Blue Star Blog

#campfriendsarethebestfriends

Written by Blue Star leadership team member Stacey August

#campfriendsarethebestfriends. Livin’ 10 for 2. Forever Home. Growing up at an overnight summer camp and working at two different overnight summer camps has created a unique network of friends for me over the years. I’ve celebrated sweet sixteens, visited camp friends in college, witnessed beautiful weddings, seen camp friends become parents, and I am sure there will be much more “growing up” together in the coming years. What is unique is that we’ve stayed close (and maybe even become closer) though we are all over the country and world.

After each summer, camp friends practice keeping in touch and create a new sense of community at home. The real face-to-face connections that are made at camp build meaningful relationships… you quickly celebrate the good times and help friends through the tough times without judgment. Campers are encouraged to discover their best and most authentic selves. I often say that camp friendships are “realationships.” The return home is always the most difficult part. However, this time apart each year helps us to reflect, appreciate, and have gratitude for the time we get to spend together as part of a larger camp family in the summers.

As we find ourselves in this “new normal” of social distancing, #campfriends know that we can do this! For over 73 years, Blue Star campers, staff, and alumni have been keeping in touch and building stronger relationships from afar. The Blue Star family and camp communities all over the world can be leaders in navigating this difficult time. We all can generate and share the positive energy that we need to keep on keeping on! I believe we will develop an even deeper appreciation for the moments that we get to share together face-to-face and that we can draw on support from each other while we are apart.

And I want to send a big shout out to our alumni…many of our alumn kept in touch solely by letter writing, phone calls on landlines(!), and possibly seeing each other at the December reunion to keep connected in between camp seasons. We now have all kinds of different platforms to keep in touch (including this blog).

So, camp friends: just remember that we were made for this. This is your time to shine. Blue Star is here for you and we cannot wait to actually be back at our Forever Home.

The Art of Wonder

Written by Blue Star leadership team member Stacey August

In our current information age, the power of curiosity and the space to explore questions can be limited. Although we are more connected and possibly more efficient, there is less time to sit and think about “what ifs.” The art of problem solving becomes limited because so many answers are at our fingertips. The art of wondering is so important to keep creativity alive and better understand one’s full potential to affect change. One of the many beauties of camp is that we retain an almost sacred space where we intentionally create time to wonder.

Without technology and without their parents in close proximity, it truly is incredible to watch campers explore nature, their own creativity, and the questions they generate naturally. Camp encourages children to experience new activities including mountain biking, photography, and music. But they even show curiosity in supervised, unstructured free time. 

During Twilight most evenings, campers follow fireflies simply to see where they are going and watch them light up. I spoke with two campers who were curiously turning over rocks in the “Triangle” on Pioneer Girl Hill just to see what was on the other side. Unit leaders regularly encourage campers to “think outside the box” whether they are trying to complete a wacky scavenger hunt or are designing a creative act to perform in front of their peers. Our staff often modify an idea to create entirely new activities from what is around them, such as an awesome obstacle course that was imagined from our collection of lake inflatables. Pure wonder! And the list goes on…

When campers are curious about something, they are given the gift of time and space to explore a question. In a “real world” setting, campers could have easily asked Alexa for information about fireflies and would have spent no time wondering. Further, they may have become distracted by the “next best thing” and never could have figured out the answer to their original question. Being in an environment that allows for curiosity to explore and even think up more questions is totally magical and wonder full.

Curiosity declines over time when we accept more and more answers with little thought. As the lawyer Gerry Spence writes, “I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.” If we want to see positive change in the world, we need the ability to wonder about what it could be. Camp helps create a brave space where people can wonder more freely, alone and together.

 

The Blue Star Green Team

Hi Blue Star families! My name is Emma Zelkowitz, and as the leader of the first Green Team at Blue Star I wanted to share what it is all about. As a Teen Villager this past summer I wanted to make my last summer as a Blue Star camper one to remember for many years to come. The Green Team 2019 was a group of villagers that were committed to coming up with ideas and physical projects to make Blue Star a greener camp. This was our way of practicing being kind to the planet. Alongside Blue Star’s long-time eco partners at Green Camps, working with my friends and teammates changed my perspective of what teamwork and commitment can accomplish. If it wasn’t for the rest of the Green Team (and now my friends for life), I couldn’t have completed these three impactful and amazing projects.

