21st Century Skills Through Camp: Think. Dream. Job.

We often hear how beneficial the camp experience is for the camper. Though that is true, not as many parents or staff may be aware of the benefits and life skills that come from being a counselor. The summer camp counselor position is a highly selective job with a demanding schedule and high expectations of maturity and responsibility. We know that the summer will be hard work, but it will also be fun and rewarding. Counselors are responsible for a cabin full of boys, they lead and teach a variety of activities, and they constantly display admirable qualities by living by the Falling Creek Code. For three months, our staff are mentors, big brothers/sisters, role models, friends, and teachers. Is it fun? Yes. Is it demanding? Yes. However, we know that our staff have what it takes, and the skills they learn over the summer are just fuel for their personal and professional growth down the road.

Boys attentively listening to their counselor's instructions during a paddling trip.Boys attentively listening to their counselor's instructions during a paddling trip.

Being a camp counselor is more than just a “summer job” before your “real job.” Being on staff at camp is a real job with real opportunities and benefits. Working at camp is an important educational experience that teaches skills for the 21st century through leadership, communication, responsibility, and teamwork. Few other jobs or internships can give you the same opportunities for growth, or the same leadership experience. Being a tribal leader teaches peer leadership as counselors are expected to be leaders and role models among others their own age. The opportunity to be activity leader or trip leader offers further experience with planning, organization, communication, risk management, and proactive thinking to ensure that your activity is taught effectively or your trip goes smoothly. These leadership opportunities ensure a certain level of expertise in the activity itself, but also allow staff to excel in the areas of communication, teamwork, and “people skills” that are necessary in today’s world.

All smiles on a Linville Gorge climbing trip!All smiles on a Linville Gorge climbing trip!

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (p21.org) is a non-profit in D.C. made up of America’s largest and most successful companies. They put together a list of skills that businesses look for when hiring, and discovered that they aren’t the typical skills learned in school or at an office desk (see footnote 1). Instead, these are called the “3 C’s”:

1) Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
2) Creativity & Innovation
3) Communication & Collaboration

These life skills can’t be learned from a textbook or through standardized test prep in schools. However, this is why supplemental experiences, such as camp, have so much value. The camp experience provides staff with these necessary life skills, giving them that extra edge for the competitive job market, and for life in general. Working at camp provides a new depth of knowledge beyond the classroom, educating through face-to-face interaction in a community and hands-on experience in an activity.

Enjoying a day hike and learning about our surrounding environment at camp's own Falling Creek Falls.Enjoying a day hike and learning about our surrounding environment at camp's own Falling Creek Falls.

Life skills such as initiative, resilience, responsibility, integrity, accountability, adaptability, and teamwork are crucial for success in the modern world. The American Camping Association President, Tom Rosenberg, recently published an article elaborating on how these unique life skills are even more valuable in this new age (2). He explains,

“According to the World Economic Forum, the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on the innovation of the Third Industrial Revolution to transform industry all over the globe, such as: artificial intelligence, the Internet of things, self-driving vehicles, nanotechnology, renewable energy, quantum computing, and biotechnology (Gray, 2016). With the evolution of these new fields, emerging markets will require a novel set of uniquely human skills for employment — the same skills we teach at camp.”

While away from the distractions of technology, counselors and campers are able to grow in an unplugged and communal environment, where all these skills are taught extensively through the camp experience.

Without technology, there's even more time for bonding around the campfire during an out-of-camp trip.Without technology, there's even more time for bonding around the campfire during an out-of-camp trip.

It may seem like all fun and games, but the lessons learned during a summer of work at camp are invaluable, especially as the new job market demands more human skills in an increasingly technological society. Where else can you get the hands-on experience of teaching, coaching, and caring for children, the excitement of leading trips, the communication skills from planning activities, or the peer leadership experience from working with fellow staff? Parents notice the difference in their sons and daughters as they return from working over the summer, and we are always happy when they reach out with comments about the positive impact from the camp experience. Bonnie Snyder Hamrick, mother of prior camper and current mountain bike counselor Jake Lambrecht, told us, “I would like to thank you for the very positive influence you have had on my son Jake. I saw him mature before my eyes last summer. Your camp has left a lasting impression on this young man and he is so proud to be coming back. Thank you for all you are doing for these young men.” Tim Efird, a parent and alumnus, also reached out to say that “Truly, the development and personal growth our son exhibits after his time at camp is noticeable. The fun, the experiences, and the friendships are the icing on the cake.”

Jake Lambrecht, center, as a young camper. He is returning this summer as an incredible mountain bike instructor!Jake Lambrecht, center, as a young camper. He is returning this summer as an incredible mountain bike instructor!

Aside from the many personal benefits gained from working at summer camp, one of the biggest “perks” of the job is the difference you make in a boy’s life. Few other jobs can offer the same impact or level of meaningfulness. During the summer you have the opportunity to be a mentor, a role model, and a big brother or sister. Campers often look up to their counselors and build strong relationships over the years at camp. The bonds created at camp are lifelong, and the positive that impact counselors have can’t be overstated. If you’ve been looking for something more than just another summer job, being a camp counselor at Falling Creek is an unforgettable way to not only create memories and make an impact this summer, but also to experience personal growth and set a professional foundation of 21st century skills.

