Don and Carole Cheley’s trip to China

After returning from almost three weeks in Hong Kong and China we know one thing for sure, international travel is an educational experience. At the International Camp Congress in Hong Kong, Don and I joined with camp people from all over the world. There are camps in Turkey that serve primarily Saudi Arabians, & Turks. In Greece, just three hours from Athens, a daughter and her mom run a camp on a the Aegean sea, serving kids from Greece. With the debt crisis in Greece, running a financially viable camp is a challenge.

Across the ocean to Asia, camps in Taiwan, Singapore and Mongolia are doing well, as are camps in Russia. In Japan, camp directors are getting trained to work with grieving children. Japan will soon offer grief camps for the thousands of children affected by the earthquake/tsunami. Japanese camp directors came to a grief camp in Texas this past summer to visit and learn. Our neighbors up north in Canada and down south in Mexico and Colombia continue to offer excellent programs for youth as well. Across the world, “camp gives kids a world of good.”

We also had the chance to go to Stanley Market in Hong Kong to visit with Cheley alum Andy Aldeen and his family.  We love to reconnect with our wonderful alumni.

As soon as the conference was over, we flew to Beijing where we were able to connect with Andy Schorr, another Cheley alum, who moved there to teach English. Andy has a new business for local hotels to subscribe to for their guests.   It specializes in giving tips on where to eat and what to do in Beijing. He treated us to some amazing meals in places most tourists would never know about! And gave us tips about the less visited places in the city that were fabulous.

We saw all the sights in the Beijing area we could in three days, including the Forbidden Palace, The Summer Palace, Tienanmen Square, Bell Tower, Drum Tower, Markets, and The Great Wall of China (about 40k from the city). Our next stop was a grand visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors, followed by a cruise on the Yangtze River and the Three Gorges Dam site, then on to Shanghai.  We hear that another alum, Thomas Demerath lives there, but we were unable to reach him.  Saying goodbye to our fellow travelers on our China tour, we returned to Denver from Shanghai.

Our trip was memorable, we saw and experienced so many wonders, the air was dirty, there were lots of people, and China was a fascinating, quickly developing country with a history that spans 5,000 years.

Don and I loved our tour and are grateful for the opportunity to explore the globe. It is truly a privilege to be broadened and deepened by our exposure to different cultures. We are excited to be working with directors from Colombia, Turkey and Russia to bring kids from those countries to Cheley next summer. Peace through the camp experience is our wish for the future.

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Let’s All Create Meaningful Relationships at Cheley

Let’s All Create Meaningful Relationships at Cheley was the spirit button for this summer. As we looked at the goals for this past summer during the spring, we realized we have a wonderful opportunity to teach young people how to create meaningful relationships. In today’s world, so much of our communication is in short bursts. Whether it is a text message, a tweet, or a Facebook post, people are not taking the time to connect meaningfully with each other. We are even shortening our responses to save time. LOL, BFF, and other acronyms are used to make our short communication even shorter. (I feel my grandmother is speaking through my hands right now; she hated it when we shortened words.)

I love the conversations that happen around a campfire. Boys feel more comfortable talking if they can be burning a stick in the fire. There is no rush to finish dinner, cleanup and start your homework on an outcamp. The same is true on a hike or a horseback ride. Campers and staff have the chance to get into debates, tell stories, and really learn about their fellow campers. Even 20 years later, I can remember listening to my backpacking counselor as he recounted his travels through Europe. These stories of the slotenmaker amsterdam were so captivating that I added a trip to Europe to my “bucket list”. After college graduation, three friends and I headed to Europe to travel for 7 weeks. Our budget was about $30 per day, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Plus, there is no way I could do it on $30 per day now. Prices have increased and my standards have changed. (I can’t sleep on the floor of a train station anymore.)

Don’t get me wrong, life is busy and we don’t always have time to sit down for 30 minutes and visit. Just this morning while Jackson was eating breakfast in his high chair, he said, “Daddy, sit down”. “I am sorry Jackson, Daddy has a meeting this morning and I have to go,” I replied. I could just hear Cats in the Cradle playing in my head.

Fortunately, we have some relaxing weekends where I can sit down during breakfast and we can talk. Jackson is entering the “Why” stage so we always have things to talk about.

I hope each camper and staff member had a chance to create meaningful relationships this summer.

The beauty of all of this technology is it makes it easier to nurture th0se relationships during the school year. Hopefully many of you are able to continue the quality conversations to strengthen the conversations rather than just quick texts. It was an amazing summer, and I hope you are still enjoying the impact of the Cheley Experience.

