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…

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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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Face-to-Face Time: What about screen time?!

Carpe diem.  With winter break on the horizon Lauren & I wanted to share our evolving thoughts on technology with our camp community. Our children will be home for the holidays for a week or two, soaking up much needed re-charging and decompression time. Parents will be faced even more with the question of how much “screen time” to allow. Full disclosure: While our Eli is only two and a half years old, we already face that very real question. Eli knows how to work an iPad and iPhone; that seems wild to me! Lauren & I have to set boundaries around how much time he gets to watch his (PBS Kids only) shows and play with his Wheels on the Bus app. This too is our dilemma.

One of our summer leadership team members recently submitted his thesis for his M.Ed. He chose to focus on the powerful emotional intelligence education that campers learn at Blue Star (of course, Lauren & I are deeply honored). He even quotes from Herman Popkin’s book, Once Upon A Summer. Paraphrasing his thesis liberally, technological frills distract a person from living life fully awake.

Thoreau echoes this idea: “with a hundred ‘modern improvements:’ there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance…. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” Thoreau, [Vol 4] Walden, 57

At Blue Star we have the increasingly rare opportunity to provide a safe space for children to really BE PRESENT with other children (and older mentors in our incredible camp staff). They can engage directly in “face-to-face” time, learning how to navigate the labyrinth of social dynamics and how to read social cues from their peers. Do they need their screens in this setting? Do their screens help them discover their best selves, build intentional community, and do good?

We leave you with more questions than answers and another article (and short podcast) that we have found to be instructive…

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Conservation Generation Art Projects!

IMG_9388Check out this amazing slideshow documenting the art projects made by our campers and staff this past summer as part of our participation as the pilot camp for the Conservation Generation program! Read on to learn more about these art projects, which highlight water conservation and speak to our camp’s deep commitment to environmental stewardship.

This summer at Blue Star, our campers created….

Rain barrels –Senior Girl campers designed and painted rain barrels to be used for rain water collection at camp.

Rain chains – Andrew “Pottery” made collection pots out of clay and our Pioneer Girl campers painted and glazed the items. Members of our staff purchased chain material, connected the pots together and hung them.

Two of the barrels were used with the rain chain to collect water for the purpose of watering our camp’s living wall. 

Water Colors Paintings – Campers used collected rain water to do abstract and landscape paintings of our camp’s beautiful scenery.

Photo-collage triptych – Jaime “Photography” and campers in her option took pictures of water on camp and then photo-collaged them on wooden boards.

Screen print water drop tees with corresponding personal statement piece (Multi-media collage).

Teen Village campers screen-printed tees (a single rain drop design) with the help of a visiting artist, Lia Naor. Campers also wrote their own personal “statement” about water conservation (why it is important, what it means to them, ways to conserve, etc). The drop on the tee is the symbol of that statement; when they wear the shirts, they represent that idea to the world. Statements were documented in a collage piece (on wood) that is currently hanging in Joe’s Place.

Art Installation…Water drops and Umbrellas

An interactive “public art” installation was created by campers with help of visiting artist, Lia Naor and members of our staff. The goal was to create a beautiful and thought-provoking, “statement piece” that would grab the attention of our camp community, encourage all of us to see the world from a different perspective and to feel inspired and empowered about conserving our natural resources.

PB Public Service Announcement about Water Conservation (video project), created by Pioneer Boys. Pioneer Boy campers made wonderfully funny and cute “PSA’s” to encourage good practices regarding water conservation at camp and at home.

Our campers and staff can and do make the world a better place, a core value of the Conservation Generation program and Blue Star. We are so proud of our Blue Star family for helping to “heal the world” with these acts of conservation and creativity!





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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 ( 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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