If you’re interested in an experience that will grow you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, we encourage you to visit our website for more application information (https://www.fallingcreek.com/staff)

Author: Annie Pharr

Campers often look up to their counselors and build strong relationships over the years at camp.Campers often look up to their counselors and build strong relationships over the years at camp.
"twinning" during a game of frisbee golf!
One of our Directors, Sam, showing that camp is good clean fun!One of our Directors, Sam, showing that camp is good clean fun!

References & Resources

(1) Pritikin, A. (2015, January 13). Camp: The Ultimate 21st Century Skills Learning Environment. Retrieved from https://www.acacamps.org/news-publications/blogs/camp-connection/camp-ultimate-21st-century-skills-learning-environment

(2) Rosenberg, T. (2018, November). World-Class Career Development. Retrieved from https://www.acacamps.org/resource-library/camping-magazine/world-class-career-development?fbclid=IwAR2SP6SjW7U-7ajvQlTfDAFQTB1qyhUXrHRjLzZAq2VsEqsequvNWuDDx2M

Gray, A. (2016, January 19). The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/
Johnson, L. F. (2016, May). Tackle Your Camp Counselor Job with an Internship Mindset. Retrieved from https://www.acacamps.org/resource-library/camping-magazine/tackle-your-camp-counselor-job-internship-mindset

Millard, K. (2016, November 9). The Unsung Benefits of Being a Camp Counselor. Retrieved from http://www.acanewengland.org/families-public/smore-about-camp-a-blog-for-camp-families/the-unsung-benefits-of-being-a-camp-counselor

Shreckhise, E. D., Camp America. (2016, March 15). Top 3 reasons to be a camp counselor. Retrieved from https://www.campamerica.co.uk/explore/blog/top-3-reasons-to-be-a-camp-counselor

Comment (1)

Boy! What a great idea!

Boys’ laughter rings out across the Green River Valley. Then you see them, a blur of sweaty bodies — sprinting, climbing, riding, splashing, singing, shooting, hiking, paddling — until there’s no energy left and they collapse in their cabins. And do it all over the next day. This is Falling Creek Camp.

To the camper, to the casual onlooker, it’s a seemingly magical utopia where everything runs like clockwork, there’s always a fresh coat of paint, cool new stuff is added constantly, and endless hours of sheer fun and positive vibes are doled out from a bottomless reservoir. But it didn’t start out that way.

In fact, the story of how it did start is almost as good as the stories its founder used to tell by the campfire — stories of sacrifice, heroism, and redemption. This is the story of the camp… that almost wasn’t.

It would be appropriate to say that Jim Miller (James Miller III) went out on a limb to start Falling Creek camp in 1969. It would probably be more appropriate to say it was the gamble of a lifetime.It would be appropriate to say that Jim Miller (James Miller III) went out on a limb to start Falling Creek camp in 1969. It would probably be more appropriate to say it was the gamble of a lifetime.

Raised by a coal miner in Madisonville, Kentucky, Jim (Jimdaddy, as many affectionately called him) was acquainted with hard labor and didn’t even know what a camp was until later in life. His ticket out of the coal mines came when the head football coach at the University of Kentucky, the late Bear Bryant, recruited him and offered him a full scholarship as a lineman. After a year at University, when Jimdaddy didn’t keep his grade point average high enough, he became eligible for military service and was drafted for the Korean War.

Fortunately for Jimdaddy, football saved him once again when he was selected to play for the Army team, which he did for two years before returning to the University of Kentucky. He soon met a young lady by the name of Elizabeth (Libby) Hannah, whose great grandfather, Joseph Sevier, had founded Camp Greystone for girls in Tuxedo, North Carolina, in 1920.

Joe founded Greystone as the fulfillment of a longtime dream after his career as a Presbyterian minister. He was the executive pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia. A church known to be a center of political power — a big deal in the south. He gave up that prestigious job in order to start Camp Greystone, because he thought camp would be a better, more exciting, more productive platform for spreading the
Good News to young people.

Babies, Corporate Life, and the Prospect of Camp

Libby and Jimdaddy married in the summer of 1959. Jimdaddy excelled in corporate sales with various companies, including Proctor & Gamble, while Libby kept the home; prepared for their first child, Kathryn (Katie) in 1961; and continued to make the trek back to Tuxedo in the summers to work at Greystone.

After several years passed, and several more children were added to the Miller family — including Jimboy in 1963 and Stuart in 1965 — Jimdaddy got an itch to learn more about the camp business, because Libby’s parents were wanting to know if she or any of her sisters might be interested in taking over Camp Greystone.

Stuart, Libby, Jimboy, Katie, and JimDaddy Miller of Camp Greystone.Stuart, Libby, Jimboy, Katie, and JimDaddy Miller of Camp Greystone.

