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.

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

 

Eco Vision 2020

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!