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Halloween Candy and the Empowerment of Choice

The fall is flying, and it has now been two weeks since Halloween.  I have to say, I am proud of my girls and how they have handled the bag-full of candy that hangs on a small hook in our kitchen right over our best Skining knife we got from the internet.  This bag-full of goodies does not usually live in our house, mainly because I cannot handle myself around such tempting treats.

On Halloween night, as we walked in the front door (before our cabinet painting night) I stared down into two bags filled with junk, I thought, “Ugh, this is a lot of sugar.” My girls looked so cute in their costumes and i even purchased some silver fang grillz to get into the Halloween spirit with them. I called an official family meeting, and we sat in a circle in the entry way. “Girls let’s talk about this candy.  You both have a choice to make; are you ready to hear your three choices?” They sat there looking at me very attentively.  “You can eat as much candy that you can possibly fit in your bellies right now, until you barf all over the place. (I kind of wanted this option to sound a bit unglamorous) You can eat candy for the next three days and then trade the rest for a small toy, or you can eat one single piece of candy in your lunch box until Thanksgiving.”  Ellie thought for a bit and asked, “what if we go past Thanksgiving?”  I agreed to a modification, knowing that with a little help from me, the candy will probably be gone by then anyway.

And so we hung up their little felt pumpkin bags on the hook (when I was a kid we used our pillow case) and hurried them to bed.

On Tuesday, we had our usual morning of racing around the house getting ready for school. Ellie remembered the decision that she had made.  She carefully picked out a piece of candy and tucked in her lunch box.  Kate does not eat lunch at school and of course pressed me on wanting her candy for breakfast, because what does she not press me on?  After some debate with Kate her piece of candy went in the school bag for later.

We have followed this procedure everyday since Halloween, and they have not once asked for more then one treat.  The minute I pick up Kate from school, she will reach into her school bag and get the piece of candy that she has so patiently been waiting to eat. Now I, on the other hand, am a different story and can not hold myself to one treat a day and cannot wait for the candy to be out of my house.  I am toying with the idea of entering the Biltmore Estate Gingerbread Making Contest to get rid of the rest of the candy for my sake.

I, of course, did not invent the brilliantness of giving children choices, but I am a firm believer in doing so and try to use the methods of Love and Logic. It is amazing to see it work with my children especially when I sometimes feel like I do not have the skills to handle the out of control management of their young childhood.

I also believe that Frank Cheley had a great idea when he was establishing the foundation for Cheley.  Two of his main formulas for camp included youth having the empowerment of choice.  For the Code of Living, it was his intention that each unit of 60 campers come up with what they want to live by while they are at camp. It is not a set of rules made for them, but rather a collaboration of qualities and traits to live up to.  This set-up makes up for a magical place and a tightly-knit community. He also devised the free choice program, in which campers, each week, choose what they want to do.  They do not travel with their cabin, nor are they given a schedule; it is their choice.

As a mother, in the throws of raising little people, I find comfort and sanity in the idea of giving my girls a choice when I can.  As a fourth generation camp director, I am proud to continue to help provide a place where children can grow, connect, learn, and experience nature, and I find value in empowering them to choose.

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Thinking of Cheley parents

Erika and I are getting our first taste of what our camp families go through.  Jackson, our two and a half year old son, started preschool this year for two days a week.  Many of our experiences in this process have made me think of our camp parents.

  1. This has been our first experience with all the paperwork.  (“Why do they need so many forms?  Oh wait, never mind, we also ask for this many forms.”)
  2. We have also been busy putting his name on everything that leaves the house (I am starting to consider putting him in the same clothes on school days).  And I have to be honest, we have already lost our first sweater (of course it was Erika’s favorite sweater) and broke a water bottle at school.  And it’s only been 4 days!
  3. I had no idea how hard it would be to drop him off the first few days of school.  I leave him every day to come to work but it is different when he is not at home with Grandma or our nanny, Stacie.  Both Erika and I walked out of the school on his first day very emotional.  Erika got the car and started crying (I was able to choke it back, but just barely).  I thought to myself, “he is only gone til 4:00pm, not 27 days.”  I remind myself that this is beneficial for his development as a child.  He is learning to interact with other children, how to follow the rules, how to share with other children.  He can’t necessarily learn these things at home playing with “Nana” and his little brother.
  4. During our visiting day, I was amazed that as a protective parent, I was already looking at the other children.  We realize the importance of connecting our child with other quality children from caring families.

So I want to say thank you.  Thank you to each of our families for trusting us as your partners in this parenting process.  Thank you for helping us by filling out the forms and writing your name in the clothes so we can get them back to you.  And thank you for understanding that experiences like summer camp (or preschool) help children develop into stronger young people that contribute to their community.

Let the journey continue for us all.

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The Cheley Challenge

Upon the return of every mountain bike excursion, I am drawn away from my desk to the cheers of the campers outside, atop the Cheley driveway.  This 1-mile strip of pure incline is the last obstacle each mountain biker has to face before their trek is complete.  They call it the “Cheley Challenge”.  With each group I am always astonished with the physical prowess they display as they ferociously pedal to the top.  The quickness some campers have in conquering this hill is equally astounding, some doing in it in less than 6 minutes.  However, what is most impressive to me is the camaraderie and support within each one of these groups.  All though exhausted after a grueling ride, these riders still has the energy to cheer on their fellow campers until every last biker is to the top.  I have seen some campers struggling to stay on their bike, too tired to go on, but with the support of the group, they are rejuvenated and power through to the top.

I am constantly amazed at the encouragement the campers have for one another.  Whether it’s biking the Cheley Challenge, summating a peak, or simply playing a game of “knock out”, it is done as a unified and supportive group.  The bonds formed at Cheley are deep and the development of lifelong friendships is inevitable.

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The Dreamers, the Doers and those in between

In 1883, an engineer named John Roebling was inspired by an idea to build a bridge connecting New York to Long Island. But bridge building experts throughout the world thought that this was an impossible feat and told Roebling to forget the idea. It just could not be done. It was not practical. It had never been done before. Thank you for the vision and for the new tip on junk removal .

Roebling could not ignore the vision he had in his mind of this bridge. He thought about it all the time and he knew deep in his heart that it could be done. He just had to share the dream with someone else. After much discussion and persuasion he managed to convince his son Washington, an up and coming engineer, that the bridge in fact could be built.

Working together for the first time, the father and son developed concepts of how it could be accomplished and how the obstacles could be overcome. They hired their crew, got on a loan installments plan and began to build their dream bridge. The project started out well, but when it was only a few months underway a tragic accident on site took the life of John Roebling.  Washington survived but was severely injured and was left unable to walk or talk or even move.  But his mind was still sharp as ever and he still had a burning desire to complete the bridge.  As he lay on his bed in his hospital room, staring at the tops of the trees and the sky, there seemed to be a message for him to not give up. And then it hit him.  He could still move one finger and he decided to make the best use of it. By moving this, he slowly developed a code of communication with his wife, Emily.  He touched Emily’s arm with that finger, indicating to her that he wanted her to call the engineers again. Then he used the same method of tapping her arm to tell the engineers what to do. It seemed foolish but the project was under way again.

For 13 years Washington tapped out his instructions with his finger on Emily’s arm until the bridge was finally completed.  Today the spectacular Brooklyn Bridge stands as a tribute to one man’s spirit and determination, to the engineers and their hard work and to a woman’s patience and devotion.

Much like the Roebling’s, Frank Cheley was a dreamer and he did not accomplish his dream alone. In 1926 when Frank Cheley moved the Bear Lake Trail School from the shores of Bear Lake to here, he was on a mission.   Frank bought the current property and he took his family and some camp friends on a picnic.  As they ate their lunch on the new land he pointed out and envisioned where everything was going to go.  He had the passion and the enthusiasm but had no logical sense of how he was going to pay for it. At that time his publisher, Lansing Smith, loaned him the money and in a short amount of time he had some of the main buildings built.  People in town thought what is this guy doing.  They couldn’t believe how large the buildings were and they thought where is he going to find campers to come to his camp?  He was so proud of the beautiful building that had been built that he decided to invite Lansing Smith to see camp.  The story goes that Lansing walked into the Ski Hi Dining Room and saw 8 people sitting in a room designed for 240.  He stood there and shook his head and said “I certainly got mixed up with a crazy man on this venture.”

The Great Depression hit shortly after in 1932 and Frank pressed on with his dream.  During those years he had more staff then campers and he told them they were welcome to work for a place to stay and food but that he could not pay them.  Frank wrote a letter to Lansing, I cannot pay you back the loan for camp.  Please let me know how to proceed and I will sign over the camp papers to you.  Lansing responded, “My dear Frank, keep your shirt on.  I don’t know anything about running a camp.”

In 1941 Frank died when he was only 52 and in his short life he had accomplished so much.  He built most of the building at Land of Peaks, plus BTE and GTE.  In addition he wrote 42 books on youth development, and was instrumental in the development of the American Camp Association and Camp Eberhard in Indiana.  We often wonder if he ever slept.  Or perhaps it is because he did not have the distraction of the world wide web and facebook.  And again he did not do it alone.

Thank you Frank for accomplishing your dreams. And for establishing a strong vision and mission for us to stand on today.

As we move into the 4th generation and hopefully many more generations to come.  Again, we are not accomplishing this alone.  We have some very talented people on our staff. I would like to recognize our spouses, Kurt and Erika, for being devoted supporters, for putting their own needs aside during the summer to support the fulfillment of Frank’s dream, for understanding that there is an inherent need for Jeff and I to forge on and for putting their heart and soul into raising the 5th generation.  I would like to recognize you all for being here. For filling the hillside with laughter, for giving it your best shot, for sometimes falling and for getting back up.  You are living Frank Cheley’s dream.

Your friends at home are improving their scores and skills on video games, organized sports, splashing around in the pool or catching up on their Tivo list. To you, this month is an awesome building block in your life.  It is a place for you to practice the I can instead of the I can’t.

You might have thought to yourself, I miss my mama too much, I can’t do this and I am going to die if my family does not drive up that road right now and pick me up, or this horse is big and scary and I have no idea what he is going to do next or what he is capable of, or I can’t breath up this mountain where is a taxi or I am not quite sure if I like this person that sleeps next to me, maybe if I sleep in the opposite direction it will make me feel better.

But you are conquering it all as we speak and you will come out a better person for it. As you have settled in you have realized that you can function out from under the wings of your parents, that you can manage that horse, that not only can you breath up the mountain but that you can get to some amazing places on your own 2 feet and that you can learn to live in a community with all different kinds of people.  This month is a building block in the development of you.

What are you going to dream of? What are you going to make possible?  You are the future.  Whether you are that crazy dreamer, the intelligent mastermind, the dedicated supporter, or the hard worker, you are the future.  So I hope by the end of the term the “I can” thoughts in your head will last you through the year.  And maybe someday you will come back to visit and you will tell us the amazing things you have done with your life. Again, thanks for being here.

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Born to be Wild

Like a true Nature’s Child,

We were born, born to be Wild.

-       Mars Bonfire

After a day without Internet, we are once again connected and uploading photos.  I apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience. Being the Online Editor, it is difficult to work without… well, without being online, luckily the marketing part was attended by san diego internet marketing company and Joel House SEO so don’t worry there. However, I must say that it was nice being unplugged for a day.  It gave me a chance to spend more time at programs and appreciate the moments I spend outdoors.

In the morning, I journeyed to Tee Pee Village, where the Chipeta girls prepared me breakfast complete with fruit salad, freshly fried donuts, sausage, and delicious omelets.  It was the finest breakfast I have enjoyed at camp thus far.  I then traveled down the creek, where I found the Lower Ski Hi boys constructing the FWJ Dam (Fun With Jack Dam).  Counselor Jack Thomas was leading his boys in this ambitious project.  Armed with rocks, sticks, and mud, these boys worked diligently and passionately at redirecting the flow of water.  Later, I came across a group of Chipeta girls who turned out to be the same group that welcomed me to breakfast at Tee Pee Village.  They were hard to identify, for they had just returned from “Dirty Derby” and were covered from head to toe in mud.

There is no substitute for the feeling of the brisk waters of a creek and the mud between your toes. We must be careful not to become so reliant on technology, in which we become disconnected from our natural world.  As it has been written, we were born to be Wild.

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Farewell to First term

Another term has ended, and for some, concluding their final days at Cheley.  For others, it is the start of a new summer tradition.  For all, it is has been an experience that will be cherished forever.  It has been an exciting an emotional weekend with an astonishing horseshow and final banquet.  Emotions ran high as campers expressed their love for Cheley and for one another.  I have enjoyed working with your children and watching them grow.  It is impressive to see new faces establish themselves in a new environment and push themselves to new heights.  Thank you to the photographer team.

