Meet our 2018 Staff!
Read more about each of this amazing team on our Meet Our Staff Page!
Meet our 2018 Staff!
Read more about each of this amazing team on our Meet Our Staff Page!
My Favorite Spot on Earth: Gold Arrow Camp
By: Sophia L., Five Year Camper
There is a place in the sunny Sierra mountains of California. A place where the only noise is laughter, and the air smells of fresh pine. A place where kids are free to play and roam, among the tall forest.
This place is called Gold Arrow Camp. As you walk through the wild grass and sit around the campfire, there are no cell phones buzzing, only the quiet hoot of an owl on a chilly summer night.
When you head to the dining porch, you cross a muddy path, where you must balance on the wooden logs so you don’t fall in the pebble filled creek lined with multi-colored flowers. While you hop into a canoe, or jump into the refreshing, clean water of the lake, you shiver with cold, and delight.
As you walk up the dusty, rocky path, desperate to take a break from carrying a heavy backpack, you rest your head against a cool rock and look around you. You see gorgeous willow trees and all kinds of beautiful birds surrounding the mountain filled sky.
When you sluggishly walk onto the bus to go home, your eyes are filled with tears by the fact that you will have to wait a whole year to come back to your second home. When the bus pulls away from camp, you’re sad but happy because if you experienced this magical, serene, exquisite, calm, beautiful place every single day, it just wouldn’t be the same.
We are thrilled to be joining camps across the country in celebrating Camp Kindness Day on July 24, 2018. The day is described by the American Camp Association (ACA) as “opportunity to demonstrate to the world the great work that camps are doing to teach kindness in engaging, simple, repeatable and high impact ways that live on in the daily lives of campers and staff members when they return home.”
Camp Kindness and WOW coordinator Cheerio created this “Kindness Calendar” to provide campers and counselors with different ideas for acts of kindness they can do each day this summer whether they’re here at camp or at home!
Kindness is a quality we all look for in friends, and we are talking about how doing acts of kindness, encouraging each other, and giving compliments to our friends fits perfectly with our Find a Friend theme this summer. We are excited to be participating in Camp Kindness Day, as this world could definitely use more kindness!
The American Camp Association (ACA) is working in cooperation with KindnessEvolution to take a stand for a positive shift in our nation. Focusing on our youth and young adults, Camp Kindness Day will help showcase the commitment of the camp community to fostering the core values of kindness, compassion, generosity and care and integrating those values more fully into every aspect of our society. These values are already part of the fabric of the camp experience. We share the mission for our youth to be nurtured, taught, supported and inspired to grow into our new generation of kind, compassionate, socially-minded, community-oriented citizens.
Camp Kindness Day will allow camps to incorporate into their July 24 programming fun theme-based activities and cooperative games, cool projects and memorable moments which will celebrate the value and impact of kindness.
By Camp Director Audrey “Sunshine” Monke
There are so many reasons great parents choose to send their kids to summer camp. Several years ago, I shared five of them on the most popular post I’ve ever published. But now I have more to share. Consider this the second installment in a series with others to follow, because the list of ways kids benefit from summer camp is seemingly endless.
Since I last wrote about reasons great parents send their kids to camp, I conducted research and found that camp experiences positively impact campers’ happiness and social skills. I’ll begin, then, with happiness.
“Camp makes me happy and nothing can prepare me for life as well as this environment.”
“Come on,” you’re thinking, “How can two weeks in the mountains change my child’s overall happiness level?” Good question. One of my research findings was that both parents and kids agree that children feel happier after being at camp. The combination of positive emotions, deep friendships, being disconnected from technology, and just plain fun makes kids feel happier at and after camp. I’ve previously written about how the science of positive psychology may explain why kids flourish at camp and demonstrate increased happiness levels before and after their camp experience. In this era, when we’re seeing our kids suffer from rising rates of depression and anxiety, isn’t it nice to know that there’s a place where kids can go that actually serves as a positive intervention for overall happiness?
“Being at camp gives me this sense of belonging that I’ve never felt anywhere else.”
In many different ways, but all with the same underlying meaning, campers describe camp as a place where they can be themselves. They feel open to saying and being who they really are, not stuck conforming to what’s considered “cool” and “acceptable” in the outside world. Surrounded by a diverse group of friends of different ages and backgrounds, kids develop the ability to explore their own interests and express their own thoughts better. As a parent, I hate to admit that I sometimes push my own interests on my kids, even when I don’t mean to. For example, I might say, “You’re so good at softball! Don’t you want to keep playing?” when my child says she doesn’t want to play anymore. Stepping away from their regular activities and normal life schedules (as well as their well-meaning but often overly directive parents), kids have the opportunity to think through what’s really important to them as individuals.