“So there came a big decision in the summer of 1966,” says Jimboy Miller, son of Jimdaddy and current director of Camp Greystone. “My dad decided he would give up the whole corporate thing and do the camp thing as his life’s work,” Jimboy says. “I don’t think he really understood what he was signing on to. He didn’t know the full extent of what was involved.”

In order to learn more about running a camp, Jimdaddy spent a summer working at Camp Sequoyah near Asheville, North Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sequoyah was founded in 1924 by C. Walton “Chief” Johnson, with whom Jimdaddy had the privilege of working all that summer.

“The great thing about a summer camp situation is that it is one of the few controlled environments we have left in America. It’s a place where children can come to be away from television, to be with a care group. It’s a place where a community of people can come to be together, and in a short period of time, you can create a very positive learning environment.” — Jimdaddy Miller

Camp Sequoyah banner. It was a historic North Carolina Summer Camp

“Sequoyah had a fabulous reputation and Chief Johnson was an icon of the camping world,” Jimboy says. “My dad had an extraordinary experience working there. They gave him a whole lot of inspiration for what really proved to be Falling Creek. My dad thought that for the camp experience to be great, it needs to be more than just doing stuff; you need to have a platform that is impacting all aspects of what it means to be a man; and the reality of our existence has been made in the image of God — the part of the thing that, as boys grow into men, they need to wrestle with and come to grips with.”

When Jimdaddy went back to Greystone to apply what he’d learned at Camp Sequoyah in the summer of 1967, he was like a fish out of water. “They didn’t know what to do with him and he ended up doing mostly manual labor stuff, moving trunks and helping the maintenance man (Grady) around the camp. He didn’t do much with the administration of the camp,” Jimboy says. “He felt like he needed to make a place for himself that was outside of the girls’ camp. He thought that a boys’ camp would be ideal, something modeled after Sequoyah that could be a brother camp for the Greystone girls.

“I got involved in this primarily because when my wife inherited Camp Greystone, which had been in her family for some 50 years, I came with her to help. My mother-in-law, Virginia Hannah, had suggested, ‘Jim, why don’t you do a boys’ camp?’ My wife loved it. She had a passion for doing camp and I felt it was something I would be suited for, so that’s how the first seeds were planted — and I liked the idea.” — Jimdaddy Miller

“Jimdaddy had an entrepreneurial spirit and liked the idea and the challenge; he loved the idea of building something from scratch that would last for a long, long time,” Jimboy says. “He had seen the impact Sequoyah had had with boys, and the impact Greystone had had on his wife and all of her friends. So he knew it would be a worthwhile thing to do and it would be a good business.”

Jewels in a Crown

Soon, Jimdaddy and Libby began looking in earnest for camp property as they explored the winding back roads near Camp Greystone. “In hindsight, it was just meant to be,” says Jimboy. “It was a very unlikely property, because it wasn’t for sale.”

“We had heard of Virginia Prettyman, who at the time was a teacher at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and we had heard that she owned a sizeable piece of property, so we drove up there and drove in around the top of the mountain, and there, nestled just like jewels in a crown, were these two beautiful little lakes, right on top of the mountain — ideally situated for a camp. And so I looked at Libby and she looked at me and said, ‘This is it.” — Jimdaddy Miller

Jimdaddy wrote and telephoned Miss Prettyman to inquire about the land, but she initially replied that it was not for sale. He arranged a meeting in Boston to meet Miss Prettyman in person. He explained that he was the director at Camp Greystone and that he could afford to pay $200 – $250 an acre for her land to start a boys’ camp. Miss Prettyman replied that her idea for a fair price would be more like $800 – $1,000 per acre, but she did not want to sell. Jimdaddy once said: “I can’t tell you what a sinking spell I had, because I just knew that the Lord had led us here and this was the place for the camp.”

Then the unthinkable happened. Convicts broke free from a county chain gang and an FBI manhunt ensued. “These guys had broken out of prison and were killing people,” Jimboy recalls. And that’s when Miss Prettyman had a change of heart about selling her property. “She just saw herself having no defense up there by herself in this remote cabin,” Jimboy says. “And that upset her mind and she decided to sell out of concern and, in a sense, of wanting protection.”

“Miss Prettyman called me and asked me if we could get together. And she said ‘Jim, I’ve been thinking over your offer,’ and she says, ‘It’s woefully inadequate, but on the other hand, I felt that I would like to have a camp up here and also I’d really appreciate, now with this incident raging around us . . . we were just glad to have some people up here.’ And so she says, ‘I’ve decided to accept your offer.’” — Jimdaddy Miller

Pray Really Hard

Jimdaddy had secured 125 acres from Miss Prettyman, and had lofty dreams of building cabins, a dining hall, tennis courts, a shower house, a rifle range, a ball field, horse stables, swim docks and a rollercoaster in one of the lakes — and open Falling Creek Camp in the summer of 1969. But many obstacles lay ahead — lots of them.

In February of that year — with four cabins built and some excavation and concrete work done here and there for the other amenities — a deep freeze blasted Tuxedo.

“It snowed for four days. Then the temperature dropped to minus ten. This cold set in and lasted three weeks. The clock was ticking. We needed 11 cabins, but only 4 were built. The dining room, not one piece of wood had been put together. The stable wasn’t even cleared for the horses. We had excavation for the athletic field and the tennis courts, but there was nothing there. We were leveraged to the hilt, we had borrowed money on everything. I couldn’t find any carpenters . . . For the first time in my life I’m scared to death, I’m thinking we’re going to lose it all.” — Jimdaddy Miller

A little tyke at the time, Jimboy recalls riding in his dad’s yellow Jeep up to the camp site and actually driving out onto the lake; everything was that frozen. “The project was way behind schedule and my dad was under a whole lot of pressure,” Jimboy says. “I remember him being excited about it, yet scared to death about it all at the same time. He was trying to convince people to send their sons to camp, but he couldn’t even show them a picture of the dining hall because the dining hall hadn’t even been built yet! He had said, after the fact, that it was the hardest time of his life, and I’m certain that is true. There is no way he was sleeping well . . . it was a pressure cooker. I think he felt, it may be hard, it may be stressful, but in the end it will all come together and work out; all you’ve got to do is just work really hard and pray really hard about it, and it will work out.”

Ray of Hope

March sunshine and melting snow meant all systems were go, but Jimdaddy was having a difficult time finding carpenters, because most of the good ones worked for the bigger construction companies in Greenville and Asheville. Finally, he came across a good, honest man and excellent builder named Ralph Beddingfield. Jimdaddy said, ‘Ralph, is there any way you could come?’ Ralph replied, ‘I maybe could come, and maybe my brothers, too.’ Jimdaddy perked up. ‘How many brothers do you have?’ Ralph said, ‘Four. Three skilled carpenters and one rock mason.’ Needless to say, Jimdaddy could have cried.

When Jimboy thinks of how his dad undertook the task of building Falling Creek from scratch, he shakes his head. “It boggles the mind to think that someone would jump into that abyss,” he says. “I can’t imagine. In a big sense, it was like the biggest roll of the dice he ever made in life.”

JimDaddy Miller, Mrs. Hanna, and Libby Miller of Camp Greystone.JimDaddy Miller, Mrs. Hanna, and Libby Miller of Camp Greystone.

To add to the challenge, Jimdaddy and Libby were buying Camp Greystone from her parents at the same time, so they had to make regular payments for that. “My grandfather said, ‘If you miss a payment, then your loan will be considered in default, and we will take Camp Greystone back,’” Jimboy says. “He told my mother and father very clearly that he thought it was a bad idea to start this boys’ camp. He said camps are not a very good business, they take a lot of money, starting from scratch is going to cost a lot more than you think, and I don’t think you are going to find that you have enough money to pull this off. And if you find this is not working, don’t come to us for the money, because I’m telling you, I’m not going to support you in this. This is your deal. You have got to make this work on your own or see it fail on your own. And if it fails you are the one pay the consequences on this.

“So my dad really did put everything on the line and his line of credit was tapped out with Greystone,” Jimboy says. “And he had no line of credit with his father-in-law, and he didn’t have money of his own, and didn’t have friends with money. He came all the way down to the point where the carpenters that were working on the job self-funded the thing for a little bit… I think he came right up to the brink of financial calamity at Falling Creek.”

“We felt if we were going to make a go of it as a business we were going to have to have a bare minimum of 100 campers. The first of March we had 13 campers enrolled. I had built a camp for 100 campers and we had 13 boys enrolled and camp was three months out. There’s two families that represented Greystone — one was the Turner family from Sarasota and the other was the Monroe family from Cincinnati. And I called and I said, ‘You know, we really need some campers.’ They were strong Greystone supporters and so they said, ‘We’ll help you.’ We prayed every night for the needs of the camp and that the Lord would provide.” — Jimdaddy Miller

Building Camp . . . on the Fly

Falling Creek Camp's legendary camp roller coaster into our swimming lake.

Sure enough, 113 boys signed up for camp that first summer of 1969, but Falling Creek was far from ready, and was still lacking a program director. Then a track coach at the University of Missouri named Bob Teel, whose daughter attended Camp Greystone, called Jimdaddy and said he’d heard about the opening for a program director and said he had a great camp man on his staff named Jim McGregor. Jim came over and took a look at Falling Creek, which had an unfinished dining hall and no tennis courts. Miraculously, Jim said, ‘You know, I’d like to give it a try.’

When Falling Creek opened there were signs posted that read, “Horseback Riding – to be announced,” “Tennis – to be announced.” There was no electricity in the cabins and the campers were actually helping build the camp, doing landscaping, gardening, cutting paths, and building the campfire area. “My dad always felt and had a profound sense of life-long gratitude to those first-year camp families,” Jimboy says. “If they had not given him the benefit of the doubt, he could have lost everything he’d been working on and it would have been a devastating thing.”

“Some of the guys said, looking back, it was the best year, learning about camaraderie and team effort. Growing is not easy. And looking back, there have been some bumps in growing Falling Creek. We have to die a little to grow, and that’s been true of Falling Creek, and true in my life and true of most people. But there’s never, ever, ever been any doubt in my mind that the camp was an enduring, lasting entity. And in my opinion, even now I think that the spiritual and moral values of a good summer camp is more important than the programs. And I think any institution founded on those principles will have a lasting legacy.” — Jimdaddy Miller

Under the leadership of Jimdaddy Miller, Falling Creek Camp quickly gained a reputation as a safe, secure, fun-filled camp where values and morals were lived out, where enthusiasm and positive attitude were modeled daily, and where stability and excellence could be relied upon by parents, families, and boys across the country.

One of Jimdaddy’s true gifts was storytelling, and he often used lore and song as a vehicle for sharing the message of the Christian faith. “He did not really put a lot into sermons and that type of thing, he did more with inspirational stories,” Jimboy says. “He would tie the Gospel to poignant stories of heroism, of great deeds done of sacrifice, he taught us that all of great stories lead back to the great story of redemption. So he would introduce us to Christian ideals in an entertaining and inspirational way. Everyone loved my dad’s stories. He would paint the pictures just beautifully and the stories would really come to life. It felt very much like great entertainment to sit through one of his campfire talks.”

Passing the Torch

Boys tubing the Green River at Falling Creek Camp

In order to keep up with their obligations at Camp Greystone, Jimdaddy and Libby sold Falling Creek Camp after having owned it just over three years. “During the three years it was probably always, financially, a very difficult thing to do,” Jimboy says. “I don’t think he was ever seeing any money out of it and I think he was under a tremendous amount of pressure. Plus, once he showed that he could start his own camp, my grandparents started entrusting him with more management responsibilities at Greystone. So he was in over his head.”

Since Jimdaddy and Libby opened Falling Creek in 1969, the camp has changed hands just three times, from the next owners Yorke and Barbara Pharr, to owners Chuck and Jean McGrady, and to the current owners, Yates and Marisa Pharr (no relation to Yorke). Jimdaddy continued to promote the camp and to come visit, read, and sing with campers for a number of years after it sold.

“My dad was thrilled with the success the camp had over the years,” Jimboy says. “My dad very much felt you have to improve camp — both the facilities and the program — all the time. He particularly felt it important to invest strongly in the facilities that make up a camp. Such commitment inspires confidence in the future of a camp and the vision of the directors.

“My dad liked the fact that Yates and Marisa aggressively improved Falling Creek’s property each year. That’s always been the way he liked to run a camp. The camp community really does delight in such projects. The campers love the fact that you care about it and the parents love the fact that you are not just trying to make a buck, you are investing in the place that they love and they appreciate that attitude. Yates and Marisa are running camp the way my dad would have liked to have done it. He would have loved that gymnasium. My dad would have said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s exactly what I would have done.’”

Indeed, with each owner, Falling Creek has enhanced and added new facilities, and increased enrollment. Jimdaddy’s original 125 acres have expanded to 675 acres of remarkable beauty, where boys from the U.S. and beyond come to meet again each summer, and to bond in unity and brotherly love.

Jimdaddy passed on in 2010, but many of the roots he planted almost 50 years ago have become time-honored traditions at Falling Creek, including the verse of scripture that is still recited at the opening of each Sunday night at campfire beneath the starlit sky: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” — Psalm 133:1

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Living Life by The Code

Sure, when you spend the summer at Falling Creek, you’ll have the chance to roast marshmallows around a campfire… improve your game and climb the tennis ladder… dash through the woods on Wild, Wild West Day, and a thousand more incredible opportunities. But did you ever stop to think that one of the best things about being a camper at Falling Creek is getting to spend your summer with a bunch of really great guys?

If you had to pick, who would you say is the most important, really great guy at camp? Your first reaction might be to name your favorite counselor, and that’s a nice thought. But hang on. Think again…

Could it be that the most important “really great guy” at Falling Creek is you? Not because the world revolves around you, but because if you choose to follow The Falling Creek Code, you can have a positive influence on everyone at camp. How great is that? After all, there is no better feeling than making someone else’s day.

Positive Attitude

Campers wear white polo shirts on Sundays.

Having a positive attitude means being fun to be around, living with enthusiasm, and focusing on the positive. Let’s make sure you’ve got that straight, the rule at Falling Creek is to have fun and be enthusiastic. Seriously? Yep, your job when you are a camper at Falling Creek is to be fun to be around.

So, joke around, be silly, and don’t just chuckle, but laugh out loud with your cabin-mates and at yourself, and at the goofy skits in the dining hall. Sing at the top of your lungs at Morning Assembly. Encourage your teammates on your ultimate Frisbee team. Laugh it off if you lose. Congratulate the winners. Have fun out there. And most importantly, be grateful for God’s blessings. Stop and look up at the clouds. What do you see? A dolphin? A dragon? Appreciate the breeze on a hot day. Delight in the cool lake after you’ve worked up a sweat in the game. Enjoy the lullaby of the crickets and bullfrogs at night. God’s creation is magnificent, and you are right in the middle of it. Notice and be thankful.

Warrior Spirit

Campers walk under The Code sign during the day.