Our first mission was to check every shower head at Blue Star to make sure all shower heads in every cabin across camp had the most eco-friendly water usage settings. This means that instead of the general flow of 3 gallons of water per minute, the ones at Blue Star only emit 1.5 gallons of water per minute. These eco-friendly shower heads are now in every single cabin and bathhouse!

Our second task was to cooperate and meet on-site with a solar power company to see if Blue Star could take most of Teen Village completely off the grid by next summer 2020. This would be a huge step at Blue Star for saving energy in Teen Village and educating the villagers about what is powering their cabins and their summer home.

Our last physical project of the summer was designing a recycled bottle cap decorated Green Team bench that will live in the Village forever. We collected bottle caps around the campgrounds and also from Granny’s where we had placed a collection bin. Some of us then worked together to decorate and paint the bench to present it at the Friendship Service. As our time as Green Team 2019 came to a close we decided, as one Village, to have everyone in Teen Village sign the bench to remember the ultimate summer we experienced.

I hope that the Green Team can be carried on by future generations that are just as passionate as the team of 2019. As a student I am bringing this mindset into my household, and I am recycling and collecting bottle caps to add onto the same bench at Blue Star. Your family can be kind to the planet at home by recycling your waste, trying to use less plastic overall, and composting on a small scale. I hope you have a beautiful green year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt. Pinnacle and the Blue Star Summer

Written by Blue Star leadership team member Matt “Fish” Eisenman

Emerson wrote that “in the woods is perpetual youth.” For generations, Blue Star campers have emerged from the pines and mountain laurel with sweat dampened T-shirts and dirt under the finger nails to look out from the top of Mt. Pinnacle. No matter how many times I make the trek, I am always filled with the same sense of awe. There is no better feeling than to gaze out over the rolling hills and pastures of the Blue Ridge mountains, filled with accomplishment, and realize, just for a moment, that the world is bigger than you thought or remembered. That the world is more beautiful.

In 2019, we have so few opportunities for real time in the wilderness that my annual hikes up Mt. Pinnacle have a therapeutic effect on me. I breath deeper. I settle into the world around me and can “be” in the moment. In fact, the way I feel is supported by the science – In her book, The Nature Fix, Florence Williams talks deeply and with research about the benefits of time in nature on physical health, happiness, and creativity. One study even correlated the feeling of awe (impossible NOT to feel on Pinnacle) with an increased capacity for generosity towards others. As our kids spend more time in class and in front of screens, the time at Blue Star, and on Pinnacle, has the power to improve health in the short term and build a life-long love of the natural world.

For better or worse, I also look at the world through the eyes of an English teacher – and Pinnacle is the perfect metaphor for the camp summer. It takes some effort just to get to the trail head. On the trail, you know it is hard – you grab roots, sweat, and work together. While on the trail, you don’t quite realize how far in you are or how much you have to go. Suddenly, the trees thin, and you finish up a few stone stairs into the campsite. You turn around and realize what you have accomplished – and most importantly – as a group. Similarly, the camp summer goes the same way: A little work to get to camp. Day to day, you know it is a challenge but when you are in it, you can’t quite anticipate what the top will feel like. And then, as if suddenly, you are sitting around the keylog fire, looking with awe and wonder at a camp summer well spent.

Additional reading:

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams (2017)

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Luov (2005)

Being a Teen Village Counselor At Blue Star

Written by Teen Village Counselor, Skyler Stone

During my last year as a camper at Blue Star, I realized the importance and impact the counselors had on my life. Over the years I remember the things they taught me and showed me. I became a counselor to repay that feeling to the campers fortunate enough to come to Blue Star. It wasn’t until I got to help a camper deal with a social dynamics problem that I realized the real role we counselors have on a camper’s life.