“As a new addition to the multimedia/photography team this year, I have come to know an amazing and tight-knit community of staff and campers. Every young face was new to me at the beginning of the term, and watching the progress of each group was truly rewarding for me. The young boys and girls of Cheley Camps all went through amazing journeys of growth, both personally and as groups. I watched first year campers overcome the fear of heights and horses, receiving patches and recognitions by the end of camp in areas that they never would have tried at home. Cheley pushes every youth to overcome his or her own obstacles, teaching a lesson that is deeper than the achievement itself – I often heard campers proudly exclaiming that after peaking a mountain, they knew they could accomplish whatever goals they’d been putting off at home. An added benefit to this personal growth is the ability to build a strong team, and this was seen most clearly in the final day of camp. The group dynamic here gave girls a unique bonding experience, living and working together to undertake camp as well as build each other’s self esteem. Secluded in girls’ camp, shy girls come out of their shell, singing and dancing with their friends. The same could be seen in boys’ camp, with experienced hikers and shooters sharing their knowledge with new campers and younger boys.  Groups who had never met before their month at camp shared in heartfelt singing, speeches, recognitions, and tearful hugs. Last night’s final banquets were sincerely touching, for the campers as well as the counselors and staff. I know I cried with Senior Chipeta when they sang their final song together at dinner! I heard so many people saying the same thing – I might not ever see you again, but you will change the world, like you changed my life. Thank you for sharing your children with us for the first term.”

Liz Greene- videographer

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“Sit beside a mountain stream, See her waters rise,
Listen to the pretty sound of music as she flies….”

Tucked away in seclusion, next to a peaceful creek in the woods, is the out camping site Rockstock.  It is one of my most favorite serene places to visit at Cheley. Rockstock is a retreat for campers and staff alike to be immersed in a natural environment among friends.

Faith Evans, a former out camping counselor at Cheley, established Rockstock 26 years ago in 1985.  Her intentions were to create an out camping program with the outdoor elements of backapcking, where the less adventurous campers would have the opportunity to grow and learn self-sufficiency in the outdoors.  These campers would learn to cook gourmet meals, build their own shelters, and work together while gaining an appreciation for nature.  Rockstock was designed to be a site where counselors could develop and learn new skills as well.  Counselors that typically stay in camp for programs have the chance to experience nature and gain outdoor living skills.  For out camping counselors, this is a place to be mentored by the Rockstock director and coached in developing their out camping programs.  The support staff is also invited out for meals and to experience this out camping haven.  It also provides the opportunity for campers to practice hospitality as they prepare all the meals and give tours to the guests.

It is an evolving program, in which each new director adds a personal touch, but keeps the basic principles at heart.  Eric Gershon, the current Rockstock director, strives to continue Rockstock’s legacy as Faith had intended.  Eric runs an excellent program that campers cannot wait to be a part of.  When asked why Rockstock is so appealing to the campers, Eric attributed it to the unique games, the hands on experience, and most importantly the chance to play in the water.  Campers get to play in the creek, construct bridges, and float through the rapids on tubes.  “I like tubing down the river and making our own food.  It helps us know how to survive in the mountains,” a current camper states.  Another camper likes building his own shelter and playing “Gaga”, a dodge ball game unique to Rockstock.  All activities the campers enjoy, they enjoy doing together.  Eric assigns teams for all tasks at Rockstock, whether it is fire building, cooking, or building shelters.  Part of the Rockstock program is to help kids interact and create relationships with peers.  “I strive to create a sense of community within the campers that will not only last through the summer, but beyond camp as well,” Eric Gershon states.

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Code of Living

“Character is not achieved over night or created at will or “caught” as we have been told, in the strictest sense.  As a matter of fact Character, greatly as it is to be desired, is NOT a thing in itself but a product of sanity and right living.  It is founded and maintained only by constant performance.”

- Frank H. Cheley

Last night, each unit, as well as each cabin, gathered to discuss their individual “Code of Living”, a written set of standards and values that the campers create for themselves.  This has been a tradition dating back to the era of Frank H. Cheley, founder of Cheley Colorado Camps.  Frank believed that rather than having rules provided, the campers should establish a moral code as a group that they wish to live by and aspire to, allowing them to take an active role in the development of their character.  The Ski Hi boys within the cabin of Cheyenne developed multiple values in their code of living including, Respect, Encouragement, Team Work, No Bullying, and Accepting Differences.  The Haiyaha boys were led by their CILTS (campers in leadership training) in facilitating the development of their moral code. John Burk, Assistant Director of Haiyaha, described the scene as very reverent with the campers holding a deep respect for this honored tradition.  Every camper provided input to the collective ideals that would be their Code of Living.

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