Hmm, that’s certainly not a phrase you hear every day. What exactly does it mean to have a Warrior Spirit? Here at Falling Creek, it means to “live with courage, to persevere, and to always do your best.” Not a day goes by that you aren’t presented with a chance to demonstrate courage while you are at camp. Even on Opening Day, it takes courage to hug your parents goodbye and settle into cabin life with a group of new friends. It takes courage to try something new, like taking a hairpin turn on a mountain bike. And it takes courage to stand up for what is right instead of what is popular.

Without ever using the word “persevere,” a camper from Chattanooga perfectly summed up the Warrior Spirit when he described his love for rock climbing. He said, “Climbing is really fun. It teachers you to overcome obstacles. When you’re in the middle of a rock and you have to finish a really tough move, you think, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this. It’s way too hard!’ That’s how life is sometimes, but you’ve got to just push through it. Commit yourself to getting to the top of that one move. And then get to the top of the next route. And then all of a sudden you are on top of the rock. Celebrate and just let go! You find that you can make it to the top of almost anything if you set your mind to it.”

Servant’s Heart

To have a Servant’s Heart is to treat everyone with respect, and to treat others the way you would like to be treated. It means taking the initiative to help someone without being asked. Demonstrating a Servant’s Heart can mean doing something really simple, like putting the balls away after you play basketball or helping the counselor clean up the arts and crafts supplies before dashing off to your next activity. It can mean introducing yourself to the new camper and suggesting that he join you on a trip to sliding rock. It can mean inviting someone to meet you at the lake to swim during the afternoon free choice period. Having a Servant’s Heart means making friendships a fine art!

Moral Compass

Campers have a laugh at our traditional morning assembly.

Last, but certainly not least, the FCC Code expects our campers and counselors to have a Moral Compass, which means to act with integrity, to tell the truth, and to take responsibility for our actions. Here’s an example. We offer a can of Cheerwine at the weekly cookout of hamburgers and hotdogs. We have enough Cheerwine for everyone to get one. Could you cheat and sneak a second can? Of course you could, we operate on the honor system around here. So the question is not could you take a second drink but, should you? No way! You know better than that, and you shouldn’t dare your friend to break the rules either. While daring your friend to sneak a Cheerwine is not the biggest disaster in the world, daring your friend to break other rules later in life can have serious consequences. So why not practice pointing your moral compass in the right direction when you are young?

Here’s another perfect example — You hear a few other boys whispering about a fellow camper. They approach you, wanting you to chime in on their unkind comments. “That isn’t cool, guys,” you say. “Keep it positive.” That’s acting with integrity, even when only a few people are watching. That’s what it means to follow your Moral Compass.

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Free Choice: Camp-Code for, "The Boys Decide"

Remember the days when your son flatout refused to get dressed for pre-school? Fortunately, you were bigger and stronger, so you could wrestle him into an outfit and get him to school, pretty much on time. Try as you might, it was difficult to disguise how frazzled you were when you pulled into the parking lot 15 minutes late.

Camper holding a frog at camp.

Thank heavens for the calm, wise teachers back then, who advised, “It’s important to give your son some choices. Let him feel he has some control over his life — within limits, of course.” Needless to say, they didn’t mean, “Son, would you rather get dressed and go to pre-school or stay in your pajamas and watch TV all day?” The more appropriate choice might have been, “Son, do you want to wear your bulldozer T-shirt or your Panthers’ jersey today?” The latter was a simple, age-appropriate choice, with no right or wrong answer.

The pre-school teachers were indeed onto something. The ability to make wise, heartfelt choices is a vital characteristic of independent, successful teens and adults. Indeed, experts say that allowing children to make their own decisions can increase their confidence, feeling of importance, and personal delight. Child development experts say that teaching young people good decision-making skills is one of the most powerful ways to teach them responsibility and self-discovery, and to encourage them to be successful, happy, contributing members of society.

No Time Like the Present

Camper jumping a horse at Falling Creek Camp.

What does making wise choices have to do with camp? At Falling Creek, we have deliberately structured our activity schedule to provide our campers with numerous opportunities to practice making sensible, independent decisions that have no right or wrong answer. On Opening Day, campers begin to flex their “choice making muscles” when they design a schedule that is tailor-made to suit their personal interests. Each day consists of six “structured” activity periods, so each camper chooses his six favorite activities. With 28 activities on the roster, there are more than enough options to excite boys of all ages.

There are also two “free choice” periods each day, one before lunch and one before dinner. Free choice activities give campers an opportunity for free time. Boys might choose to hang out at the waterfront, catapulting their friends off the blob, zooming down the roller coaster, plummeting from the rope swing, or doing cannon balls off the diving board. Other free choice options include working out at Frank’s Fitness or getting involved in pick-up games of basketball, tennis, Ping-Pong, or indoor soccer. Some boys choose to play in the creeks, making dams. If a camper would like a slower pace, he can sit and play chess with a friend or simply read a good book. Regardless of personal preference, they all show up happy and hungry when the bell rings for meal times.

Camper enjoying the activities at one of our camp lakes.