“The counselors challenged me to do things I wouldn’t normally do at home.”
Learning self-reliance, experiencing mistakes and failures, and reaching for goals are all camp experiences that help campers develop their grit, an important character trait that we’ve learned is critical to success in life. Camp offers a unique experience to children – the chance to be away from their parents for a short period of time and learn to handle more things on their own. Without parents to step in and assist, or rescue from mistakes, kids develop confidence in their own ability to make decisions and solve problems. Just being “on their own” is a huge confidence builder for kids, and they feel more self-reliant after being responsible for themselves and their belongings for a few weeks.
“Camp has made me into a leader, having the best role models as my counselors to look up to.”
One of the best things that happens at camp is that kids get exposed to a different kind of adult role model than what they see in the media. No reality TV stars will be gracing the waterfront or backpacking trips at summer camp. No perfectly coiffed and stick-thin model will be standing next to them brushing teeth in the bathroom. No macho guy who speaks disrespectfully about women will be leading the campfire discussion. In fact, the college students who choose to spend their summer working at camp are an outstanding bunch of young adults. Most are stellar students with outstanding leadership skills. They love the outdoors and working with kids, and they are the kind of people we want our kids to emulate. They love leading discussions on topics that are important to their campers and helping them build confidence. There’s no focus on appearance at summer camp, and so designer clothes, make up, and trendy hair-styles don’t hold the same importance that they do at junior high or high school. In fact, the predominant style at camp is pajama pants paired with dirt and sweat-stained t-shirts. And we hardly ever spend time in front of a mirror.
“The other part of camp that has influenced me the most is the simple idea of trying to always smile.”
In post-camp surveys, campers consistently write about how ditching their electronics was one of the best things about their camp experience. In fact, it’s a practice they take home with them, setting aside phones during meals with friends so they can connect more genuinely, face-to-face. In the absence of technological tethers, campers have many hours each day to practice these face-to-face communication skills. They learn the importance of things like eye contact, smiles, and body language as they positively interact with their peers. Counselors help facilitate lively discussions, and campers learn to ask each other questions, listen more carefully, and figure out common interests. Kids learn and practice valuable communication skills at camp, which they can use throughout their lives.
There you have it! Five (more) reasons that great parents send their kids to camp!
Five Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp (original Sunshine Parenting post)
Study Finds Campers Really are Happy, Sunshine Parenting
Research finds Children Learn Social Skills at Camp, Sunshine Parenting
Why Kids Flourish at Camp, Sunshine Parenting
Five Ways Camp Grows Grit, Sunshine Parenting
10 Social Skills Kids Learn at Camp, Sunshine Parenting
Making Friends, 3 Communication Skills Your Child Needs, Sunshine Parenting
Increased Levels of Anxiety and Depression as Teenage Experience Changes over Time (Nuffield Foundation)
10 Surprising Things Kids Learn at Camp, Sunshine Parenting
by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director
Recently, I’ve been going through the many boxes of letters, photos, and memorabilia which I have collected over my first five decades. It’s been a time-consuming task, but I’m trying to organize into a smaller number of boxes what has been accumulated over the first half of my life. What has struck me most is the huge number of letters I amassed from my childhood, high school, and college friends. Until this week, I didn’t remember how much we corresponded, but I just finished going through hundreds of letters. I now have proof of the many friendships that were solidified over hours of writing to one another.
I mostly have the ones written to me, but I can assume from the “Thanks for your letter”s that I was writing at the same rate as my friends were. Maybe some of my letters are in a box out there somewhere?
Not only was there a huge volume of letters (see picture), some of the letters were ten pages long, with tiny writing. Others were short notes or fun greeting cards. Most of them were in beautiful, cursive writing, even some from boys! What an amazing thing to think about. Back then, without the distractions we all have today, we had TIME to write letters like that! Plus, we enjoyed it and were good at it! We wrote letters, because often long distance phone calls were too expensive. Many of us traveled and studied overseas, so the letters chronicle our trips.
The process of trying to get rid of most of this paper required that I at least skim through each one. I pulled out many that I simply can’t bear to throw away. I found letters from my late grandparents, with their words of wisdom. I found letters my parents had written to me over the years. I also found letters from friends showing major teen angst, which is a good reminder now that I have teens of my own. We weren’t that different back then after all! It’s just that we didn’t splash our anger and sadness at each other on Facebook. We wrote each other heart-felt notes.
One thing I realized is that my kids will not have a big box of letters like mine. They don’t write letters like we did in the pre-computer, pre-email, pre-social networking, pre-cell phone era. But then I had a revelation! They DO still get to send and receive letters. It’s when they’re at camp! I have told parents how much campers enjoy getting “real” mail while at camp (the kind with a stamp), but now I have realized another benefit – they will have these letters as keepsakes and memories of their childhood. And you, as parents, most definitely should save all of the letters you get from your camper!
Among my box, I came across a postcard I sent to my parents in 1977, when I was a camper at Gold Arrow Camp. This is what it said:
I think it’s mean that you have to write a letter to get into dinner, but I’m glad to write a letter to you because I love you. It’s been raining since we got here. But we still went horseback riding. I wrote a letter to daddy this morning and sent it. Camp is so fun. I can’t wait to tell you. My counslers name is Liz. She’s nice.
Let me tell you, we have gotten some good laughs in our house over this postcard. Not just about how I spelled “counselor,” but about my comment about the “Mail Meal” (dinners on Wednesday and Sunday that you need to have a letter or postcard home as your ticket in). The dreaded “Mail Meal” has been a camp tradition for as long as anyone can remember, but I didn’t even remember thinking it was a bad thing. My adult view is much different than my ten year old one! I now understand how much parents need those letters. I hope most kids get beyond the “I have to write this letter” part, and share some of their feelings and memories of camp. The resulting memorabilia will be priceless.
So, here’s to another benefit of camp I’ve only this week realized. We have the chance for our kids to experience the (almost) lost art of writing and receiving hand written letters. And you, as a parent, have a chance to write down words that your child will be able to read and keep long beyond any email you’ve sent them!
P.S. Did you see this hilarious book? P.S. I Hate it Here: Letters from Camp Some really funny, real letters kids wrote to their parents from camps.
By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director
Originally published at Sunshine Parenting
Because we’re not in the habit of writing letters to our kids much these days – with brief texts being the primary form of written communication between us – it can be challenging to come up with what to write to our campers. This is especially true when you’re writing more letters than you’re receiving, which will most likely be the case, because while your child is busy at camp, you will be at your home or office glued to your computer, looking at photos of the fun they’re having.
To keep letters fun and entertaining for your camper, here are some creative ideas:
Especially for younger campers (or for kids who think writing is torture), make it easy for them to send you news without having to worry about writer’s block or grammar. Create a funny, fill-in-the-blanks response letter for them, or choose something from one of these websites:
Joy in the Works (free printables)
Fine Stationery (fill-in-the-blank pad to purchase)
Another easy, fun idea is to provide a small return postcard with something like, “The fun things I could be doing right now instead of writing home:” and provide three blank spaces.
Include the fill-in-the-blanks letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Ideally, your camper will take 60 seconds from their fun to complete the blanks and send it back! However, I offer no guarantees.
You can create your own Top 10 list and provide an entertaining letter to your camper, or you can try one of these:
Mix it up by writing a letter from the perspective of your family dog, a stuffed animal, your camper’s blanket, or some sports item (skate board, bike, etc.)
Why not think up a funny story to go along with a picture you’ve seen of your camper on the camp’s website?
“I saw you climbing up a huge wall at camp. I’m guessing that you were escaping from the camp cook who was trying to make you eat Brussels sprouts?”
This is always such a great activity – even when your child isn’t at camp. But camp is an especially good time to think about what you love about your camper. Get each family member who’s still at home to write a sentence or two about what they love about your camper. You could even collect sentences via email from grandparents and extended family. What camper wouldn’t love to hear how much they are loved and appreciated?
Have fun writing letters to your camper, and enjoy the hand-written letters you’ll get in return. You’ll want to save those forever!
Here are some additional letter-writing tips:
Make an envelope out of their favorite magazine, a sports article from the newspaper, or something else fun or colorful.
Type the letter in funny fonts or backwards, or hand write it in a circle or in a bunch of different colors.
Ask simple questions and try to just include one per letter.
Include a joke or riddle
Letters to Camp is a whole blog dedicated to letter-writing ideas! Check it out!
By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director
Read more of Sunshine’s camp-related posts at her website, Sunshine Parenting.
