Jessica is our Volunteer Manager!

January 22nd, 2016

We are excited to announce that Jessica Baroff will be our first ever volunteer manager! We know she will help us greatly improve the value of the Orc experience for our volunteers. For the last six summers, Jessica has been a general counselor with the Hobbits and Baggins and a bus counselor at the Duke stop. While her work with the campers is exemplary and reflective of her deep understanding of child development as well as her commitment to her future career as a first grade teacher, Jessica’s interest in teaching and mentoring young teens is an embodiment not only of her love for Camp Riverlea, but also her recognition of the lasting importance camp has for everyone in the community. The Orcs who have worked closely with Jessica have become outstanding junior counselors and always end their summer having learned skills applicable beyond the borders of Riverlea’s property.


We are grateful and excited that Jessica will be an integral part in the development of this program, and the principal person in its daily implementation throughout the summer. In the months that follow, she will work closely with us to design a teen leadership and CIT program that teaches our volunteers not only the specific things that great leaders do and say to be considered respectful, caring, flexible, inclusive, good at listening, creative, etc., but also how to further develop these skills (and many others) on their own for the rest of their lives.

Jess GunFingers
The development and evolution of this program is currently underway. Already we have learned from many excellent programs at day and overnight camps across the U.S. and Canada, and will continue to seek out the ideas that will be most successful at Riverlea. Our excitement for the program continues to spread as we gain a more complete sense of what the implementation and growth of the program will look like, the ways in which initial training and continuous mentorship will improve, and the possible outcomes we — and our volunteers! — can expect. Please join all of us at camp in our hope and excitement for this new program.

New activity: PERFORMANCES

November 15th, 2015

More changes are coming to Riverlea in 2016! Through conversations with campers and counselors, and in various responses from parents via our anonymous online feedback forms, we began a conversation and eventually decided to collapse music and drama into a single department now called ‘performances’.

This has been a gradual process, one that we started before last summer when we decided to teach camp songs during all-camp morning and afternoon assemblies. This was part of a broader effort to strengthen our all-camp community, as well as to give new and younger campers more exposure and time to learn the songs that are part of Riverlea tradition and spirit. Moreover, we ask all counselors to help teach songs. This allows them to experience what we ask of the campers: to work together, to showcase their strengths, to venture outside their comfort zones and challenge themselves, and to step aside so others may have the time and space to do the same. Teaching and learning songs during assemblies will continue 2016 and beyond.

What we learned from conversations with campers is that music class oftentimes feels like something they do in school (and that this makes it less fun). Without disregarding the importance of camp tradition and the role it plays in feeling connected to a broader community, our goal was to reimagine a program broad enough in its implementation, but specific enough in its goals to allow counselors to easily guide the development of a group performance project that not only showcases each camper’s strengths (helping them feel efficacious and confident in themselves), but also challenges each camper to step outside her or his comfort zone (encouraging them to grow).

It is along the lines of challenge and teamwork that we decided to refocus our drama and music departments on collaborative performances. While teaching campers about the requisite skills of stage presence, projection, expression, motion, collaboration, role-taking, timing, creativity, improvisation, etc., we can structure the development of each performance around the strengths and growth of each camper. And, at some point during the last week of each session, each group will have the opportunity to perform their project.

I look forward to what our campers can come up with: song parodies, skits, musicals, silent films, choreographed dances, improv sketches, or whatever else they decide (or happen) to create, and to see the creative, collaborative, and challenging journey they have to take in order to get there.

New position at camp!

October 20th, 2015

Posted by Ben Harris

We are adding a brand new position at camp! The primary focus for this new person will be the continuous training and mentorship of the orcs, our counselors-in-training. We want this person to be a dedicated resource for orcs, someone they can come to with questions, concerns, or ideas, but also someone they can rely on to understand their individual strengths and weaknesses and provide them with meaningful support and constructive feedback as to how they can continuously improve and be more effective in their role at camp. Such constant feedback and support will undoubtedly accelerate the rate at which orcs acquire and practice new skills, help them to feel and become more efficacious in their work, and bolster aspects of  their confidence necessary to more effectively lead campers at camp (and, more generally, groups of people in other settings).

Beyond that, we are also in the process of developing a clearly articulated teen leadership program at camp. This is a brand new aspect of the orc program, and will help them to understand specific camp-related behaviors (for example: patiently and carefully building a relationship with a shy camper; being silly in a skit in front of the whole camp; asking critical questions) as generalized principles (being a good leader for everyone; challenging yourself; how to appropriately ask for and receive constructive feedback, etc.). In the same way that we work with staff to understand their responsibilities at camp as generalizable to life beyond Riverlea, we want to help the orcs develop an understanding of and be able to articulate the value of work at camp as it relates to broader workplace, interpersonal, and life skills.

