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!
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!
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.
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
When we envision the long-term future of Blue Star and imagine our footprint for the next generations, we remain focused on doing our part to help heal the planet. Being kind to the planet is a deeply held value we actively seek to teach and model to our campers and staff. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Blue Star experience is connecting with the natural world; our lush 500 acre campus is truly one of nature’s gems. We are committed to preserving this natural beauty and instilling a sense of environmental stewardship in all members of our camp community.
Since we launched our Conservation Generation initiative several seasons ago with one of our long-time camp alums, we have evolved our approach to modeling behavioral change and making environmentally friendly updates to camp. As always, our philosophy remains child-centered and camper led. To recap some of what our campers and staff have accomplished over the past five seasons:
We conserve over 300,000 gallons of water each summer as our campers and staff more mindfully engage in their shower and faucet usage, making use of our eco-friendly low flow shower heads and sinks in every cabin. Each session our camp community comes together to actively compost our food waste in our dining halls, diverting over 15,000 tons of food waste from the landfill. In more creative arts-based applications, our campers have led the construction of a greenhouse made solely of recycled bottles as well as several beautifully decorated rain barrels. We are so proud of our campers for their ongoing efforts to realize one of our core camper outcomes of “doing good.” Our individual actions have a direct impact on the environment, and our collective community efforts absolutely make a positive difference.
How wonderful that our Blue Star campers and staff realize the potential they have to create positive change! With them as our inspiration, we are excited to officially announce our newest conservation initiative to be completed in 2020.
Putting a down payment on the environment, we have begun the process of turning part of our land where the Top Lake used to be into a Conservation Easement. In short, the portion of this space that will be under easement will be preserved through the state of North Carolina to remain in its natural state in perpetuity. A national leader in stream mitigation and forest rehabilitation, our partner in this long-term project, Restoration Systems, will restore this space to its original natural form. Two beautiful streams will be reformed and buffered on either side by native trees, plants, and other forest elements. Our camp community will be able to access, explore, and learn even more about nature as we expand our outdoor educational programming around our restored streams and forest. One hundred years from now this natural area will still be untouched and be an integral part of Blue Star.
Concurrent with this project we will bring to life the center portion (intentionally kept out of the easement) of this space between the two streams as a newly imagined Eco Park. Over several years we plan to build up our Eco Park to incorporate environmental and outdoor adventure programming such as the following:
“Glamping” style Unit Campsite & Outdoor classroom
Canopy Zip Line
Large outdoor pavilion as shelter for overnights with special campfire area
Sheltered cooking area with adjacent organic garden
Solidified trails surrounding the entire space to continue growing our Mountain Biking, HorseBack, and Hiking outdoor adventure programs
In summer 2020 we will unveil phase one of this project. Over time we will devote ourselves to building our innovative Blue Star Eco Park, a unique and special future camp offering for our campers and staff. In the meantime our campers will be able to enjoy all of our current outdoor adventure and horseback trails as we always have. All of our programs will be moving full speed ahead this summer and next summer. For the time being, we ask that you “pardon our dust” (if you plan to visit us when it’s not the summer time)!
As always, we so appreciate you joining and supporting our efforts to help heal the planet…Choose kindness Share peace!
the peace and happiness in the individual persons’ life,
and the peace and happiness of even the animals and so forth,
all depends on having loving kindness toward each other. –Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Creating a safe and inspiring place where we can build a community of good people living harmoniously together each summer is at the very core of our work at camp. With this goal in mind, we are excited and happy to share our theme for the 71st season of Blue Star magic…
choose kindness. share peace.
Choosing kindness means being kind to ourselves and kind to others. As the Dalai Lama taught, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Kindness is a choice that we can make consciously in every moment, every day.
Every day at camp provides opportunities for campers and staff to practice choosing kindness. It could be as simple as inviting a bunk mate to join the group in a cabin game of rafter ball or composting (boom!) in the dining halls; at camp we model, teach and support campers in being kind to others…and being kind to the planet. Through employing conflict resolution among campers and scaffolding group decision-making within cabins, we help model and provide a framework for peaceful discourse. Additionally, each week, as part of our camp-wide Havdallah, we recognize campers that exemplify these values with the “Mensch on a Bench” honor.
To further drive our mission forward, this summer we will be introducing a new daily practice within each cabin called a “Circle Up” (also known at camp as a “Rose & Thorn” as practiced for years with our leadership and cabin counseling staff). This daily practice will model explicitly how to share feelings authentically in a group. Our hope is that this will lead to campers feeling more supported to speak their truths and share what is in their hearts with their camp friends and bunk mates. We will explore the why and the how of it being just as important for campers to listen mindfully as it is to share. Hearing where others are coming from helps us to develop empathy and grow kindness in our hearts. In essence our good work is to guide our campers towards choosing kindness which then naturally flows into sharing peace. Choosing kindness allows us to share peace with others; the camp experience itself provides endless opportunities to find the peacefulness inside us.