We help set young people’s moral compass! The teen villagers are at the age where you can talk to them like adults and explain complex concepts about life. This makes the connection between the counselors and campers almost closer than an older sibling. The biggest thing about camp for me is showing them the proper way to look at specific situations and how to handle them, teaching them right from wrong. As older counselors we are able to share our life lessons and truths we’ve learned with the campers. It’s easier for us to find the words that need to be said, to be more thoughtful. When we have these moments with our campers it is a learning experience for them as well as us.

Helping each other grow, it will always be one of the most powerful and positive things I have ever experienced. If I have the ability every day to help instill a positive value in the mind and heart of a camper and support them in refining their moral compass, I see that as a successful day at camp. I feel grateful every day at camp to be doing the good work; I love what I do!

Theatre Arts at Blue Star!

As we enter our 7th year as Directors of the Blue Star Camps Drama Department, we couldn’t be more excited to continue to bring our program to new heights!

In addition to careers in professional theatre, both of us (along with Camp Owner/Director, Lauren Popkin Herschthal) attended a Performing Arts High School. We know how valuable and enriching experiences in the arts can be for children and teens. Participation in theatre arts provides an invaluable education to our campers because, just like the camp experience itself, they become part of something bigger than themselves. It teaches responsibility to commit your time and energy to a theatrical production. It takes courage to share your talents as an offering with fellow cast members, the audience and community. It teaches you how to listen to others, open your heart, be respectful, increase self-awareness, work as a team AND be bold enough to let your inner light shine. There are so many life lessons and positive outcomes for our young performers at Blue Star!

In the past, we have created our own musical revues that have corresponded with the camp’s summer theme. While these have been well received and enjoyed by all, we know that many campers are eager to “take on” a scripted musical this summer. We are so excited to announce that we will be doing “Once on this Island (Jr.)” 1st session which ties into the summer theme, “Lead from Love”! “OOTI Jr.” has been adapted from the celebrated Broadway musical. This rousing Calypso-flavored tale follows one small girl who finds love in a world of prejudice.

We encourage campers who are interested in auditioning for the play to check out the cast recording of “Once on this Island”. Over the past several years we have grown our play participation from 30 campers in 2013 to over 100 in 2018! We will be holding auditions for specific roles in the first few days of camp. While not every camper that auditions will be cast, please know that we will do our best to create opportunities for participation for every camper who wants to be involved in helping us bring “OOTI Jr.” to the HeRo stage this summer.

We can’t wait to get started in just a couple weeks…wishing everyone safe travels to camp and the best Blue Star summer ever!

Taryn and Eddy

BSC Drama Directors

Failure as our Friend

Carpe diem.

Happy spring & pre-camp 2019!  Lauren & I are thinking a lot about how best to support all of our camp parents as you get ready to “say goodbye” to your camper for a week or seven.  Whether you are a veteran camp parent or this is your first summer, we are mindful that you will be experiencing a gamut of raw emotions around the transition to camp.  As parents, educators & fellow humans…we view our owner/director role partly as guides for all of our camp parents.  To that end, we wanted to share a tidbit of “parent ed” that we have found useful.

This off season we gifted each member of our Year-Round and summer leadership team the book, The Power of Moments by Dan & Chip Heath.  In it the co-authors break down the Why as well as the How of creating meaningful and memorable moments in all aspects of our lives.  One particular anecdote hit a nerve for many of us.  Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, talks with the authors about how she has used failure to propel her toward finding success and meaning in her life.  She recalls a ritual at her family dinner table growing up where her father would posit the weekly question:  “What did you fail at this week?”

Blakely continues…“He knew that many people become paralyzed by the fear of failure. My father wanted us to try everything and feel free to push the envelope. His attitude taught me to define failure as not trying something I want to do instead of not achieving the right outcome.”

Wow!  Imagine if our children learn consistently that failure is not a “bad word” or something to be deathly feared.  Imagine if our children are encouraged, challenged & wholeheartedly supported in stretching beyond their comfort zones.  As parents, we want our children to become independent, resilient & confident.  The rub is that we can not develop these critical lifelong attributes without real conflict or tension.  The growth we hope our children experience happens through the hard and messy “work” of leaning into discomfort.  It is when we overcome adversity that we evolve.

