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
Many campers dream of returning to GAC to work as counselors, and we treasure the opportunity to hire them and continue to help them develop their leadership skills in a new way. Former campers who become counselors see camp from a different perspective and strive to give campers the same great experience they enjoyed as kids. Wonder, returning for his second summer as a counselor, says, “Camp was always the highlight of my year and my favorite place on Earth, so my goal as a counselor became to help each camper have the same amazing experience that my counselors helped me to have.”
Wonton agrees, “You can look back to your fondest memories as a camper and give your campers that same happiness.” Nearly a quarter of our 2015 staff came to GAC for at least one year as a camper, and together they have amassed 249 years at camp. These legacy counselors enrich the experience for our campers in a special way and help us continue the fun, friendships, and growth enjoyed by every generation at GAC.
Campers who return as counselors begin the summer with significant advantages over new staff. While it’s always helpful knowing where everything is located, how to sing camp songs, and what it means to “wadda,” their time as campers has given these counselors an understanding of what makes GAC so special. They help us to carry on our traditions and everything that makes the GAC experience great for campers because they know how it should feel and look. Wonder says, “You have the opportunity to start the summer already knowing what Gold Arrow is at its core and the spirit and kindness that is at the heart of the community.” Pesto, a counselor now for two years, adds, “You know how be an amazing counselor because you have had many great role models over the years.”
These former campers also find themselves relating to campers on a different level because of their shared experiences. Wonder says, “Former campers have their own stock of experiences that they had as campers and are able to relate to campers with their apprehensions about activities or homesickness because they were once in their shoes and able to rise above it.”
Mocha used her many years as a camper to shape how she approached her own campers when she became a Group Counselor. “I know that campers truly look up to their counselors and can easily be influenced by their counselor’s attitude and treatment of others. I am very careful about being genuine with my campers, treating them with kindness, care, and respect, because I know that my actions affect cabin dynamics as a whole.”
Campers who return as counselors often report that the experience is very different than they had expected. Binx, a camper for 10 years, says, “I thought I knew the whole system, but there is a lot of work that counselors do that the campers never see.”
Bounce agrees, “I thought I knew how everything worked as a camper, and it was a bit of a surprise discovering that it was totally different as a counselor.”
One adjustment these counselors have to make is to remember that their role at camp has changed significantly. “You’re delivering the experience, not receiving it,” explains Genki, a third-generation staff member and camper. Working at camp is a lot of fun, but the fun for counselors comes from helping campers and watching them grow each session.
Current GAC campers who would like to work as counselors should think ahead and plan for their return to GAC. We maintain high standards for our counselors, and working at camp is not always a good fit for everyone. Our strict grooming and behavior standards can sometimes prove difficult for staff applicants, as we require our counselors to be free from tattoos and piercings, and the summer schedule does not allow for very much personal time. Cappy, our Hiring Manager, says, “Our best applicants have experience working with kids outside of GAC. They’ve been counselors at a local day camp or have volunteered at outdoor education camps with school groups.” Working at camp also requires a full-summer commitment, and that can be challenging when applicants are also juggling college, sports, and other responsibilities.
We hope that campers continue to return to GAC as counselors. Their unique perspective and understanding of camp add value to everyone’s camp experience, and it’s fun to watch them grow up at camp. Former campers who become counselors quickly learn that camp can continue to be as fun and rewarding from the other side. Pesto says, “Being a Gold Arrow camper made me the person I am today, while being a Gold Arrow counselor taught me how to be the leader that I am today.”
We are grateful for all of our counselors, but we will always have a special place in our hearts for our former Gold Arrow campers.
Alison “Bean” Moeschberger has been part of Gold Arrow Camp for the past 20 years as a camper, Counselor-in-Training, and staff member. Alison is a graduate of Purdue University and was an elementary teacher for five years before she joined Gold Arrow’s year-round staff.
Eric “Quailman” Bader, 5 years as camper, 5 years as counselor
Charlotte “Bounce” Blanc, 7 years as camper, 1 year as counselor
Paige “Pesto” DeYoung, 5 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Mady “Binx” Engle, 10 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Kaitlyn “Kitty” Furst, 11 years as camper, 1 year as counselor
Stevie “Wonder” Goodrich, 8 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Elizabeth “Buttercup” Jelsma, 4 years as camper, 1 year as counselor
Meredith “Mocha” Monke, 12 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Ryan “Wonton” Watanabe, 6 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
Jake “Genki” Werlin, 10 years as camper, 2 years as counselor
For just a moment, imagine you’re an 11-year-old. The soft, warm glow of a campfire heats your shins as the sun begins to slink behind the ragged tips of pine and fir. The deep blue Sierra sky floods with orange and pink light as temperatures start to fall. There is a crisp in the air. You know night will soon arrive and with it, an unknowable number of glowing stars. You glance around the fire. You don’t know it yet, but in front of you are the faces of limitless potential. The possibility of lifelong friendship and adventure hides under the disguise of “new cabinmates”. You turn and look at your counselors, smiling. One looks at you and asks, “What are three goals you have for yourself while at camp?” You freeze and your mind goes blank.
When asked to prepare a short article on five goals I have for this summer, I was immediately taken back to those campfires and conversations. Thankfully for me, I have been given a little more time to think about my answer. The answer did not take shape in form of measurable goals, but rather qualities I strive to improve in myself, qualities that I believe are important in life and have shaped immensely how I work with youth. Here they are.