Many boys bring passions from home to camp with them. For example, each summer there are boys at Falling Creek who excel at club soccer, AAU basketball, tournament tennis, and a myriad of other activities they already love. It’s up to the boys how much time they devote to those “main sports” while at camp. Experts argue that children who specialize in activities too young can get burned out and suffer from overuse injuries. Other coaches believe the opposite, that, “If you want to play at the highest level, you need to practice year-round.”

At Falling Creek, we respect each camper enough to allow him to be the “expert” for the summer. Your son will have the freedom to go with his gut and choose the combination of activities that feels right to him. That might mean choosing kayaking, rock climbing or riflery, which he can’t do back home, or it might mean pursuing his “main sport” as much as he possibly can so he’s a step ahead when he returns home. Boys often choose activities to be with their friends, or because the counselor teaching it makes it so much fun. He might want to try an activity that is brand new for him, because he knows camp is the perfect place to experiment and learn. There are truly no right or wrong decisions when it comes to choosing activities at camp. What is certain is that your son will have to make some tough choices. A camper can’t possibly participate in all 28 activities during a single summer. But isn’t that the way life goes? Boys are forced to prioritize, and what better place to practice doing so than at camp, where there are no negative consequences?

Decisions, Decisions . . .

After lunch on Opening Day, our counselors put on hilarious skits to introduce themselves to the campers and to sell “their” activities. It’s Marketing 101, camp-style.

Campers enjoying Sliding Rock at Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.

After activity skits, the boys head up to the gym with their cabin counselors to sign up for their ideal schedules. Tables are set up for each activity in case the boys have questions. Cabin counselors make sure the process runs smoothly. Once each camper has chosen his schedule, he then gets to choose from a wide variety of out-of-camp adventures. It is not uncommon for 10 trips out of camp most days. Your son might choose a mountain biking trip in Dupont State Forest or Tsali, or a paddling trip on the Tuckaseegee River or the Nantahala. Or he might pick a trip to Sliding Rock or a trail ride on his favorite horse. On average, we have over 100 boys each day mountain biking, backpacking, paddling, sailing, and rock climbing in the mountains of western North Carolina during June Session (3 weeks) and Main Camp (4 weeks).

Checking In

Campers playing basketball in our camp gymnasium.

Parents sometimes ask, “Why isn’t my son choosing to do something other than what he initially signed up for?” Or, “Why is he not taking advantage of the trips and special sign-ups?” The boys are coached and encouraged regularly to sign up for the specific activities they want. Our counselors suggest activity options as a part of their normal discussions, especially during Evening Embers. Cabin counselors check in with the boys, and follow a series of specific prompts we require them to ask about activities when they meet with their campers individually each week. Trying new activities is also often a theme or topic during Morning Watch, Church, Campfire, and Morning Assembly. We make sure the boys know about all the opportunities for activities, special sign ups, and adventure trips. We make ourselves available after morning announcements and encourage them to ask any questions they may have.

You would think most boys would want to take immediate advantage of special sign-up activities, especially the outdoor-related ones. But many times the boys just want to stick with the in-camp activities they enjoy so much, even with all the prompting and encouragement they receive from counselors.

The Days of our Lives

Camper backpacking on our camp property.

With “sign ups” out of the way, it’s time for the fun to begin. Activities commence immediately on the first full day of camp, which means your son has yet another decision to make: how seriously will he pursue his activities? It is totally up to him. Some boys arrive at Falling Creek sick to death of being graded by teachers and evaluated by coaches. All they want to do is “chill.” They would rather focus on the fun, which is fine with us. Other boys want to participate in as many unique activities as they can while they are here, mastering new skills along the way. We love that, too. That’s why we have implemented a camp-wide progression system that gives campers the opportunity to build confidence as they advance through five levels within each activity: Level 1 – Scout; Level 2 – Explorer; Level 3 – Challenger; Level 4 – Ranger; and Level 5 – Warrior.

Each level has a set of criteria a camper must complete in order to advance. The level system is similar to the Boy Scouts’ rank program. Progressing from one level to the next is based on a camper’s effort, and includes leadership and service components. Some levels can be achieved in a few days, while others take several summers. Campers who reach the Ranger and Warrior levels are recognized permanently on the Hall of Fame Board on the side porch of the dining hall.

Flexibility: In our DNA

This is camp, so flexibility is in our DNA. We mention that because, as interests are discovered or developed, campers change their minds. When the boys want to tweak their schedules, they can do so each Sunday when they also sign up for new out-of-camp adventures. As you can see, we give the boys a great deal of freedom so they can follow their hearts and begin to experience making their own choices. Choice extends to other things — if you choose not to hang up your wet bathing suit to dry, you will have a cold, wet bathing suit the next time you need it. This is a natural consequence, but one without harsh or long-term, negative outcomes.

We believe it is never too early to practice making smart decisions, especially in an adult-supervised environment like Falling Creek Camp. As author and speaker Anthony Robbins puts it, “Our lives are shaped by the choices we make. Success and failure are not overnight experiences. It’s the small decisions along the way that cause people to fail or succeed.” We see successful young men all around us!