At Blue Star we view our good work through the lens of creating a safe & healthful space where our staff can support our campers in experiencing meaningful positive growth.  It is not linear, nor is it easy.  One camp story that comes to mind is of a Senior camper who all but refused to climb Pinnacle several years ago.  They were hyper self-conscious of their physical size and did not possess the confidence to complete the hike.  A member of their leadership team enthusiastically encouraged them to go for it and leap beyond their comfort zone; after all, the staff member let them know that HE believed in them and would be right there with them.  Halfway up the mountain, the staff member literally put the camper on his back and finished the hike with them.  When the camper became a Teen Villager in their final year as a camper, they spoke at a Friday night Shabbat service about the growth and confidence they experienced over the years as a Blue Star camper.  The original thoughts centered around that very Pinnacle experience and brought the long-time staff member to tears.

We invite you to partner with us on this developmental journey.  With your trust, we believe firmly that we can help our campers become less fearful of failure; moreover, we are working towards teaching our campers how to turn failure into their friend.

 

Kindness Revolution

Carpe diem.

We hope this finds everyone feeling re-energized and re-charged from our high holiday season. With the annual transition from summer time to a new school year, I always feel extra grateful for the timing of our New Year which provides us the space to slow down…and reflect. During this season of renewal, I found myself immersed in one specific chapter of a book that our long-time leadership team member, Dana Eisenman, brought to the attention of our team recently. This chapter, “Empathetic Children Practice Kindness,” from Dr. Michele Borba’s UnSelfie resonates with me because of its pragmatic and highly applicable takeaways.

Citing the latest social science research, Dr. Borba writes convincingly about starting a “kindness revolution.” How do we ignite such a cultural movement? With our explicit guidance, support, and modeling, kids can lead the way by practicing “simple, regular kind acts” that nurture “empathy, alters behavior, changes a culture, and transforms lives.” Further, being kind “helps children tune in to other people’s feelings and needs, trust more, [and] step out of their own skins to understand others.” There was a time when practicing kindness was seen as good and fine, but it was just an extra warm and fuzzy bonus. True success in life did not demand being kind. Now scientific research demonstrates unequivocally that practicing kindness has the direct impact of “boosting health, reducing anxiety, enhancing self-esteem, increasing gratitude, and even elevating happiness.” Moreover, the more kids practice choosing kindness, intrinsically and without expecting an award or reward, “the likelier they’ll develop the skills to succeed in work and in life.” I’m in!

At Blue Star we choose kindness, not only in our summer themes, but more importantly in our intentional educational programming. Two examples are our weekly “Mensche on the bench” presentation and our daily cabin “Circle ups.” The former has become ingrained in our community culture with campers of all ages super mindful of being honored with this positive public recognition. Rather than a more traditional award ceremony that invariably focuses on some other type of achievement, whether academic or artistic or athletic, we focus on acknowledging outstanding character with a focus on kindness. In addition, the Circle up is more of a regular and routine “family meeting” with the explicit purpose of modeling how to safely and authentically share feelings with a peer group. We support our campers in opening their hearts and speaking their truth, while we also support them in mindfully listening with open hearts to their cabin mates.

As parents, we invite you to join us in kick starting an authentic kindness revolution! Here are two ideas you may find useful (I have for sure)…

“Pretend it’s twenty-five years from now and you’re at a family reunion eavesdropping on your now-grown kids discussing their childhoods. How are they describing your typical behavior? And what do they remember as ‘the most important messages’ you told them as kids?” This framing set of questions is what Dr. Borba refers to as her Family Reunion Test.

We know that our kids are always watching us and copying our behaviors. Our kids will imitate our kind (or our not-so-nice) behaviors. You model what is important. With that, after every school day around the dinner table, consider asking questions such as: “What did you do that you feel good about? What’s something nice that someone did for you? What’s something kind you did?” By adding or maybe even replacing these questions to the more usual (my old favorite), “What did you learn today?” we shift our emphasis of what truly matters to us.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop