Blue Star Blog

Creativity & Resiliency…The Blue Star Edge

Carpe diem. And happy happy 2017! We hope everyone is enjoying a sweet and positive start to this New Year.

Creativity. Developing broadly as a human being. Independence.

In the midst of all of the transition we all are experiencing, we wanted to start this year with a
re-focus on how best to facilitate and support our children’s development. We are inspired to deepen the good work we have set out to do, remaining firmly committed to fostering kindness, compassion and empathy in the hearts and minds of our campers. As has been a pattern recently, a thoughtful Blue Star alumnus shared the following article from the parenting section of The Washington Post. In it Laura Clydesdale argues forcefully for the unique power of the sleepaway camp experience to help instill the three main attributes listed above, all of which lead to a positive competitive edge in life. Going against the tide of hyper focus on resume building experiences (for children of camper age!), Clydesdale cites wide-ranging research and thought leaders who identity these attributes as actually helping a child stand out in the crowd, and more importantly, be able to stand confidently on their own two feet.

At Blue Star we intentionally set the stage for daily experiences that spark creativity. For example, we have expanded our Arts program over the past several years to add more Blue Star Options within which our campers learn to think and act creatively, whether on their own or in groups. Further, all of our campers come up with their own cabin songs (or dances or skits) as part of our evening programs. We believe enhanced creativity also leads to critical problem solving, thinking different(ly), and even seeing the world from other perspectives.

Our Blue Star core outcomes (self-discovery, building community, and doing good) all lead our campers to developing more broadly as human beings. Each summer we have an overarching summer theme, weekly Shabbat sub-themes, and service projects geared toward this very development. Meeting every camper where they are at, we train our staff (and remind them through ongoing professional development) to see every child as unique, helping them grow through their difficult and positive experiences. Clydesdale puts forth, “Studies over the past decade have shown outdoor programs stimulate the development of interpersonal competencies, enhance leadership skills and have positive effects on adolescents’ sense of empowerment, self-control, independence, self-understanding, assertiveness, decision-making skills, self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality and interpersonal relations.” That’s development!

Of course, the most immediately accessible concept of independence can only happen if we let it happen with our children. Michael Thompson, author of Homesick and Happy (and many other youth development books and who we have referenced before), insists that “the only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out. That’s what makes camp such a life-changing experience for children.” As we let our first-time camp parents know right up front, the initial separation often is harder for us parents than it is for our children. Independence yields resiliency. How better to prepare our children for the rest of their lives?!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/05/09/can-sleep-away-camp-give-kids-a-competitive-advantage-in-life/?utm_term=.b6ebc1d4a465

Inclusion and Our Approach to Bullying

How we practice inclusion at Blue Star…

Co-Authored by Dana and Matt “Fish” Eisenman (of our Leadership Team) 

As we reflect on summer 2016, we cannot help but consider how the 2016 theme guided our daily experience at camp. Our theme, “We are One,” helped us towards our goal of attaining an ideal: a harmonious and inclusive summer camp community for all of our campers and staff. We are one cabin, one unit, one camp, one Blue Star, one community and one human family.

Sometimes the task of community building can be challenging, even at camp where our traditions and core values easily lend themselves to creating a cohesive, caring and inclusive community. We know, as part of growing up, our campers and staff can be met with challenges as they navigate various aspects of their social lives in myriad settings. Testing the accepted social boundaries to establish one’s role in the group is a developmentally appropriate behavior, but when bullying becomes part of a group’s dynamic, it can erode the sense of security, well-being, and safety that we hope all campers and staff experience at camp. At Blue Star, we define bullying as repeated unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a power imbalance.  

Empathy is a key component of our approach to resolving these issues at camp. We avoid labeling campers and work to help all campers identify their role in the social world of camp, providing opportunities for them to make their own positive changes.

By employing empathy as a powerful tool for understanding, campers exhibiting bullying behavior are able to see the impact of their words and actions. In the tech-heavy lives of our campers they often do not have the opportunity to see how their behaviors impact others. At camp however, the responses are immediate and personal, and with guidance from a staff member, campers are able to feel the impact of their actions. As the people who are directly responsible for campers’ social-emotional well-being, our camp leadership team and counselors encourage campers to take ownership of their camp experiences by providing guidance as they navigate these social challenges. The real work of camp is to scaffold and support all children in coping with these challenges and learning from the experience to help them discover their best selves.

Our ongoing theme also teaches inclusion. Inclusion requires campers to go beyond tolerance and encourages them to learn about others, empathize, and become part of one community. Camp is the ideal place to reflect on and learn from all experiences and return to home and school with a renewed sense of self and the compassion and love of a caring camp community. We are always One…

*For more information on bullying, see stopbullying.gov

Reflections for a Sweet New Year!

aCarpe diem.

We want to create a moment to reflect with our camp community on our past summer and wish everyone a beautifully sweet New Year. This time of year provides us with a precious opportunity to slow down, pause, and reflect on where we are and where we are going. What an amazing summer of Blue Star magic we all created together! In so doing we have been working hard on helping each camper realize our three core outcomes…Self-discovery; Building community; and Doing good. As we reflect and seek to learn from this past summer we are asking ourselves a big question (that we encourage all camp parents to ask ourselves): In twenty years, if our children are asked what they learned from us about building community, what will they say?

Hopefully, Blue Star campers will have learned that building community requires positive action. Each of us holds the power to actively contribute to the type of community within which we want to live. If we start the journey with a kind and open heart, then we ultimately will speak and act from a place of love. Beginning with our cabin and unit groups, the process of community building will not be perfect or without challenges. When we assume good intentions, practice forgiveness, and learn to constructively communicate through our conflicts…we will have learned from camp how best to influence positively our home communities.

Since the school year (our “off season”) has begun we have heard so many beautiful stories from camp families about the Blue Star magic seeping into life back at home. One example is from a first-time Blue Star family whose daughter recently hosted a weekend “Blue Star swim party” complete with camp games, a pop-up Granny’s store (yes, there were Big Boppers!), and almost an entire unit of campers building community together. Being kind and welcoming to one another while having a super fun time…that’s the Blue Star magic.

Wishing everyone a reflective and meaningful New Year filled with Onelove…L’Shanah Tova!

Summer Theme 2016…We are One!

Carpe diem. Here comes the roll out of our Theme for Summer 2016…We are super pumped to share our theme with you earlier than usual this season. Lauren & I are grateful that we were able to spend this past weekend engaged with our Camp Leader team to vision for this coming summer. A foundational part of our good work together is to explore what our summer theme will be and how it connects to our Core Values and Mission. Without further adieu…our summer theme is “We are One” {אנחנו אחד}.

Blue-Star-2016-Theme

Building community in an intentional way is one of our three core outcomes for all of our campers every summer. While we encourage each camper to discover their best self, we also are asking them to become engaged members of our community. How do we scaffold community building? Think about concentric circles. Beginning with the innermost circle of One Cabin, we extend outward to a second layer of One Unit. From there we ripple out further with One Camp before finally merging as One Blue Star. Within each of these circles campers find opportunities where they not only feel known, needed, and cared for; moreover, they possess the power to positively shape their communities.

Delving deeper into the meanings of the Hebrew word for “One,” I am struck by a particular use which translates to “One-ity,” reminiscent of the concept of unity. At Blue Star, we are committed to showing and reminding campers how to bridge divides, open our hearts, and welcome others into an inclusive community in which everyone is accepted.

As always, our camp programs and projects will be centered around the concept of “tikkun olam,” of healing the “one world” we all share. Our summer theme for 2016 hopes to inspire a spirit of civic engagement as well as a deeper understanding of the universal “one-ness” that connects all people. Lauren & I hope that our campers will connect to each other and the world around them in ways that honor and highlight inclusiveness, understanding, and open-heartedness.

We are One…“One love, One heart” and one Blue Star family!

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.

http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-secret-ingredient-of-summer-camp-magic/?utm_source=Tues+Oct+13n*&utm_campaign=Tues+Oct+13&utm_medium=email

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.

Here's to a new season!

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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!

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…

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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!

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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…

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.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/parenting/2012/05/30/why-camp-counselors-can-out-parent-parents/?_r=0&referrer

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…