Living in nature and connecting with the natural world, experiencing a unique universe where the emphasis is on feeling joy and having fun, forming friendships that affirm our sense of self and strengthening our spiritual connection to Jewish values guide our everyday life at Blue Star. The precious opportunities to connect with the most peaceful part of ourselves help us to choose kindness and proactively build a community with peace as its foundation.
In helping to develop the good people that will one day lead our planet, our hope is that this summer theme and the practical ways we apply it each moment in Summer ‘Chai at Blue Star offer a profound way to help transform our world outside of camp. Our world needs more people who actively choose kindness, and from their hearts, share peace with all other beings. Thank you for being part of our Blue Star family, sharing in and supporting our vision for a more peaceful planet. To the good work!
Happy holiday season to everyone! This season Lauren & I are reminded of the awesome power of gratitude. Celebrating with family and friends over Thanksgiving marks an annual ritual of expressing our appreciation. Hanukkah provides moments where we can practice both the art of giving and receiving gifts with gratitude. Ringing in the New Year allows us to be grateful simply for being and for gaining another year to enjoy life.
With all of the noise and cacophony of the holiday season and in general in the world, we wanted to offer a humble gift of gratitude for all of you in our extended Blue Star family. Every day we feel grateful to carry the torch into the 3rd generation of Blue Star leadership, and we so deeply appreciate all of you for being part of our community. In this exact moment we also invite you to pause for a few moments and take in the visual and auditory experience of Louie Schwartzberg’s TED talk entitled Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.
In it we might reconnect with the mindfulness concept of “beginner’s mind,” seeing every moment every day as if our eyes were opening to it for the very first time. We may be compelled to really look around us and observe our environment, opening our hearts to noticing “beautifuller” (i.e. more beautiful) things. Some of us will be transported right back to camp where we more easily can enjoy gazing at the blue sky in the “Cloud bursting” (or more simply put, “Sky”) special option. Or we might imagine ourselves sitting in the open air Elmore Solomon Chapel on a Friday evening, breathing in a moment of calm reflection during our powerful Shabbat services. Of course, being at camp in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains gives us all endless opportunities to appreciate nature and to simply be, comfortable being our best and most authentic selves.
Several years ago I learned a daily practice for intentionally cultivating a feeling of gratitude. I will share it here with an open invitation to everyone…Every night we might take a few moments to think about (or write down) three things for which we are grateful for that day. Simple moments where someone did something kind, whether for us or that we observed. An experience we had that day that lifted us up or made us feel happiness. Again, we are thankful for YOU!
In our first blog post of the off-season, we want to acknowledge that it has been a difficult couple of months with several natural disasters impacting many of our camp families. Our hearts go out to all those affected by the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, and the earthquakes in Mexico.
Furthermore, we are deeply troubled by the acts of terrorism in our country and abroad and are keeping the victims of recent acts of violence in our thoughts. As we reflect on those events, we in turn consider the work we do at camp. Why is it that the camp experience is so important? What do we really hope to accomplish each summer when we have the unique privilege of working with the young people who will eventually lead and make their marks on the world?
Every year at camp we embark on a hopeful endeavor: to help heal the world through creating a peaceful, harmonious little universe where children and staff can discover their best selves, form meaningful connections with others, and ultimately build upon those experiences in ways that benefit the world around them. It was in that spirit that this summer at camp in honor of our 70th season, we created a Harmony Garden. At the start of this New Year, we wanted to take a moment to share more about this summer’s Harmony Garden project with you. It was designed intentionally to be a place of reflection, simplicity, play, and peace that would highlight our goals and hopes for the camp experience. It is meant to serve as a microcosm for that which we can create in the larger world that we will, both individually and collectively, “plant trees, under whose shade (we) do not expect to sit” (Nelson Henderson). It is our hope that this small act or offering can serve as a prayer for the planet, bringing more balance, joy, and peace to our world.
Given our collective intention for this project to recognize our camp’s rich history and bright future, we named the Harmony Garden in honor of Rodger and Candy Popkin, Lauren’s parents and long time Blue Star Owner/Directors. Rodger and Candy have always believed in and been devoted to the potential of camp to make the world a better place, knowing that the magic that happens at camp helps to create the changers, dreamers, and doers who heal the world. The Harmony Garden is an expression of our gratitude and a way to say thank you to Rodger and Candy on behalf of generations of campers and staff members.
Surrounded by old and new camp families during a beautiful Havdallah ceremony in our 70th season Alumni and Family Camp Weekend, we celebrated our “camp with purpose” by unveiling the Harmony Garden. Additionally, in both first and second session, we held camper-led ceremonies to introduce the Harmony Garden to our campers and staff. Campers and staff made significant contributions to our garden throughout the summer. Their participation in creating and molding parts of the garden in their image is, to us, the most meaningful part of this endeavor. We know that the love our campers and staff feel for camp will help to make this garden even more special, unique and lovely as it grows and is shared by our camp family in future summers. May our garden and our camp always be a place of harmony, and in this New Year, may it serve as a prayer for a more peaceful, harmonious planet…