Choosing the right summer camp for your child is such an important decision for your family. Camps are so much more than campfires and sing-a-longs. They are about developing life-long friendships that often are passed down from generation to generation.
Such is the case with Denise Morrison. Her camp alma mater is Camp Highlander and she is the biggest fan you’ll ever meet! I had the privilege of sitting down with Denise to learn of her camp story and it was such a treat!
Denise started her Highlander roots in South Florida where she grew up. She was a counselor at the Camp Highlander’s Day Camp partner (Pinecrest Day Camp) as a teen and then decided to try “the mountain” in Mills River, NC just outside of Asheville. This is where her true love of Camp Highlander was born.
Denise’s eyes lit up as she talked about her experience, along with her sister, as young teens up on that mountain. They fully embraced Camp Highlander’s Cabin Culture, where cabins stay together and work together as a unit throughout all camp activities. This teaches you how to be a team player and co-exist with all personality types. It also teaches you inclusive behavior, rather than exclusive behavior which often shapes teen interactions in the real world. Denise and her sister had the time of their lives at Camp Highlander, you can sense it after every sentence rolls off of her tongue.
Fast forward 20 years, Denise was living in Charlotte, NC and raising a family of her own. Mom of David and Sara, both were the perfect age to consider sleep away camp. Denise’s children were rooted in the Charlotte community – enrolled in Charlotte Latin School, swimmers at MAC, cheerleading, soccer, and photography. Kids in tow, Denise decided to take a road trip to see what was new at Camp Highlander. She was greeted at the gate by new owner, Karl Alexander, who has the most enchanting personality on the planet. Native of Louisiana, Karl is a friend to everyone. He scooped up Denise and her children and gave them a tour of the updated campus. After spending 3 hours together, they all decided that Denise’s children had to get up on that mountain. And the next generation of Camp Highlander was born.
Denise’s children went on to be campers, CITs and ultimately counselors. They created friendships of a lifetime as the friends they made continued to come to the same sessions year after year. No matter what their background was at home, every year, they knew they would find their beloved friends and family at Camp Highlander.
Now 23, Sara is a Marine Science Instructor on Catalina Island at the Catalina Island Marine Institute. She is a lover of outdoors and marine life. She had the coolest experience from camp prior to pursuing this career. Her BFF and cabin mate lived in Clearwater, FL and one summer, invited her to live at their home while she interned at the Clearwater Aquarium, home of Winter the Dolphin. Sara believes her experiences at Camp Highlander truly helped her become who she is today.
David, now 25, is a Network Engineer at a Communications Technology Company in Raleigh. Denise remembers how David was quieter and he was pulled out of his shell at camp. Watching grown teenage boys jumping around in tutus allowed David to dig deep for his silly side. He returned to Camp Highlander year after year.
Denise has been volunteering at Camp Highlander for 12 years, even when her kids have been out of camp since 2009. She loves it that much. This speaks volumes to me.
I asked Denise a few questions about her camp experience:
First thought that pops in your head when I mention Camp Highlander.
Camp Highlander is the best gift I’ve ever given to my children. #1 was education, #2 was Camp Highlander.
What is your favorite camp memory?
My favorite part about my camp experience is that I’ve made friendships that have lasted over 40 years! There is something special about being on that mountain, watching kids running, playing, laughing, singing, skipping – they are completely unplugged and enjoying every second of it. Camp allows children to go back in time to a much simpler place where they can just be kids.
What are some tips you have for parents and children considering sleep away camp for the first time?
Make sure your child is good with sleepovers prior to going to camp. Emphasize that the kids will have so much fun, make new friends and the time will fly. For parents, remember that you are giving your child a gift that will impact your child for the rest of his/her life. Enjoy your alone time without your kids. And make sure you always write positive notes to your kids – never mention how much you miss them (for risk of triggering homesickness!).
Here are a few other special Camp Highlander Alumni quotes:
I have traveled the world. I’ve gone scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, bungy jumping in New Zealand, and backpacking across Europe. Yet I still think Camp Highlander is one of the most magical and special places on the planet. I spent every year growing up counting down the days until I got to return to my mountain home, where every summer I would reunite with my Highlander family. Our days were filled making memories; whether it was by tubing down the river, shooting a bow and arrow at the archery range, or taking a trip into Asheville to check out art galleries, everyday was a new adventure. Nights at Camp were even better. Every evening program was unique- square dances, counselor hunts, country fairs, and my personal favorite, campfires. But Camp is so much more than all of that. There’s a magic to that mountain that can’t be put into words. It’s like escaping reality for a few weeks and becoming immersed into a whole new world. In that world, you face new challenges everyday, whether it’s completing a three-day hiking trip or getting up on stage and making a fool out of yourself. You’re surrounded by a family who will never judge you and who will always push you to be the best you that you can be. I truly believe I am who I am today because of my summers spent at Highlander.
– Sara Morrison, Denise’s daughter (or as they call me at Camp, Smo)
“[Camp Highlander] was a place where I was able to do things that I didn’t do at home, and I was always challenged to try new things. For instance, I never thought in my wildest dreams I would fall in love with whitewater kayaking. I learned how to roll a kayak at Camp Highlander and, to this day, I have a kayak that I’ve rolled in the Pacific Ocean in Malibu. Camp had a tremendous effect on my success in the sense that I felt it shaped me as a young man and gave me the confidence to try new things. Even as a counselor, camp taught me how to handle different types of personalities. Now, when I’m on the set of a movie with 125 people that I’m managing, it’s the same situation. That knowledge shaped me as an adult.”
– Randall Emmett, Film Producer. Camp Highlander camper and staff for 10 years.
“Camp taught me to learn from my mistakes, accept responsibility for myself and to try new things even if I was not going to master them. I think the most important lesson that Camp Highlander taught me was to trust myself and to try every day to be a good, kind and giving person in everything I try to do.” –
– Meredith Newmon Blanco, Camp Highlander camper and staff, 1980-2004
“My time at Camp Highlander instilled a desire to really connect with the environment and people around me – to take a minute to enjoy the moment and my surroundings.”
– Russell Papineau, Camp Highlander staff, 2004, 2006, 2007.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about camp, especially as summer approaches. As an only child, I looked so forward to arriving at camp and having nine sisters for nine weeks … I value the friendships I made on that mountain more than anything!”
– Rhiannon Miller, Camp Highlander camper and staff for 17 years.
“Highlander helped me come out of my shell. I was always a pretty shy kid growing up … camp made it OK to do silly things and not care how people reacted.”
– Bryan Beck, Camp Highlander camper and staff for eight years.
You can find Camp Highlander at:
Nestled in the Western North Carolina mountains, with 240 pristine acres on the banks of the South Mills River, Camp Highlander is truly “A Place Like No Other.”
Consider signing up for the Family Camp or fall mother-daughter weekend! You’ll find newly built cabins, stables, a pristine lake, a renovated pool, new ropes courses and a climbing wall, just to name a few highlights. Plus this is the BEST way for you to give camp a test run.
Karl and Shelley Alexander invite you to discover why Camp Highlander is A Place Like No Other! To check for openings at their 1-week, 2-week or 3-week sessions, or for more information, visit www.camphighlander.com , contact 828-891-7721 or firstname.lastname@example.org.