Campers enjoy the Blob at our camp swimming lake.
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Sacred Ground

On opening and closing days, loyal Falling Creek alumni — returning, sometimes after decades, to drop their sons off at camp — often remark about the relative sameness of life on top of the mountain. “This place hasn’t changed a bit,” they say. And they’re right, in some ways, it hasn’t. But they’re also mistaken, because in many ways it has.

Historic camp photos from 1969.

Certainly, the notion of stability seems incompatible with that of progress. However, after nearly 50 years in operation, Falling Creek continues to demonstrate that what is implausible is not necessarily impossible. For, the camp’s continued success is due to its time-tested ability to honor tradition while fending off stagnation, to progress meaningfully, not just for progress’ sake.

Founded in 1969, Falling Creek is a relative newcomer to the summer camp capital that is Western North Carolina. As neighboring camps begin to plan for their centennials, Falling Creek is poised to charge into only the second half of its first century. But what Falling Creek lacks in age it more than makes up for with its robust pedigree and storied traditions. While such heritage is varied in source, much can be attributed to Camps Greystone, Sequoyah, and Mondamin, established in 1920, 1924, and 1922, respectively.

The Falling Creek Camp bell serves as our camp clock, waking us up, shepherding us to activities, calling us to meals, and sending us to rest at the end of another full day. The sound of the bell is one alumni remember fondly.The Falling Creek Camp bell serves as our camp clock, waking us up, shepherding us to activities, calling us to meals, and sending us to rest at the end of another full day. The sound of the bell is one alumni remember fondly.

Jim Miller, III worked at Camp Sequoyah in 1967, purchased the property for Falling Creek, and opened its gates in the summer of 1969. When Jim established Falling Creek, he borrowed traditions from Camp Greystone, the girls camp his family founded nearly five decades before. Green and Gold competition, a source of friendly rivalry between cabins, and within activities, is one such tradition. Honor Council, a camper-led leadership development program unique to Main Camp, is another.

Camp Sequoyah, before it closed its gates in 1978, shared with Falling Creek both its traditions and, in some cases, its counselors. When Chuck McGrady, a Sequoyah alumnus and eventual owner-director of Falling Creek, began as a counselor in 1979, he remembered feeling oddly at home. “When I arrived at Falling Creek, it all came together,” he says. That feeling was hardly coincidental. Candlelight campfire, a time-honored conclusion to our longer sessions, is a product of Camp Sequoyah, as is Falling Creek’s Native American-themed tribal structure and Indian Lore program. Three times daily, the legacy of Camp Sequoyah lives on when the blessings are sung before each meal at Blake Dining Hall.

Still other traditions central to the contemporary Falling Creek experience harken from Camp Mondamin, another boys’ camp situated along the western shores of Lake Summit. From Mondamin comes Morning Assembly, a program following breakfast during which the entire camp community gathers for skits and songs. Falling Creek’s paddling program finds inspiration from Camp Mondamin’s distinguished whitewater heritage.

Signs commemorating the winners of our camp Ironman race.

For every borrowed tradition there exists more than enough unique to Falling Creek. Wild, Wild, West and Deep Woods Capture the Flag, two favorite all-camp games played several times each summer, are longtime favorites. A glance at the porch of the Landsports Hut reveals a list of names by year; these are the winners of Falling Creek’s Ironman triathlon, held annually during the camp’s longest session.

In appreciation of the importance of nurturing free choice and decision-making in the development of young men, Falling Creek stepped outside the box in a big way. To both campers and the casual observer, camp remains free of the distractions technology and social media can bring. Behind the scenes, however, Falling Creek has developed an advanced proprietary attendance, progression, trip planning, and medical tracking system.

Camper and staff getting muddy in our camp mud pit.

In a world that is becoming increasingly structured in the neighborhood and schoolyard, the implementation of this tablet-based camper management system allows boys the freedom to choose their own adventures — a hallmark of Falling Creek — while remaining accounted for during the day.

For many Falling Creek alumni, the Candlelight campfire is among their most cherished memories. Here, campers are reminded that a single candle — representative of one’s talents and abilities — light the world. Though deference to the sanctity of this ritual remains important, there is value in striving to keep camp both fresh and meaningful. In a nod to both storied tradition and meaningful progress, we have introduced a candle-lit procession at the conclusion of each week’s campfire.

Camper gazing at his candle during our traditional candlelight campfire.

Adaptation of the Honor Creed into the Falling Creek Code; a creative solution to the maintenance of a balance between autonomy and safety; the inclusion of candlelight in campfire on a weekly basis. These are just three examples of Falling Creek’s relentless effort to adapt for an exciting future. There are countless more, many of which are illustrated throughout this publication. Falling Creek’s success demonstrates that such progress can coexist with longstanding tradition. And together, they will carry camp into an impactful future with our prime purpose in mind: the development of great young men.

There is a place in North Carolina where my friends and I like to go, and my spirit never leaves there. -Verse from the FCC version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”

Campers in a tandem canoe on whitewater at Falling Creek Camp.
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