This value of this new position can not be understated. For the first time, there will be a specific person whose first priority is supporting and mentoring our volunteers. And, because of this support, the rate at which each orc expands and grows into her or his potential will increase dramatically. All orcs will be better at working and connecting with the campers because of this mentorship and our new teen leadership program. Second, this person allows Annie and I to focus more clearly on supporting staff as they continue to develop new content-rich and meaningful lessons for all of our campers. Our program quality will continue to improve as counselors receive more support and resources to commit to creating and leading engaging activities. Third, the orcs will be part of a more structured leadership program that encourages creativity, increases self-efficacy, and connects them more closely to each other and to the campers. Everyone at camp will feel the immediate benefit of this new position at camp. The hardest part will be waiting until summer to see what happens next.

The Magic of Camp Riverlea

September 15th, 2014

By Ben Harris

Each session, we welcome every camper into Riverlea’s fellowship of the ring. “Welcome to the fellowship of the ring”, we say, placing a necklace over a camper’s head. It was a privilege to help with the ceremony this year, certainly one of the best parts of my summer. I could never have accurately estimated the feelings of profound joy and pride I would experience while welcoming campers, orcs, and staff into the Riverlea community during this traditional camp ceremony

This Riverlea tradition can have different meaning to each child: another reminder about the importance of community; more encouragement towards mutual respect, gratefulness, and interdependence; just a colored ribbon with a cheap ring on it; an awesome colored ribbon with a real magic ring on it. When a camper chooses to wear her or his ring the following Friday, I can’t help but smile.

Beyond the symbolism of the ring’s circularity, different ribbon colors representing the passing of time, the metaphor of keeping the ring close to one’s heart, and the inevitability of camp experiences shaping a child’s interaction with the world around them, the magic ring ceremony means something to the counselors too. Many staff members were once campers, people with a strong connection not only to the Riverlea community, but also to the physical place. Somewhere in the Hobbit House, their names are covered up by those of more recent campers. They have memories of their old counselors, learning to swim in the pool, who they had a crush on, and what the old Shire looked like before it burned down in 2010. I have these memories. They are essential aspects of my strong connection to Riverlea. I like to think memories like this are being made each summer, that everyone’s connection to Camp Riverlea strengthens with each positive experience.

“Is it really magic?” a lot of campers ask me, clutching their rings. Some look skeptical, others captivated. “It is if you want it to be, but you have to really believe in it”. Usually this isn’t a satisfactory answer. I don’t expect any campers to will themselves into flight or invisibility, laser vision or super super strength, nor do I intend to convince them that belief alone can create something. “Yes” or “no” would be boring answers, ones that fail to call into question the nature of magic, the power of belief, and the relationship between the two. I don’t expect anyone, camper or staff, to really work that idea around in their heads while at camp, but I hope it finds its way into everyone’s consciousness sooner rather than later.

My belief is that the magic of Camp Riverlea is interpersonal. It happens on the playground, during activities, on the bus, in the Shire. It happens outside of camp, too, when friends get together to reconstruct Riverlea stories from memory fragments. Those, in my experience, are some of the most magical moments. I share them with some of my best friends, people I’ve known since we were campers.

In essence, Camp Riverlea is like most places. Things happen there that people can later remember. But what makes Camp Riverlea particularly special is that it’s a community of people willing to believe in, contribute to, and participate in the magic of the fellowship of the ring. I am both excited and proud to say that we spent a lot of time this summer developing a multifaceted and longitudinal plan to continue increasing the quality of Camp Riverlea’s magic for campers and staff alike. Riverlea has many magical years to look forward to. I hope I can come back for more of them.

2014 ACA Accreditation

July 24th, 2014
by Ben Harris

Every three years, Camp Riverlea is examined for reaccreditation by the American Camp Association (ACA), a national organization interested in program safety and best practices for summer camps of all kinds. On Tuesday, July 22, two ACA volunteers, camp directors from other summer camps in the region, spent the day evaluating Riverlea’s written policies and daily practices. Both visitors were very impressed with all aspects of Camp Riverlea. They spent the entire day touring camp and reviewing our written policies and documents (including the staff training manual, transportation safety policies and documents, letter to parents, professional inspections, and counselor certifications among many other documents).

Overall, there are seven sections that the ACA reviews at Riverlea: 1) program design and activities; 2) program aquatics; 3) operational management; 4) transportation; 5) health and wellness; 6) site and food service; and 7) human resources. Additional information about the ACA accreditation process and standards can be found here (LINK 1). Additional information about the ACA accreditation process can be found here.

Great first week at camp!

