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Foot in the Door: Keys to Success for Former Campers Turned Counselors

2015 GAC Staff who were campers, too!

2015 GAC Staff who were campers, too!

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.”

wontonWonton 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.”

Appreciation CampfireThese 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.”

GAC Bears' Adventure

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.Counselor-26

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

Five 21st Century Skills Developed at Camp

“A profound gap exists between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need for success in their communities and workplaces.”
-Partnership for 21st Century Skills

IMG-9205“Having started at Gold Arrow as a little seven year old, I have grown up here. Camp has become my home away from home, and I can honestly say it has shaped who I am today. It has given me confidence and taught me skills far beyond learning how to wakeboard or horseback ride. I am comfortable with myself, I am patient, and I have learned how to become a leader.”

-Katie “Rascal” Baral, 10 year Camper

Parents, educators, and youth development professionals are well-versed in the phrase “21st Century Skills.”  The phrase encompasses our current understanding of the urgent need for our children to be learning more than how to read, write, and do math.  There are many other skills needed to grow into productive, successful adults. As I look at the list of 21st Century Skills, I am struck by how many of the skills are intentionally modeled and taught at camp.  Following are five specific 21st Century skills that children learn at camp:

1. Working Creatively with Others

Campers learn to work creatively with others through working towards goals with their cabin group.  Even something as simple as collaborating on a skit, song, or dance requires being open and responsive to different perspectives and incorporating group input.  An important aspect of creativity and innovation is being able to “view failure as an opportunity to learn.”  At camp, with every new and challenging activity, campers are encouraged to challenge themselves and persevere past failure.  They learn that “creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes.”

2. Communication

From the moment they arrive at camp, campers have the opportunity to practice and hone their communication skills.  Gathered around the campfire on the first evening, campers talk about themselves in front of their small cabin group.  They also listen to others share about themselves.  At meals, campfires, and while walking around camp and participating in activities, counselors guide discussions about deeper issues and make sure all campers participate, even those who are less outgoing.  Listening skills are addressed and enhanced through practice.  Without the distractions and escape of technology, campers practice articulating thoughts and ideas and listening to the ideas of others throughout their time at camp.

3. Collaboration

When working together at Team Building, during cabin clean up, or while preparing fora performance, campers learn important collaboration skills.  They learn that they need to be flexible. They often learn another important collaboration skills, which is that it is often necessary to make compromises to accomplish a goal.  Counselors encourage campers to share responsibility for tasks and work together.  Campers are also encouraged to value and acknowledge each individual contribution made by team members.

4. Social and Cross-Cultural Skills G-C21-2915

Learning to interact effectively with others is an important social skill that doesn’t come naturally to all people.  At camp, counselors guide campers to learn when it is appropriate to listen and when it is appropriate to speak.  Counselors also require that campers respectfully listen to others’ opinions and treat others with respect.

For many campers, their time at camp is their first opportunity to meet and live with people from other cultures. Camp offers the opportunity for kids to form friendships with staff and campers from other countries.  Camp provides the opportunity for campers to gain a respect for and work effectively with people from a range of cultural backgrounds.  On International Day each session, we celebrate and learn about our international campers and staff.

5. Leadership and Responsibility 

Guiding and leading others is an important 21st Century skill.  In campers’ early years at camp, they learn basic responsibility for themselves and those around them.  Even our youngest campers have the opportunity to lead others in a song or game.  As they get older, campers gain more of an understanding of how their words and actions influence others, and they learn how to positively use their leadership skills.


While academics are important, children need other skills to be successful.  Camp offers an ideal setting for campers to learn and enhance many of the non-academic 21st Century Skills.  One line of our camp song says, “I sure did learn much more here than I ever did at school.”   And, when learning is viewed as more global than the subjects listed on the report card, that is an incredibly profound and true statement.

Read about all of the 21st Century Skills at www.p21.org. 

Raising Optimistic Kids

MonkeFamilyAs I parent, I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on making sure my children are getting a good education. I check to see that they are keeping up academically, that their school is challenging enough for them, and that they are getting a well-rounded education. I read aloud to them so that they learn to love reading themselves.

Many of my conversations with other parents revolve around academics: what our children are or are not learning in school, how good their teachers are, and, now that my oldest are in college, what they need to do to be successful in life. I believe that a good, solid education is going to provide my children with more opportunities for success as adults. I think most parents would agree. There are some other parenting priorities, however, that I think are sometimes overlooked when we get ultra-focused on academics. These are character assets that, coupled with a good education, will truly be the key to future happiness and success for our kids. One trait that I want my kids to develop is optimism, and it is something we focus on here at Gold Arrow Camp, as well.

Optimism seems to come naturally to some people. They see the best in every situation and person, never let a failure get them down, and basically look on the bright side. For optimists, a rainy day is a positive thing, an opportunity for dust to settle and the air to be cleared. A failed attempt at something new is viewed as a step towards future success. A counselor once told me a story about a remarkable camper in his group. The young boy was struggling with hitting the target at archery, but instead of getting frustrated and giving up, as kids often do, he had a smile and a great outlook. He let his counselor and cabin mates know that he was going to “hit the target soon,” and he just needed to “keep on trying.” That kind of optimistic spirit will take that young man far in life!

But what about the not-so-naturally-optimistic kid? As parents (and camp counselors), we can help nurture the trait of optimism in our kids.

The Gold Fish Guide reads:
  • Let them try new things, even if they don’t always work out.
  • Tell them to dream big but to start small.
  • Encourage them to learn from others but to always be themselves.
  • Make sure they do a little something every day, and a little nothing every day.
  • Help them to notice what’s nice and to deal with what’s not.
  • Encourage them to look outside themselves and inside themselves.”

According to Dr. Christine Carter in her booking Raising Happiness, “Ten-year-olds who are taught to think and interpret the world optimistically are half as prone to depression when they later go through puberty.” Wow! With the rising statistics on kids and adults who suffer from depression and anxiety, that’s a pretty powerful reason to focus on helping our kids be more optimistic!

Carter recommends three ways parents (and counselors) can help kids be more optimistic: give faq-2936affection; teach kids to cope with challenges and frustration; and model optimism ourselves. At camp, kids have ample opportunities to try new, often challenging activities. Learning to deal with the frustration of not being able to get up on water skiis on the first, second, third, or fourth try is a powerful lesson in both persistence and optimism. Our role is to help kids learn to handle setbacks and frustrations in a positive way and realize that “success is 99% failure.” (Soichiro Honda)

“Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated,” says Carter, whose research has found that optimistic people are:

  • More successful in school, at work, and in athletics
  • Healthier and longer lived
  • More satisfied with their marriages
  • Less likely to suffer from depression
  • Less anxious

In the article “Raise Your Children to be Optimists,” Elizabeth Scott, MS, gives these ten tips for parents:

  1. Help Them Experience Success
  2. Give Credit for Success
  3. Look for Future Success
  4. Don’t Praise Indiscriminately
  5. Validate, but Question
  6. Remember Success in the Face of Failure
  7. Look for “Opportunities to Improve”
  8. Look for the Bright Side
  9. Don’t Use Negative Labels
  10. Make an example of yourself

Smiling is another powerful tool in promoting optimism, so we practice a lot of smiling around GAC!

Creating Connections: Making Friends at Camp and Beyond

Our goals at Gold Arrow Camp are articulated, posted, recited, and practiced by our campers and staff each summer.  The goals are to have fun, make friends, and grow.

Each summer, we also select a theme to help campers and staff focus on a specific skill or character trait that will contribute to their fun, friendships, and growth. We want our campers to develop life skills at camp that benefit them long after their camp days are over. In 2012, we focused on practicing gratitude. In 2013, kindness was our focus. Our 2014 summer theme was Creating Connections, and we focused on friendships.  This summer, our theme is Give A Hand, and we’re excited to focus on reaching out and helping others.

Friendships have always been a big part of what makes campers and staff love GAC and return year after year, so last summer we focused on one of the best aspects of camp – Creating Connections! We focused on making solid friendship connections at camp, learning and practicing social skills that make us good friends, and maintaining friendships after camp ends.

Positive relationships predict happiness better than health, economic status, education level, and other aspects of life. Yet there is no class offered in school on how to make and keep friends, and while the skill comes naturally to some, to others creating connections is not easy.  That’s where GAC comes in. Camp is all about friends, because camp is a time when kids have the opportunity to really connect, face-to-face and without distractions, with other kids and young adults. Around the campfire, out on a sailboat, enjoying the sunset together during an evening canoe, and many other camp moments every day provide campers with the opportunity to really connect – without distractions, without worrying about the social strata, without feeling rushed because there’s a sports practice or meeting to get to. Campers’ time together at camp is much more concentrated and focused than time spent with friends in between school and organized, structured sports and activities. Circled around a campfire, sharing their goals, fears, and dreams, campers get to know each other well, learn to appreciate each other’s unique qualities, and form deep bonds of friendship. In fact, many campers say their camp friends, whom they spend only two weeks with each summer, are their closest friends. This summer, we’re going to focus on those friendships.

Making Friends

From the moment campers step on the bus to go to camp, counselors will facilitate introductions between campers. By the end of the first day at camp, campers will not only know the names of everyone in their cabin group, but they will also know some of the goals and personality characteristics that make their new friends tick. Counselors will help campers get to know each other through both organized and informal social games and activities. Throughout the camp session, campers will have opportunities for both group and one-on-one socializing with other campers, facilitated by counselors as needed.

Learning & Practicing Friendship Skills

Counselors will coach campers on specific social skills that help form and maintain solid friendships, including the communication skills, emotion regulation skills, and emotional intelligence that are important in forming positive relationships with others.

Counselors will model the social skills they want campers to practice and will facilitate age-appropriate campfire discussions about friendship. Campers will be asked to look for and point out ways their cabin mates have demonstrated great friendship traits. Through different activities facilitated by the counselors, campers will talk about and share how they’re creating connections at camp.

Counselors will talk with campers about how each person needs to develop relationship skills to help connect better with others, and counselors will help campers tune it to their friendship strengths and coach them in areas where they can improve their friendship skills.

Maintaining Camp Friendships

At the conclusion of the session, we will encourage campers to stay in touch with each other after camp ends. We’ll have them exchange email, phone, address, or social media account information (whichever is their best form of contact). Rather than sending the cabin address list to parents as we have done in the past, we will ask campers to take ownership of this exchange of friend contact information.  Ask your camper to show you his “Friendship Contact Information” when he gets home from camp, and encourage him to keep up the connections he creates at GAC this summer!

Our goal is for all of our campers to create solid friendship connections with their cabin mates and other campers that are maintained well beyond the borders of GAC and that last much longer than their camp session.

We had a great 2014 summer Creating Connections, and we’re looking forward to continuing that this summer!


Audrey “Sunshine” Monke has been the owner and director of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989.  Read more of her thoughts on camp and parenting at sunshine-parenting.com.

Four Reasons for Two Weeks of Camp

“Do you have a one week session?” is one of the questions we often get asked by parents who are new to our program.  The question is usually preceded or followed by the comment,  “Two weeks is too long for my child.”

I thought it would be helpful to outline for new parents why Gold Arrow Camp has a two-week session length as our primary camp offering.   Although we also offer one-week specialty camp options at the beginning and end of the summer, Gold Arrow Camp’s core program is a two-week session, and that is the length of time the majority of our campers attend camp.   We also have campers who are “Monthers,” who attend four weeks of camp by combining two, two-week sessions.
There are many benefits to camp, regardless of length of stay, as per the American Camp Association study.  So, I urge you to find a camp that fits your family’s needs and schedule, even if Gold Arrow is not the best fit for you.

Our program, up until the 1970s, was a month-long program.  Many traditional, East Coast camps still offer only one seven or eight-week session.   To people in the West, this sounds crazy, as most programs on our side of the country are one-week in length.   However, families who have been part of Gold Arrow and other traditional camp programs understand the benefits of a longer camp stay.

Many traditional camps in California have started offering one-week programs, because that’s what many parents think they want for their child.  Fortunately, our camp families have kept our two-week sessions consistently full, so we will continue to offer what we consider the best length for our program.

Why does Gold Arrow Camp have two-week sessions?

Here are four reasons:

  1. Community and Friendship Building
  2. Breadth and Depth of Activities
  3. Social Skill Development
  4. Independence and Confidence Building

Rock Climbing


1. Community and Friendship Building

“Eli had the greatest summer camp experience.  He knew no one going to camp and come home with a host of new friends.  He had a huge smile on his face when we greeted him and it lasted for a long time.  He was pushed to achieve and he was proud of himself for achieving his goals.” – 2014 GAC Parents

While a lot of fun happens during even just one day of camp, spending more time connecting and building bonds with counselors, cabin mates, and other campers is one of the benefits of a two-week stay.

The first week of the session, there is an adjustment period for the first few days, when campers are getting settled and getting to know one another, the schedule, and the activities.  By the middle of the first week, campers feel settled and comfortable at camp, and relationships have the opportunity to start getting deeper.  Friendships, while they can definitely be formed in one week, have a better chance to grow stronger and deeper with more connection time.

“My children lead busy lives during the school year with various teams and enrichment programs.  Going to Gold Arrow Camp allows them to unwind and gain a new perspective on friendship, goals and life.  From my perspective, GAC is summer the way it is supposed to be for kids.  Thank you!!” – 2014 GAC Parents

Because all of the campers in the cabin group are at camp for the same length of time (two weeks), there are no departures and arrivals in the middle of the session to disrupt the group’s cohesiveness and the bonds that have developed.  Everyone arrives together and departs together, with the exception of our Monther campers, who stay on for another session after their first two-weeks end.


2. Breadth and Depth of Activities

“Gold Arrow Camp is a great summer camp experience. Our son has gone to GAC for 4 years now and every year he sees old friends, makes new ones, tries new things, compares his skills at the activities from the current year to past summers, can be independent and responsible for himself and his belongings, and gets to enjoy the beautiful camp setting away from the heat in Phoenix. He is already looking forward to next summer when he will receive his 5-year blanket.” – 2014 GAC Parents

We take advantage of our location on Huntington Lake, in the heart of the Sierra National Forest, by teaching campers a large variety of water and land-based recreational activities.  Many of our activities require extensive time and instruction. Sailing, as an example, is an activity that begins with a 2 ½ hour group lesson, and can be followed up by many additional lessons as campers opt for more sailing during Free Time.  Without adequate time, it would be impossible for campers to even get to all of the activities we offer, let alone build skills in them.   We want our campers to get exposure to all of what is offered at camp, and have the opportunity to pursue activities they are passionate about.

During their two weeks at Gold Arrow, campers have the opportunity to learn to sail, ride a horse, shoot a rifle, get up on water skiis, and participate in a myriad of other activities.   Many of these sports require time and practice to master.  For first-time campers, two weeks is just enough time to expose them to all of the different activities and start practicing and improving skills.  Returning campers continue to build upon and develop new skills, even after five or six years at our program.  The depth of instruction offered, the opportunity to improve recreational skills, and the ability to earn different patches and certifications all distinguish Gold Arrow Camp’s program.

We have two outpost programs, away from our main camp, that take up a portion of the two-week session.  We have a water sports outpost camp on an island on Shaver Lake where campers enjoy one or two nights camping on the beach.  At Shaver Island, campers spend their days on the lake improving their skills in waterskiing, wakeboarding, and kneeboarding.  While these sports are also done at our main camp on Huntington Lake, their stay at Shaver allows our two-week campers time to really improve their skills with a lot of “behind the boat” time.  Our other outpost program is backpacking.  All campers go on a one-night overnight backpacking trip and get to experience outdoor cooking, sleeping under the stars, and living in nature.

There are some activities that we wait to do until the second week of camp, when campers are feeling connected and more comfortable taking risks.  At the end of the second week of camp, we have our dance, and several all-day, sign up trips.  Campers can opt to spend the day sailing across Huntington Lake, going on a long horse trail ride, climbing challenging terrain on a rock climbing trip, and more.

Honestly, even two weeks seems short to us.  We barely get campers to all of our activities, and it’s time for them to go home!


3. Social Skills Development

“Gold Arrow Camp added a new dimension to our daughter’s summer.  She was able participate in sports and activities she had not done before; further develop her social skills by meeting new people and being involved with her cabin mates a large part of each day; and enjoy free time in a beautiful setting free of electronics.” – 2014 GAC Parents

Kids benefit from experiences living and working in groups regardless of the length of time.  However, I believe that allowing a group to really bond and connect also allows kids to grow their communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution skills more than when they are in a shorter-term program.


4. Independence and Confidence Building

“Both girls came home SO happy!  Melissa came home today, Jesse last week.  Melissa had gone to camp knowing no one, and upon her return, she had to finish BIG hugs good-bye with friends before she’d get in the car to go home.  On our drive home, she went a mile a minute with stories about her 2 weeks at GAC, and when she got home, she burst into tears, saying she missed camp, her friends, and that she wished she could live at camp all year round!  At that point we told her she could go back next year for 4 weeks, and she became overjoyed with excitement, and wanted us to sign her up for 2012 right then and there.  Jessica ‘Jess’, also had an amazing experience.  She came home last Saturday, after 1 week, as she was a Nugget.  She, too wants to go back next year, this time for ‘either 2… maybe 4 weeks.’  Considering she’s only 7, we are amazed.  Both girls look like they grew 2 inches each while away, but it’s really an extra gained confidence where they’re walking taller and prouder with themselves.  We are SO thrilled that we found Gold Arrow Camp, a camp their second cousin went to almost 20 years ago.  As the famous vanilla tree has been rooted at GAC for years and years, we look forward to our girls being rooted there for years and years to come, too.  Thanks for such a positive, growing, and out of this world experience!” – 2014 GAC Parent
“As a multi-generational Gold Arrow Family, nothing beats your child immersed high-up in the Sierra Nevada for total fun and adventure. Every day brings a sublime surprise. They return with confident Sierra Nevada Mountain swagger that is part-and-parcel with a positive can-do attitude.”- 2014 GAC Parent

GAC gave our daughter the freedom to make choices, and the support to make good ones.

“Our daughter went from not being able to sleep overnight at friends houses to spending three weeks at GAC.  GAC provided our daughter with the confidence of knowing that she can accomplish anything that she sets her mind to complete.” – 2014 GAC Parents

For many kids, their stay at camp is the first time that they have ever been away from their parents at all.  Some have attended sleep-overs, weekend scout camps, or week-long school programs, but for many campers, their first stay at Gold Arrow is the longest they’ve been away from their parents.  We know this, and our counselors are trained to help first-time campers get adjusted to being away and learn to cope with feelings of missing their parents.

Campers feel a great sense of pride in themselves after “being on their own,” and having fun, without mom or dad nearby.   While two weeks seem slow to parents, especially during their first camp experience, the days fly by at Camp.

“Two weeks was not enough for our son….now he’s a MONTHER!” – 2014 GAC Parent

Jif’s 5 Goals for Summer 2015

T-8097For 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.

  1. Empathy

    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

  2. Consistency

    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.

  3. Let the Silly Out

    T-7941Camp 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.”

  4. “Proud of You”

    jif_2This 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.

  5. Reflection

    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.

I-0077Jif 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! 

Why I Send my Kids to Camp: It Grows Their Grit

“The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles.”
– Garth Stein

Written by Christine Carter, Ph.D.

What quality does the Buddha share with Luke Skywalker and Joan of Arc? What links Harriet Tubman with Harry Potter? What does your camper have in common with Michael Jordan?

GritIt has nothing to do with enlightenment or magic. It has to do with struggle. These heroes share a key quality: GRIT.

What is grit?

I think the best way to describe it is by starting with Joseph Campbell and his classic analysis of the “hero’s journey.” Campbell explains how the journey always begins when the hero leaves home and all that is familiar and predictable. After that, Campbell writes, “Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed—again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.”

Kinda sounds like summer camp to me.

It is grit that makes our heroes (campers) face down their dragons and persist in the face of difficulty, setbacks, failure, and fear. They fall down and get back up again. They try their hardest, only to fail. But instead of giving up, they try again and again and again.

It isn’t just historical or fictional heroes who need to be gritty to rise to the top. Recent psychological research has found that grit is one of the best predictors of elite performance, whether in the classroom or in the workforce. Defined by researchers as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” grit gives kids the strength to cope with a run-of-the-mill bad day (or week or season) as well as with trauma or crisis.

It turns out that grit predicts performance better than IQ or innate talent. Grit makes our kids productive and successful because it allows them to reach their long-term goals despite life’s inevitable setbacks. This ability to overcome challenges makes them stronger and more masterful at their tasks. Moreover, the ability to cope with difficulty—to be resilient—paves the way for their long-term happiness.

Rock Climbing

Grit is not really a personality trait as much as it is a facet of a person’s character that is developed like any other skill. Babies are not born with grit any more than they are born with the ability to speak their mother’s native language. We humans develop grit by encountering difficulty and learning to cope with it.

And with that in mind, here’s some perverse “good” news: No life is free from challenges or difficulties. In other words, all of our kids will have plenty of opportunities to develop grit. Out of their setbacks and failures grow the roots of success and happiness. Grandmaster chess players, great athletes, scientific geniuses, and celebrated artists learn, in part, by losing, making mistakes, and failing. Consider this quote from Michael Jordan (who, incidentally, was cut from his high school basketball team):

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

The even better news is that most kids have the capacity to develop grit, and I believe summer camp is the best place for them to do it. Camp exposes kids to what I think of as “safe difficulties”–real physical, social, and emotional challenges for them to overcome. They will sometimes fall off the rock, or struggle to kneeboard. They may have a hard time leaving home, or have a hard time making friends. They will also have a ton of old-fashioned fun, make deep friendships, feel great gratitude for their families, experience the exhilaration of collective joy, learn new skills and develop new talents.

Team Building

The benefit, to me, is this combination of sheer joy and great difficulty that camp exposes kids to. For most kids, camp is an experience that is at times hard and uncomfortable, but that they remember most for all the times it was easy and joyful.

Despite the discomfort they may feel at times, kids experience camp positively for three reasons:

First, they learn at camp that it isn’t so bad to make a mistake, and that a difficult situation is just a difficult situation, a problem to be solved or an opportunity for improvement. At home and at school, kids typically fear making mistakes and so hide their failures, and this prevents them from truly learning anything from them.

Second, at camp kids learn that they have the ability to cope with difficult feelings and situations themselves. At home, we well-meaning parents are usually around to help solve problems and salve emotional pain. At camp, kids gain a more powerful sense of themselves when they develop the skills they need to deal with difficulty without their parents, and these skills transfer to life outside of camp.

Team Building

Finally, kids learn that no one is entitled to a life free from difficulty. Camp is a great equalizer, providing challenges for all kids. Camp lets them all star in their own hero’s journey. Instead of letting them give up and go home when the going gets rough, it gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like to dig in.

Camp gives kids the opportunity to see difficulty not just as an inconvenience or injustice, but as a chance for what Campbell calls a “boon,” or dramatic win in the hero’s journey. This gives kids new perspective on life’s challenges—and new strength to deal with them.

There are drawbacks to the hero’s journey, of course. Our kids don’t come home from camp the same: Once they’ve faced down a particularly difficult challenge, they typically have grown so much we might hardly recognize them. But the advantages to developing grit are great, and the “boon” is always worthwhile.


Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a parent coach and the author of RAISING HAPPINESS: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents She coaches and teaches online classes in order to help parents bring more joy into their own lives and the lives of their children, and she writes an award-winning blog for parents and couples. She is also a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Sign up for her short weekly Happiness Tips at www.christinecarter.com.

Goals and Growth at Camp

In order to grow, you need to challenge yourself by setting goals, stepping out of your comfort zone, and accomplishing something new. At Gold Arrow Camp, that’s what our campers do. Our counselors are trained to help kids set and reach personal growth and activity-related goals. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of accomplishment and achievement you get when you’ve reached a goal you’ve set for yourself, whether it be climbing to the top of the Rock Wall or, if you’re afraid of heights, even just reaching the half- way point. We love seeing kids reach the  goals they set for themselves!

