….All of this planning to make options and camp activities awesome this summer has also been happening in tandem with enhancements to our already wonderful site and facilities. Since last summer we have been focusing on exterior cabin renovations in Teen Village. We painted the Village blue and built lovely new wooden decks. It looks amazing! We also have done extensive interior and exterior work on both Junior and Pioneer Girl hills…there are beautiful new decks on these bunks and enhancements to the overall cosmetic aesthetic in each of these newly renovated cabins.

You can expect to see some additional “sprucing up” all around camp. In 2015 our “forever home” will look and feel more beautiful than ever! We can’t wait to see you all on opening day and look forward to sharing the next “best summer ever” with our Blue Star family!

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Last summer we brought “skill session” (a program reimagined from back in the 70’s and 80’s at Blue Star) back with a bang with a week-long Horseback Skills Camp. Our “skills camps” offer campers the opportunity to participate in concentrated skill development programs in key activity areas at Blue Star. It is with great excitement that we announce the introduction of an Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp to our program offerings this summer! We are thrilled to be adding a skills camp option for those outdoor adventure enthusiasts in our camp community! 

Our innovative week-long outdoor adventure focused program will be structured around the core activities of Rock Climbing, Mountain Biking and Kayaking. Learning the technical skills required to perform well in these activities will form the main curriculum for the program. Offering opportunities to work as a team, develop outdoor skills, and make new friends all while finding a love of and appreciation for the natural world is at the heart of what Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp is all about!

To learn more and view our new brochure, click here

To enroll, click here

Please let us know if you have any questions about our Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp…we look forward to sharing more about this exciting new program offering with you!

Happy adventuring to all our campers and camp families!​

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Blue Star Wins ACA National Award for Conservation Generation!

Carpe diem. Lauren and I just returned from a wonderful week in New Orleans at the American Camp Association (ACA) National Conference. Most importantly, we spent a lot of time attending various educational sessions that pushed and stretched us as we learned tons…so many ideas to bring to camp this summer and beyond. While we were there we also were humbled to be able to receive a prestigious award on YOUR behalf.

Blue Star won the ACA Eleanor Eells National Award for Program Excellence, honoring the Conservation Generation initiative we launched with you last summer. This program highlights environmental stewardship and allowed us to put into practice our “programs with a purpose.” Lauren and I believe that doing good (for others and for the world) is the central ingredient in creating the space within which children can discover what truly makes them happy. YOU all did good work this past summer, and we know you are continuing with that good work this school year in your home communities.

We want to be mindful of both celebrating the achievement AND reminding ourselves to “keep going.” What can we do next? How can we build on this? At the same time we want to make sure we place this award in a larger context, starting with Blue Star’s rich history. We have learned that Blue Star actually has won this award for program excellence before for the Camping Unlimited program (pretty unique to earn this national recognition twice). As one of my mentors from the Harvard Graduate School of Education reminds us, “let the work continue!”

*See the video presentation and learn more about the Eleanor Eells Award here… http://www.acacamps.org/awards/eells

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Horseback Skills Camp…Developing Friendships and Embracing Adventure in the ring and on the trail


Our horses are doing it all this winter! They’ve been participating in lessons and shows, winning trophies and ribbons, helping kids with disabilities, and a few have even been featured in magazines and newspapers! We are so proud of all of their accomplishments, but we can’t help but to reminisce about the truly unique camp experience that we all had at Horseback Skills Camp last summer! Our campers (and horses!) developed friendships and embraced adventure in the ring and on the trail.

We wanted to share some highlights from this fun-filled week with all of our camp families because we can’t wait to do it again in 2015!

The days were filled with lessons from CHA certified instructors that provided advancement in riding skills; with ratios of no more than 2 campers to 1 instructor, we could provide concentrated instruction all day that goes well beyond what is possible in a normal camp session.

The beautiful Hendersonville weather created the opportune afternoons to go on adventures with our horses. We went on trail rides all throughout Blue Star’s 500 acres, we met with Blue Star’s Equine Dentist and Farrier to have a well-rounded education about equine care, and we got to participate in many aspects of barn management and natural horsemanship. We even took the horses swimming the New Lake (but, no, they did not get to go down the Zip Line)!

You better believe that our traditional Blue Star Magic was sprinkled throughout this week as well! The campers were the first of the summer to play on the Blue Mat in the lake, and had an awesome time participating in evening programs. We even went on a few off-camp trips with all of the Horseback Instructors! It’s not every week at camp that you get to go bowling and get ice cream at Dolly’s Dairy Bar with the whole horseback gang!

We capped the week off with an exhibition of all the campers had learned by participating in an in-camp Horse Show complete with judges and an awards ceremony. Parents who came to watch the show were so proud of the culmination of all of the rider’s accomplishments throughout the week!

If you are interested in learning more or in joining us for an incredible 7 day, sleep away Horseback Skills Camp, click the link below!

We can’t wait to see all you Horseback campers in 2015, but for now, enjoy the slideshow of all of the happy campers and instructors learning lots and having the time of their lives during the 2014 Horseback Skills Camp!

Click here to learn more about Horseback Skills camp for Summer 2015!

Click here to see our 2014 Horseback Skills Camp Slideshow


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