Blue Star Blog

New Rituals in a New Year

Carpe diem. Waking up this morning, I felt a mix of bittersweet emotions rushing in all at once. While this complex feeling did not catch me off guard today, it nevertheless retained its initial punch. Rather than getting stuck I chose to tend to one of my new pandemic rituals. Before checking on our kids to ensure they were up and beginning their weekday morning routines, I had created just enough time and space for me to take care of myself. For no more than ten to fifteen minutes I got to work with my makeshift yoga, stretching and mostly mindfulness-based session in the kids’ playroom. Watching my thoughts pop like microwave popcorn, I worked to not let each one sweep me away for too long. From pose to stretch I kept returning to a focus on my breathing. When the family noise entered the frame I was ever so slightly more grounded and ready for the day.

In her recent New York Times article, Pandemic-Proof Your Habits, Kate Murphy urges her readers to lean into pandemic life with an openness and curiosity around finding new rituals and routines to buoy ourselves for the daily journey. She paints a picture of what the research tells us about how our brains have evolved both to help us survive on the most basic level and also to find meaning on a deeper level. In fact, it is the very rituals and routines we perform regularly that anchor us. Further, it is not even the actual behaviors in and of themselves that help us feel safe; rather, it is the regularity of practicing them (subconsciously or consciously) that provides the comfort. One of the reasons many of us are feeling an individual and collective sense of grief around the holiday season that just passed is that our pre-pandemic rituals have been thrown out the window. Here is where the opportunity lies: we can create new rituals that work for us right now.

A professor of neuroscience at the University College London, Karl Friston, says, “our brains are statistical organs that are built simply to predict what will happen next.” In other words, we condition our minds to minimize surprise. Whether it’s the way you make your coffee in the morning or the weekly Pilates class you attend, there are many things we do to help mitigate the difference between our expectations and reality. Although we can not control everything (or really not very much at all in the big picture), we absolutely can exert control over our rituals and routines. When our brains are freed up to not have to consider anew every single choice we make every day, we conserve more brainpower for higher order thinking which encompasses finding meaning in life. Last summer at camp our programming team worked smarter to build in new rituals that both were safely following our Covid-19 protocols and were fully honoring many long time traditions. For example, Color War took place over two consecutive Sundays, with the spirited competition kept within each of the twelve unit-cohorts of Blue Star. This Color War featured a second unique break out to kick start the second Sunday’s events; we even had a professional outdoor stage built on the lower athletic field for the final Sunday’s song fest where each unit-cohort sat separately in their socially distanced spaces. A camp-wide program; re-imagined during the pandemic.

One new Blue Star ritual this past winter break was our “Blue Star Virtual Winter WildCard Day.” We hope the new experience gave campers, parents and staff creative ways to connect with one another and connect with some camp favorite activities. As we begin 2021 we look forward to connecting with all of you soon…l’chaim to a brighter & sweeter New Year!

A Way Forward…

Carpe diem. Together, we made history. Reflecting on this summer at camp, I am reminded that Blue Star always has been about the people and the multi-generational relationships that form through sharing the Summer Magic together.

During the first few days of super session I was buoyed by the unbridled laughter and joy expressed by so many campers doing the most natural and simple of camp activities with their cabin family units. Playing in the pool. Climbing the rock wall tower. Practicing martial arts and fine arts. Seeing how excited so many of our cohorts got when it was their turn to play on the inflatables on the lake and go tubing on the cable park filled us with joy. Every day campers had opportunities for freedom and wonder in the mountains.

Moreover, campers were connecting meaningfully with their old friends and re-learning how to build new friendships. They looked up to and learned from our staff who became their mentors, teachers and coaches.

We practiced being kind to each other and to the planet. Our Teen Village Green Team continued our recent tradition of creatively educating and modeling for our younger campers how to be kind to the planet. They doubled down on our compost (boom!) efforts and personally ensured that our recycle bins were out all around camp and being emptied properly. This summer so many of us found a bit more time to truly appreciate and be stewards of the natural world.

So much of our time together was a real life PSA for following evidence based public health protocols, making them fun and abiding by them to maximize our time together in our safe “bubble.” Senior Boy campers wrote, directed and starred in a Washy Washy video that became part of one of our Saturday BSC TV installments. We couldn’t get enough of the Washy Washy; for sure, our staff and campers will be returning home with a deeper appreciation for hand washing. In camp’s authentic way it became catchy, cool and fun.

The only way forward through this pandemic is to do the right thing individually in service of our larger community. Our staff and your campers, with your unconditional support, showed how that is possible. All of us took a leap of faith, like the one at our ropes course, and made a commitment to one another. We are indebted to our core values staff who banded together to make it all happen. We feel immense gratitude to our camp families for their trust in us and we look forward to all being back together again at Blue Star in Summer 2021. Together, we made history.

#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