Practicing my own capacity to understand and share the feelings of another is something I can always improve. Working with campers at Gold Arrow, I am consistently called to place myself in the shoes of someone younger than myself, see things through their eyes, and help guide them towards some form of realization or understanding regarding situations that are often challenging. Whether it is on the high ropes course, behind a boat at Shaver Lake, or inside a cabin full of new people, life at camp can be a little unsettling at times. To be afforded the presence of a person who can say in full honesty, “Yeah, I know exactly what that feels like and you are not alone” is beyond measure. “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” – Brene Brown
Showing up on a daily basis and bringing the best “ME” I can muster is an obligation I take very seriously. Campers feed off of the energy and attitudes of the counselors, which is often what makes two weeks at camp some of the most fun and memorable moments of the year for them. It may be week 11 of the summer for us, but it is still day one for a camper when they arrive to Gold Arrow. They deserve the same energy and attention all summer campers get, and I strive to provide them that.
Let the Silly Out
Camp is a place that should feel like home away from home, a place where you belong. Fostering an atmosphere of self-acceptance and self-worth requires a commitment to loving people as they are. At Gold Arrow, I feel celebrated for being the fun-loving and silly goof ball that I am. Creating space for and encouraging silliness when appropriate can serve as the catalyst for greater self-understanding. Some of my favorite parts of the summer are the dances. When I scoot out there and cut a rug, I know for a fact that I am dancing like nobody is watching. I am trying to send the message that the coolest thing in the world is to be your self. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
“Proud of You”
This phrase was commonplace at camp when I arrived in the summer of 2013. Taking the time to recognize and celebrate the greatness of those around me is a quality I would like to grow. I have had the pleasure of working with so many inspiring leaders at camp that it seems overwhelming to address and recognize each person on an individual level. The same can be said of our amazing campers. A goal of mine this summer is to make the time to encourage and build up those around me so they regularly receive the praise they deserve.
Twelve weeks can fly by at an alarmingly quick rate. So many incredible moments and heartfelt emotions are packed into such a short time period that it can be difficult to comprehend what has just been accomplished. Along with my guitar, green Jif tank-top, and sunscreen, I’ve packed a brand new mole-skin journal in hopes of spending just a little time each evening recollecting and reflecting on the magic of the day that has just passed.
Every summer I’ve spent at Gold Arrow has challenged me to grow as both a leader and person. In all honesty, there is a plethora of ways in which camp will challenge me to grow this summer and picking only five seemed an inscrutable task. Yet I’ve accomplished that goal. May 2015 prove to be another summer of endless, fun, friendship, and growth.
Jif is a third-year counselor originally from Clement, Florida. He graduated from California State University, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in Forestry and Natural Resource Management.
This summer, Jif will be a Head Counselor, working directly with counselors and campers. He recently spent the past year working as a Naturalist with San Mateo Outdoor Education in La Honda, California, a five day residential outdoor education program providing an environmental education experience to fifth and sixth graders to increase students’ knowledge and appreciation of nature.
He enjoys hiking, trail running, exploring new places, drawing, dancing. He is passionate about music, plays bass and guitar, and writes music. We’re excited to have Jif back at GAC this summer!
Written by Alison “Bean” Moeschberger
I still cringe every time I hear a counselor tell me that they’re not returning to camp next summer because they have to get an internship to prepare for their “real job.” It stings because this is my real job, but, more than that, I believe wholeheartedly in the training and life preparation counselors experience while working at summer camp. It would be easy to say that camp counseling is a good internship for people who want to work with children for their career, but the work experience camp counselors gain at camp translates to strong, employable skills that any company would be excited to see in their applicants.
6 Critical Skills Counselors Develop at Camp:
There is no greater responsibility than caring for other people’s children. Camp counselors are responsible for the 24-hour care of a group of children. They have a very significant presence on the camp’s organizational chart, and their work with campers is essential to camp’s operation.
Camp provides a unique opportunity where counselors live, work, and play together. The friendships they develop over the summer are some of the strongest and most long-lasting relationships. Camp counselors learn to live in community with people who have very different personalities and life experiences. They adapt and work well with a range of people.
Creativity & Problem Solving
Whether it’s altering the plan for the day because of weather or figuring out a more efficient way to move 10 children from one place to another, camp counselors are constantly provided with opportunities to solve problems and be creative. They must be flexible and be able to think quickly when alternative solutions are required.
Without the distraction of technology and social media, camp counselors strengthen their communication skills by engaging in face-to-face interaction with campers and fellow counselors. They learn how to lead group discussions and practice conflict resolution almost daily.
Children want and need positive role models in their lives. Camp counselors are closer in age to campers than most of their adult role models at home, and the unique relationships they can form are hugely influential as campers navigate adolescence. Counselors are forced to examine themselves and share important life lessons with their campers. They need to remain appropriate in their language and appearance at all times, and living closely with children often causes counselors to see themselves from a different perspective. It is a powerful experience to be a role model for a child.
The nature of the job as a camp counselor is humbling. Camp counselors focus primarily on the safety and happiness of the campers in their care, at the expense of personal freedom and privacy. Young adulthood can often be a very self-centered time. People seek instant gratification and act more spontaneously. The selflessness practiced at camp makes counselors happier and more fulfilled, and we often hear that counselors feel like the best version of themselves because of camp.
Internships are temporary positions that are designed to provide on-the-job training and work experience, and there is no better internship than becoming a camp counselor.