June 22nd, 2014
We just finished a great first week at camp. As counselors fine-tuned their departmental chemistry, they led engaging lessons for kids of all ages. If all you heard was about how much fun (or how hot) camp was, here are some of the things campers have been learning. In agriculture campers were introduced to the plant diversity in Riverlea’s organic garden and learned about the anatomy and nutritional needs of plants. In archery everyone learned the safety procedures of the range, proper shooting technique and form, and started target shooting. Campers tie-dyed shirts and did other projects in arts and crafts. Our athletics counselors led spirited games of dodgeball and capture the flag. In canoeing and kayaking campers learned the parts of a boat and paddle, then practiced new strokes and maneuvers while playing games in Yonder Pond. Campers learned about their body in space, the importance of voice, and played improv games in drama. For most older campers, golf presented a new set of challenges concerning focus, adjustment, persistence, and patience as they tried their hands at swinging clubs for the first time ever. In music campers were introduced to tempo and rhythm as they played games such as jazz cat and musical mats. Campers in nature classes fine-tuned their attention to visual and auditory detail before exploring the ecosystem in the stretch of the Little River on the edge of Camp grounds. Each day, every camper has a swimming lesson during which they get individualized instruction and encouragement to improve their swim skills. Older campers receive similar instruction in tennis (though not as frequently), and in both cases, new skills are put to the test during group games.
These are some of the many things that go on at camp every week. We also have special events such as the Hobbit Adventure, extra mandatory free swims on the hottest days, trail magic, and lots of time when the kids can talk and play with one another outside the context of a structured activity. Overall, this first week of camp was wonderful, and we have no doubt the next seven will be just as great.

Donut on a string challenge

August 28th, 2013

At the camp carnival this year, we had lots of fun stations, such as fortune telling, diving for rings, bean bag toss, and face painting. We also had the ever-popular donut on a string game, where campers attempt to eat a powdered donut off of a string while it’s moving. Here is a series of photos of two campers participating in this surprisingly challenging carnival event.

Summer 2013 Photos

August 23rd, 2013

Here are a few photo highlights from this summer. To see more, check out our Facebook page and check back here for more!


Having fun in with paint and macaroni in arts and crafts!


Pulling and eating carrots in the camp garden.


A camper and her counselor at the river.


Campers and counselors at Brandybuck.


First week of camp

June 14th, 2013

By Kelsey Van Vleck

It has been a wonderful four days of camp so far, and I cannot believe the week is almost over.  We got off to a rainy start, but the rest of the week has been sunny and beautiful.  I hope that we can continue to have sunny weather so campers can get the full experience of our outdoor activities.

While I was a little disappointed that it rained the first day, it ended up being a fun afternoon.  We started off with the counselors doing skits for the campers, which is always a blast to watch!  There is nothing better than a counselor being able to laugh at themselves!  Once the rain kept going, we proceeded to do stations in the Shire.  We had music, arts and crafts, story telling, game playing, and even story writing.  The campers seemed to really enjoy themselves despite the gloomy weather, and I did as well since this gave me the chance to be closer to all of the campers on the first day.

The rest of the week has been been sunny, but pretty hot.  That is why we keep water at every department and in the Shire.  We make sure the campers drink before and after each activity.  Each group has swim lessons and free swim everyday, so that is also a chance for them to keep cool.  At the end of the day, the campers have water available in the Shire if they are not swimming and get thirsty playing outside. Campers drink many cups of water throughout the day, and are supplied with gatorade, milk, or water during lunch.  Happy and hydrated campers make a fun and productive camp!

Orc Orientation Day

May 21st, 2013

This is the first post by Kelsey Van Vleck, this year’s assistant program director. She’s a former athletics and canoeing counselor and is really excited to be back at Riverlea this year. Look for more posts from Kelsey throughout the summer!

All year, I have been anticipating the start of camp, and when Julia called me to say we needed to start preparing, I was super excited!  One of the first things we worked on together was preparing for the Orc orientation day (or “Orcientation” as we like to call it).  At Riverlea, the counselors-in-training are called Orcs, and they are assigned to a group of campers for a whole session to safely bring campers to activities and to assist counselors.  After student teaching high school, I felt I had some necessary qualifications to help lead this day.  Julia and I were a bit nervous about doing things right, but also eager to get to know all of the Orcs.  On the day of Orcientation, I stood at the door anxiously but happily awaiting the arrival of our Orcs.  I remember seeing the first one pull up, and being shocked at how much she had grown.  The same reaction seemed to happen repeatedly, and it was so exciting to see how these previous campers had grown and matured.

One of my favorite activities was getting the Orcs to perform skits on “right” and “wrong” ways to handle situations with campers.  Their reenactments were clever, funny, and very energetic.  I loved how the Orcs were so in tune with typical camper behaviors and responses, and it has given me a lot of comfort seeing how they seemed to be really excited about camp starting.  It was also a great opportunity when the Orcs were split into four groups and were each assigned a specific camper age group.  As I walked by, I could hear them really brainstorming and doing a wonderful job pinpointing characteristics of campers at different ages.  They seemed to remember a lot about being campers themselves, and were able to correlate that with how other campers may act, feel, or think.

The Orcs were also alert and patient during the parts that were less fun, but necessary.  Reading over the packets with basic rules is really important, and they did a great job of actively listening and responding to questions we asked them.  The bullying part of the packet probably was the most interesting and successful part of the reading.  I was surprised at how much the Orcs had to say about their views on bullying and ways to prevent it from happening.  Knowing how aware they were of these issues put my mind at ease that our camp will be a fun and friendly place for all of the campers this summer!

All in all, I feel that Orcientation went very well.  I am super excited for camp to start, and I have confidence that our Orcs will be open to learning even more throughout their session.   I would like to thank all of the Orcs for being so great at their orientation, and I can’t wait to work with all of them this summer!

A camp tradition for Durham area children

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