“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.”
– Michael Thompson, PhD., Homesick and Happy
Recently I spoke with a mom whose 11-year-old son is coming to camp in a few days. He’s nervous. He had a negative experience at a one-week science camp. He doesn’t think he can “make it for two weeks” and is worried he’ll be too homesick to make it at camp. I chatted with the mom and gave her some key messages to communicate to her son. She asked for them in bullet points in an email, and I thought there are probably others who might benefit from this same list, so I’m sharing this with anyone who has a child suffering from pre-camp anxiety.
Before I share my list, let me say that if you are not a camp proponent and don’t plan on sending your child to camp, you should probably not read any further. I am a huge supporter of camp and recently had a JC (Junior Counselor) tell me that “Camp made her who she is today.” So, I think that camp is a great thing for building kids’ independence and confidence. I have also seen many kids work through some pretty painful emotions at camp, so I know that camp is not easy for all kids.
We have 7-year-olds at our camp who do great during our two-week sessions. They are the ones who’ve begged their parents to let them come to camp and generally have older siblings who’ve attended camp. I also talk to a lot of parents with older kids who “aren’t sure if they’re ready for
camp.” One thing I’ve learned after close to three decades at camp is that the same kids who are anxious and hesitant about going to camp when they’re nine or ten will still be anxious when they’re 13. And they may not be interested in going away to college when they’re 18, either.
So, as a parent, you need to decide how to approach your child’s separation anxiety, as well as your own. You can avoid it and not send them to camp and hope that they develop independence in other ways, which is definitely possible. Or, you can bite the bullet, give them these positive messages, and send them off to camp with a smile, knowing that it may be hard for them, but they will grow from the experience.
In Michael Thompson, PhD.’s book Homesick and Happy, he says “It is the very challenge of camp that makes it such a life-changing experience for so many children.” I know there are many parents and children who just can’t stomach the idea of going through some painful time apart. Again, you need not read further if you are not sending your reluctant child to camp.
This post is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp, and especially for those of you who had a previously excited camper who is now having last-minute camp anxiety. Here are some messages you can give prior to dropping your camper at the bus or at camp. Pick and choose, and of course use your own words, but acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize with them while holding firm in your confidence in their ability to succeed and your belief that camp will be good for them.
In Homesick and Happy, Thompson says, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness. It is not a disorder. It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home. Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later. Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life … If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”
I would like to note that you do not need to use all of these messages but instead choose the ones you think will resonate most with your child. What’s most important is that you express confidence in your child and in the camp experience. These same messages would be great as responses to a sad letter you receive from your camper.
I always tell the kids that the fun and happy feelings at camp usually far outweigh any sad feelings. Many kids tell me they “don’t feel homesick at all,” but there are some who struggle, especially during their first summer. Those kids seem to grow the most and feel the most pride in their accomplishment of staying at camp. If you are feeling worried about how your child will do at camp, know that you are giving your child a precious gift by allowing them this special time where they get to grow their wings.
By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director
Taking risks and trying new things – both of which can feel very uncomfortable – are daily occurrences at GAC. Campers are challenged to get outside their comfort zone, both physically and mentally. And in that “discomfort zone,” growth happens.
Physically, we live in tents, without electricity, and sleep in our sleeping bags on sometimes-squeeky, army-style bunks. We hike down a path to get to the bathroom, and we use flashlights to find our PJs. Camp doesn’t have many of the comforts of home, but in our rustic living we discover that we can live – very happily – without the luxuries of our own bathroom and a feather-top mattress!
Mentally, we get outside our comfort zone when we try something that we’ve never tried before. Sometimes we have to climb up really high or jump into a lake. We try things that we don’t think we’ll be good at. We try things that are a little scary. We say, “I can” to ourselves and listen to our counselors and cabin mates encouragement. We say “Hit it!” to the boat driver and get up on water skiis for the first time. And our discomfort and fear turns to pride and confidence! And, we gain a new willingness to take risks and try new things in other settings.
We want campers to feel comfortable and at home, but we also know that campers will also feel uncomfortable at times. And It’s from those moments that campers will grow and learn the most!
“We regularly witness varying levels of discomfort at camp. Parents may receive a sad, homesick letter from their camper detailing how uncomfortable, miserable, and sad their camper is feeling. It’s difficult for parents to know how to respond, and the natural instinct may be to jump in the car and rush up the mountain to save their camper from this discomfort.
But, as I’ve learned over my three decades at camp, the “saving” never turns out to be as helpful as it may seem. In fact, when struggling campers are saved rather than having to face the challenges of camp, they learn their parents don’t think they can handle discomfort, and in turn they lose a little faith in themselves; on top of being miserable, they now feel incompetent.
How can we best help our kids develop into adults who persevere and can handle life’s inevitable setbacks?
We must learn to coach our children to tolerate their discomfort”. Read more of “Why Kids Need to Get Uncomfortable.“
It’s a human-interest story that spans nearly 25 years and has at its epicenter the small Dutch city of Woerden, which beyond its city proper is a land of mostly meadows and farms on the banks of the Old Rhine River in central Netherlands. Woerden boasts a population of some 50,000 people, most of whom ride bikes, eat poffertjes (tiny sweet pancakes with butter and sugared icing), and commute by train to jobs in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Woerden has a windmill (“De Windhond”) in the city center and its own castle (the Castle of Woerden, built in 1410 by Duke John the Pitiless). The city has a long and rich history of cheesemaking and trading, with an established international market for its Gouda. In fact, not far from De Windhond in the city center, cheesemakers still sell product in the marketplace, where they have done so since 1885.
Not so longstanding is Woerden’s connection to Gold Arrow Camp. Over the last two-plus decades, the city has been the source of several top-notch counselors—nine, to be exact—cementing its place in camp history as a Gold Arrow “sister city” and trusted pipeline for hard-working, friendly, and reliable staff.
The Woerden Legacy starts with Wendy “Dutchie” Kuiters, who came to Gold Arrow in the summer of 1993 after responding to a flier left in her college mail slot. Dutchie recalls having to write a letter about herself then stapling a picture to it before sending it to a recruiter. Back then, her packet circulated via U.S. Mail to camp directors seeking international staff. Thankfully, Gold Arrow nabbed her first, hiring the flying Dutchwoman to teach windsurfing at Huntington Lake where she became a mainstay on the Gold Arrow waterfront in the 1990s.
At home in Woerden, Dutchie had started a career in education. She became a master teacher, mentoring other young educators, always keeping an eye out for those who would be a good fit for camp. “I was very selective about who I recommended,” she said. “I felt responsible for whoever I brought.” In 2002, she met Sjaak Vermeulen, a young Dutchman who’d been placed in her classroom. His connection with the children was instant, and Dutchie knew he would be great at Gold Arrow. On her recommendation, Vermeulen applied.
The two came to Gold Arrow together in 2003. Dutchie was the Shaver Island Director and Vermeulen, who’d taken the nickname “Link,” worked with the “Bears”—Gold Arrow’s youngest campers. Link’s legacy to Gold Arrow, besides helping bring seven more Woerdeners to camp, was his founding of “Bears Adventure,” a one-night, low-impact hike and campout designed to help young campers transition to longer backpacking trips.
In hindsight, Link had named himself appropriately. In 2007, he brought his younger brother Joris (“Orange”) to Gold Arrow, and since 2008, nine more have followed: Sabrina “Juice” Boere, Anne “Apple” Bouter, Jeroen “Joker” Lamboo, Elvira “Elf” Lok, Bas “Ajax” Eberwijn, Cato “Froggie” Rikkers, Joske “Chiqa” Miedema, and Link’s wife Ilse “Zelda” Vermeulen.
In the fall of 2014, Steve “Monkey” and Audrey “Sunshine” Monke visited Woerden so they could see first-hand where all these fine folks called home. Like other locals, they climbed aboard bicycles and pedaled the bucolic countryside, even partaking in a rousing game of Farmersgolf (“Boerengolf” in Dutch), a game invented in the Netherlands in response to costly greens fees there. The game, played with a special club (the club head is in the shape of a wooden shoe) and an oversized (20-cm diameter) ball, requires players to navigate strategic hazards on an otherwise unaltered farm. Live cows and ditches are par for the course as players attempt to hole their ball in a buried bucket with a flagpole beside it. At one point in their lives, Link, Orange, Bloom, and Ajax were all employed by De Boerinn, Woerden’s Farmersgolf club.
In 2017, the woman who started it all returned with yet another Woerdener, her 4-year-old daughter Kiki, who one day will be a Gold Arrow camper and perhaps follow in her mother’s (and several others’) footsteps to join the camp staff.
The future of the Gold Arrow/Woerden alliance is bright, indeed.