On episode 16 of the GAC Pog-Cast, Sunshine talks with long-time camper and Junior Counselor Henry Yeary. Henry has some great insights into what makes the Junior Counselor (JC) program good for teens, as well as thoughts about taking a gap year before college and why he lives the flip phone life. Soy drops in with a joke of the cast that vampires will enjoy as well as a GACspiration from John Muir.
The number of former GAC campers who’ve returned to be counselors at GAC has exploded in the past few years. This year is no exception, with 35 former campers now serving as GAC staff!
Former campers, even when they are new to being counselors, bring a love of GAC and an understanding of our culture and traditions that has a positive impact on the rest of the camp community. During training week, they participate actively, make friends, have fun, and stretch themselves. Most of all, they remember the things their favorite counselors said and did to help them adjust to camp.
We sing the song “The Circle Game” at the end of each Appreciation Campfire. It’s a reminder about how fast the years go by. When kids are young, they think they want to get older. Being at camp and living the goofy, childlike camp life helps us remember that childhood is amazing and we must treasure every minute. My favorite line of the song reminds us that we get to a point as we age when we want to “drag [our] feet to slow those circles down.” Working at camp as a counselor, or in any role on staff, gives adults the chance to do just that by re-experiencing, through our campers, some of the fun and magic of childhood.
Over the past few weeks, I have asked former campers who are on staff this summer to think about camp, how it influenced them, what it meant to them as a child, and why they returned as a counselor.
Fostering Confidence and Independence
Most spoke about how camp helped bring them to a place of greater independence, providing them with tools to conquer fears and stretch themselves beyond what they thought possible. Still others credited camp with helping them overcome barriers to friendships brought on by shyness, lack of confidence, and negative self-image. Everything they learned at camp, they said, translated well for them in their lives away from Gold Arrow.
“Gold Arrow has influenced me in all of the best ways,” said Binx (11 years). “It has opened my eyes to experiences and friendships I’d never have known before.” Added Spring (10 years), “It was a place where I could be myself. I gained confidence, independence, and a sense of responsibility.”
When I was a camper, I learned a lot about being respectful, conquering fears, and making/keeping friendships. –Batman (12 years)
At the end of my senior year, I got the once in a lifetime opportunity to study overseas in Scotland for university. I can honestly say that I would not have had the confidence or independence to go if I had not previously adopted that independence at GAC.
–Chippy (8 years)
Some of the best friendships our current staff have made in their lives have been those forged at Gold Arrow when they were campers. That’s in part because camp provides an environment free of social pressures and technology, which allows campers and staff the chance to be the “best versions” of themselves and develop genuine relationships. Said Coco (8 years), “Camp is a humbling experience that makes you recognize true friendships, the awe of nature, and how fortunate you are for such an incredible opportunity.”
My time at GAC taught me how to form friendships quickly and with people who were different from me. GAC taught me how to be the best version of myself – joyful, confident, and outgoing. –Mocha (15 years)
When I look back on childhood, GAC stands out. GAC is where I learned to foster a positive attitude and make friends with everyone, because everyone has a gift to give and stories to share. The enthusiasm is unbeatable.
–Cheeto (5 years)
Others referred to Gold Arrow as a home away from home, a place where there exists a true sense of family. GAC is a “constant in a changing life,” said Coco. Added Pancake (6 years), “GAC means a permanent family, no matter if you’re at camp or not.”
A Positive Impact
I asked every camper-turned-counselor why they wanted to return, and each one of them had a similar response: they wanted to provide the same life-changing experiences for their campers that were modeled for them by their own counselors years ago. “Much of why I decided to be a counselor was how incredible my counselors were when I was a camper,” said Wahoo (7 years). Added Coco, “I want to be the role model my counselors were for me.”
I wanted to help campers have the same amazing experiences I had. –Spring
That our former campers were surrounded by positive, supportive counselors had a huge impact on why they wanted to come back. “As a camper, the counselors at GAC gave me great examples of who I wanted to be when I was older and how I wanted to act,” said Chippy. As campers, they were “surrounded by positive and supportive people,” said Spring. Given that kind of environment, counselors like Pisces (7 years), find themselves wanting “to inspire future campers to feel confident in their own skin and provide them with fun memories similar to [their] own.”
My counselors when I was a camper have had such a huge influence on my love for nature and being outdoors, and I want to pass on that same passion for the outdoors to my campers. That’s why I’m back. –Bucky (3 years)
Being a counselor is not an easy summer job. It entails much more perseverance (counselors spend 11-12 weeks at camp), hard work (six days per week all summer), and responsibility, than being a camper. The transition sometimes isn’t as easy as former campers anticipate, as new counselor Batman shared:
With the theme of Growing Grit in mind, I would like to say that the transition from being a camper at GAC to a counselor has been one of the most eye-opening and challenging experiences of my life so far. I have gained so much more admiration and respect for my old counselors because I now comprehend how hard they worked to ensure that I had an amazing time.
We are thankful for the former campers who return to GAC as counselors to carry on the traditions of fun, friendship, and growth they experienced in their childhood. For them, donning their green-collared staff shirt and GAC name tag has a uniquely poignant meaning. It also gives them a chance to “slow those circles down,” even if it’s just for a short while. Said Bazza (9years), “Realizing that you’re at the fourth verse of the Circle Game is an indescribable feeling.”
The Camp Counselor Vs. the Intern, NY Times
Viewpoint: Skip the Internship, Go to Camp, USA Today
10 Parenting Tips from Camp Counselors, Sunshine Parenting