See how some of these campers have grown at GAC:

Archery“One day my cabin had archery, which is my favorite activity.  My goal this year was to get five bullseyes.  I’ve done this before and wanted to achieve this again.  I was doing really good and then I got the arrow in the yellow.  It was one centimeter away from being a bullseye.  I was so excited to be getting the hang of it, but sad now because that was the only time I could sign up for archery in free time.  I think archery is super fun and cool because it shows that girls are strong as well as boys.   I sometimes practice at a range near my home, though the targets are farther away it’s good practice.  About a year ago, I got my own bow and five arrows.  They are different from the wooden bows here at camp, but they’re still so cool.” – Maia
“During sailing you learn how to steer, rig, de-rig, and capsize your boat.  To steer you must push or pull the tiller the opposite way you want to go.  This makes the rudder steer you the way you want to go.  To rig a boat, all you have to do is untie the sail and (with a buddy) pull on the rope which makes the sail float up on the mast.  Then, you have to tie the rope to the hook-thing.  To de-rig a boat, you have to untie the rope from the hook-thing and slowly lower the sail and tie it back up.  To capsize the boat, you must pull down the mast while a buddy is leaning that way.  Now that you’ve just capsized your boat, you and your buddy must grab the dagger board and pull it back up.  To do this, your right hand must be facing the front of the boat.  Then, you and your buddy must be facing the front of the boat.  Then, you and your buddy must pull it down (towards the water) and your boat should just pop up.  Now that you know how to sail, you can go sailing with a friend or your family anytime.  You can also teach them all the parts of the boat and (in general) how to sail!” – Georgina

Natural Rocks

“Wherever you are in GAC there will always be a beautiful sight to behold.  Most locations in camp provide a breathtaking view of Huntington Lake and it is nearly impossible to find a location without impressive trees and other forms of plant life.  The inescapable beauty of GAC provides a perfect environment for campers to learn and grow while performing exhilarating activities.  One of my favorite places in GAC is the natural rock climbing courses.  The rock courses are interesting rock formations to look at and climbing them is great exercise.  Well-trained counselors belay campers up the rock so it is completely safe, however, it is still a thrilling experience to be so far above the ground.  The rocks are a great way to test one’s climbing abilities and the sense of accomplishment and the view after climbing to the top are unparalleled rewards.  Rock climbing is an incredible experience and I strongly recommend it to all campers visiting GAC.” – Sammy
Sailing“On Monday, June 24th, our cabin went sailing.  Unfortunately, it was raining and freezing cold.  My partner, Annie, and I were in a boat together because we were trying to qualify for Willow (the sailing trip).  At first there was no wind at all, but then it started to pick up. Eventually, it was freezing cold, windy, and rainy.  Finally, it stopped raining and we capsized and had a great time.  I think that that sailing trip was Annie and I’s favorite because we kind of had an adventure together.  We named our boat Hall (short for Halyard), and that is now our favorite boat because it kind of “survived” the stormy adventure.” – Macy
Read more about Grit, Goals, & Growth!

Building Grit

backpacking“Gold Arrow Camp has taught me to be brave and reach my goals.
If it wasn’t for GAC, I wouldn’t be nearly as courageous as I am now.”

– Remi


Grit has become the new buzz word in education and parenting thanks to Paul Tough’s best-selling book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.   Before we started using the word “grit,” we used words like “stick-to-itiveness” or persistence to describe this desirable character trait.    Hard working and disciplined also fit into the description of a person with grit. I know it’s true that kids (and adults) need grit to succeed: to push past failures, to work hard at things they’re not good at, and to eventually find success.  But how do we teach grit to a distinctively non-gritty kid (or dare-I-say generation?)- one who quits when something gets hard, who doesn’t want to try anything new or difficult, who prefers playing video games to practicing piano?

