Over the past few weeks, the GROW STRONG initiative at High Trails has given shape and purpose to some of the life skills our young women and girls learn at camp.
Though GROW STRONG is a lengthy acronym (Growing Responsibility in Our World; a Sisterhood Transforming and Renewing Our Never-ending Growth) that speaks volumes about what we accomplish each and every summer at High Trails, this summer we also had specific weekly traits and characteristics the staff have been teaching, emphasizing, and celebrating with each girl at camp.
Our “Words of the Week” or WOW words represent some of the myriad attributes a child gains while at camp. These skills are essential for community living, appreciation of others, and the development of a secure, healthy sense of self.
The first week of camp focused on Courage, Flexibility, and Kindness. We recognized returning campers who were inclusive and kind to new members of their cabin communities. We helped others see flexibility as a trait that allows groups to reach consensus when establishing guidelines for community living or just being open to trying new foods in a new place. We celebrated (and continue to celebrate) those moments when our campers make courageous choices: whether taking an unpopular, but necessary, stand when sticking to the expectations or by just pushing themselves by signing up for trips and activities which push them beyond their comfort zones. We witnessed small acts of kindness everyday: girls coming to the lodge to get board games to help distract a slightly homesick friend, a cabinside setting the tables for the AC’s, older campers carrying weary younger campers on their backs during the Adventure Race, and a thousand others.
Our second week of camp had us developing Empathy, Friendship, and Initiative. As the girls took the outdoor skills they had learned on their cabinside overnights and applied them to horse pack trips, 14,000 foot mountain climbs, SOLE/CORE experiences, and more, they also built and practiced the social skills necessary for making and keeping friends from different age groups, cabinsides, and countries. Developing quality friendships requires a high degree of empathy, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and nowhere else is empathy modeled and practiced more than at camp. While you are trying to climb a mountain, lug a heavy pack, or work with a stubborn horse, the support and caring that emanates from the High Trails staff and campers makes you feel celebrated, appreciated and understood in a way that only seems to happen at camp. With this kind of empathetic support and understanding, it is no wonder that our campers are motivated and full of initiative: from doing their part during cabin clean-up to helping lead a group on a hike to being the creative force behind the evening skit, we witness our camper’s initiative in countless ways every day.
During our long trip week, we sought Resilience, Generosity, and Integrity. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from hardship, and many a trip last week experienced challenges. The snowpack was deep and not only created necessary route changes, it actually forced full itinerary changes for some of the trips. The girls not only embraced the changes, but made the most of the new adventures: they were some of the most successful long trips in recent memory. The campers and staff were generous with themselves and their skills in large and small ways. Our Junior Counselors took on significant leadership roles on many trips: they helped navigate, motivate, and create outstanding experiences…and were incredibly generous with their outdoor skills, spirit, and hilarious stories. Campers were able to see, first hand, what integrity looks like as they watched their trip leaders share leadership roles throughout the week. Staff were honest and open with campers when hard decisions—like not summiting due to weather– had to be made; campers learned that personal integrity, from knowing what food I have in my pack for which meal to staying attentive and focused while “hawking” the horses, is integral to earning respect and leads to more opportunities for leadership and autonomy.
And, finally , during our last week, we hope to acknowledge many small (and large) instances of good Communication, Imagination, and a more developed Self-Confidence in each and every one of our High Trails campers and staff members. Lela Payne (Ridge Leader for Ponderosa and Silver Spruce) led a wildly successful Pirate Overnight during the second week of camp. This overnight exemplified everything that IS creativity and imagination. The campers built a pirate ship in High Tor, successfully survived attacks from evil marauders, and spent most of the overnight in some sort of “free play.” The sequel, like all good pirate tales, is coming this week—and promises to be even MORE imaginative and fun than the last. Good communication means we speak to each other with respect and caring because we know that our time together is short, so we need to listen and understand as much as we need to speak and think. And, finally, the self-confidence our campers will leave with next Tuesday will help them navigate the challenges of tweendom, adolescence, college, and beyond.
Through our Silent Trails, cabin conversations, moments stargazing and more, there have been many opportunities to share and hear how camp has positively influenced these girls and young women. With our GROW STRONG necklaces, leaves, and charms we hope each one of the girls will be able to speak to you about how SHE grew stronger this summer…and how those experiences will make her stronger in the future, too.