Pros: great staff (both American and international), great food, amazing vistas, amazing everything
Cons: only getting to stay for 3 weeks (as a Staff-in-Training...evil labor laws)
As a camper of 7 years and just having returned from my first year as a staff member at good ole GV, I came back with an even greater appreciation of what makes the camp so great. The staff, even the ones who don't work directly with the campers, still nurture the children and help them become more responsible, stronger, wiser, and more confident in themselves. As I stated in the "Cons," the only bad thing about being such a young staff member (I live in a cabin but am currently too young to be a counselor, who must be 19 and have finished 1 year of college) is that I cannot stay as long as I would have liked, but just being there for 3 weeks made me fall back in love with Gwynn Valley all over again from a whole new perspective. The children get to kayak in the Lake, grind corn and possibly even help make homemade ice cream at the Mill, feed baby goats and calves, as well as pick organic vegetables at the Farm, be in a musical if they so desire, among thousands of other possibilities. Over half the staff is lifeguard certified.
Please, do not listen to "angryparent." The case with her daughter was an isolated one, and the first of it's kind at the camp. The staff member has since been fired, and I knew him personally. There are 4 head counselors (one for each division of the camp: Hillside (ages 5-9), Brookside (ages 8-11), Mountainside (ages 11-12), and Riverside (ages 13-14)), and whether your child is homesick or just wants to tell a joke, the head counselors are always ready to listen. Also, "angryparent"'s daughter was in the oldest program, Riverside, and thus would been at the camp long enough to know that there is always someone who would listen to her.
Please, consider Gwynn Valley for your child. They will always come back asking you to send them there over and over again for longer periods of time.
I have received much input from the users who have read this review, and I hope to respond to it as thoroughly as possible. Gwynn Valley is located in Brevard, North Carolina, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the name suggests, it is located in a valley. It is a noncompetitive camp (read the other reviews!). The camp has a slanted swimming pool that is divided into shallow and deep ends. It is 2 inches deep at its shallowest and 5 feet at its deepest. It also has a 12 foot deep lake, and the campers must pass a 5 minute swim test to see if they are a shallow, deep, or lake swimmer. Thus, if they are not a lake swimmer, the lifeguards at the lake make sure that the campers wear personal floatation devices (aka life jackets). As a cabin group, the children can go hiking to the Rock, a giant bolder almost on the apex of a mountain, which offers an unforgettable view. There are also many ways to hike to Connestee Falls, the largest waterfalls on the camp property. Your child can either hike on a path or be more adventurous and do a creek hike, thus climbing up the creek to the falls.
There are also fine arts and pioneer and texture crafts, including tie dye, candle making, pottery making, and mask and gourd making. There is a sports program, which includes international games, soccer, mountain biking (for the older children), archery, and climbing (both on a climbing wall and on 40 and 60 foot trees). The camp has trained beliers in this program. There is a farm located on camp, where the campers can play with the baby goats, chicks, and calves, as well as pick the vegetables grown on the organic farm. There is a riding stable with about 20 horses, and the horse is matched to the child by how much the child has ridden prior to camp. There is also a 1880s grist mill that is still in operation, not to mention an Outdoor Living Skills and Web of Life program.
The camp offers free laundry, clean toilets, showers for each part of the camp (although they often get only cold water after the campers wake up at 8 am). There is a dining hall where both campers and staff eat family style, where there is a mix of both old and young campers, along with 3 to 4 staff members present to help reinforce manners and serve the drinks and food. There is an on camp Health Care Center, with one doctor and two nurses (my dad was the camp doctor for two years in a row).
The cabins are made out of wood, and have only enough running electricity for a lamp in the older cabins, since campers are not allowed to bring electronic devices (Gameboys, cell phones, laptops, hair dryers, etc) to camp. The youngest cabins (on Hillside) each have their own bathroom and two sinks, while all of the older cabins have a centrally located bathroom and shower location not far from their cabins.
The food is a mix of American and international (mainly more international on international days where a certain country is highlighted for recognition). Campers will eat anything from grits and biscuits to Vegemite to hamburgers to fish caught in the mill pond (aka trout). Each of the 5 lower food groups is represented at almost every meal (excluding breakfast for obvious reasons).
The staff is mainly college age, with many imports from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, as well as Poland, Russia, and other primarily European countries. In the cabins, there is 1 counselor for every 4 to 5 campers, and in the youngest boys cabins (for ages 5 and 6), there is a married couple instead of two male counselors to help make the transition to camp life easier.
Each cabin will have anywhere from 7 to 10 campers, with two counselors of the same sex as the campers. Occasionally, an intern (age 18) or staff-in-training (ages 16 to 17), will be put into a cabin as well. The campers sleep in bunk beds and the staff on regular twin sized beds.
A normal day of camp consists of waking up at 8 am by means of a bell. Another bell is rung at 8:30 to tell the cabins to come down for breakfast and sing songs. At 8:40-8:45, a third bell is rung, and the cabins come inside the dining hall to eat. After breakfast and morning announcements, campers and counselors return to the cabin to brush their teeth and change for their morning activities. At 10:15, the campers go to their morning cluster, which lasts for 2 hours. At 12:15 another bell is rung, and one of the counselors will collect the campers (one counselor does morning cluster and the other does afternoon cluster) and take them back to the cabin to prepare for lunch. A bell is rung for lunch, and the same routine follows, only instead of announcements, campers go into the Lodge for more singing and to sign up for their afternoon activities. Then comes rest hour (from 2:30 to 3:30), followed by snack and two hours of elected clusters. At 5:45 a bell is rung, and the campers are once again collected. They return to the cabins and a bell is rung at 6 to come down for dinner. After dinner is evening announcements, followed by after dinner activities, where the camper can choose to play jump rope, do a mini creek hike, or play games on the Green, such as elbow tag. A bell is rung for campfire, which is held in the Lodge and has a different theme for each day, including introductory skits the first two nights, friendship/closing the last night, the Farm, stories, and so on. After campfire the cabin groups return to their cabins and get ready for bed. Once the campers are ready, a friendship circle is held in which the cabin group discusses how the day went. Between 9 and 10, serenaders come and serenade the campers, thus signaling that it is time to sleep. The bedtime for the youngest campers is 9, the middle aged ones 9:30, and 10 for the oldest campers.
There are 5 sessions of camp. The first and last (A and E)are only 8 days in length, the second and fourth (B and D) are 2 weeks in length, and the third (C) is 3 weeks in length. The C session is also divided up into two mini 10 day sessions, C1 and C2. Check the website www.gwynnvalley.com for tuition costs.
Campers are not allowed to make phone calls or write e-mails, but are encouraged to write letters during rest hour. Also, there are no TVs on camp, thus creating a safe, protected bubble in the mountains.