I think the keys may be teaching kids to set and work towards goals, and teaching them to adopt a growth mindset.


calendarI love flipping to a new year on my calendar.  The empty, clean pages scream out opportunity to me.  January represents a chance to start again, make lists, get organized, and set some new goals.   But I haven’t always set goals correctly, and I’ve learned a few things about setting goals.  First, thanks to Christine Carter, I’ve learned to think of goals in the framework of developing new, better habits.   According to Carter, it’s important to take “turtle” steps in starting a new habit so that one can be successful. So, rather than going from zero exercise to making running a marathon your goal, Carter encourages baby steps.  Start with a five minute daily walk, she says, so that you can be successful in establishing a new habit rather than undermining your goal by making it a near certain failure.  And just work on one goal or habit at a time, rather than a long list.

Second, from a longtime trainer who’s worked with our leadership staff at camp, Debby Winning, I’ve learned about setting SMART goals.  Rather than lofty, unmeasurable goals, which are rarely reached, it’s important to make sure goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Tangible

So, rather than making my goal, “Eat healthy,” I need to say, “Eat five servings of fruit or vegetables each day and make a check mark on my daily calendar each time I eat one .”

I also think it’s important not just to think about a goal but to WRITE IT DOWN and SHARE IT WITH A FRIEND.  Most people go through life and don’t even stop to think what their mission in life is and what their goals are.  But those who do are the ones who are destined for success.  I love the book FIVE: Where Will You Be Five Years From Today, by Dan Zadra.  It’s a workbook-style book that talks you through your values and helps you come up with your mission.  He also shares the missions of some famous people.  Walt Disney’s?  “My mission in life is to make people happy.”

One of the valuable skills that we can teach our kids is how to set and reach goals. The start of a new year offers a great clean slate to think about and write down some goals. But goals can be made any time.  This year, I’m planning to work on just one goal at a time, rather than on many, unrealistic resolutions.

ropes courseAt our opening campfires at camp, counselors ask kids to share something they want to accomplish at camp.  The goal might be trying an activity they’re a little bit scared of, reaching a specific milestone at an activity, or sometimes it’s a social goal, like getting up on stage in front of a big group or making a new friend.  We encourage kids to think of something that is outside their comfort zone and a little bit challenging, because those goals are the ones that lead to the greatest feelings of pride and accomplishment.

What about trying the same thing at home?  Have each family member share something they’ve dreamed of learning or trying or changing but never have.  Then, as a follow up, have them set a realistic, SMART goal around that particular area.  Write down each family member’s goal and provide each other with encouragement and support to reach the goal.  Try just one goal per person so that it doesn’t get overwhelming.

Goal setting is such an important life skill and something extremely valuable to teach our kids.


In her book MindsetCarol Dweck outlines the importance of having a growth mindset to have success in any area of life.  A growth mindset, according to Dweck, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” Several of the books I’ve read recently have referred to Dweck’s research about mindset and the importance of teaching kids a growth mindset.IMG_7265

Many of us have a fixed mindset about ourselves and others.  We see talent as innate, something we’re born with, and think we (and others) are either good at something or not and that can’t be changed. But the reality is that anyone can improve at anything, as long as they put the hard work in.  I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers as I readMindset.    Gladwell talks about how the people we think of as “greats” in many fields — sports, business, the arts — put in hours and hours of disciplined hard work to achieve greatness.  The 10,000 hours of practice Gladwell talks about as being necessary to reach mastery or greatness at anything has been discussed and quoted by many.


I like the idea of sharing stories with our kids about examples of people who’ve worked extremely hard and practiced a lot to achieve greatness.  There are examples in sports and music and many other areas.  It’s especially important to share the stories of people who have failed and kept trying (think Abe Lincoln!).

The other important way we teach our kids a growth mindset is using growth mindset rather than fixed mindset praise when complimenting our kids.  So, rather than, “You’re so smart to have finished that so fast,” which a child might interpret as smartness = fast work, we might say, “I noticed how you tried different strategies to solve that math problem.”  Or, “I’ll make sure to give you more challenging math work next time so that you’ll learn something new.” We want our kids to internalize the value of hard work and effort over broad descriptive adjectives that can backfire.  Dweck’s research has shown that telling a kid he or she is smart makes them less likely to take on challenging tasks that might jeopardize their title as a “smart” kid.

A growth mindset goes perfectly with goal setting, because to reach a goal, you need to invest time and effort.  And that builds grit.