“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?
It 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.
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.
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.
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 and The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work. 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.
By the end of high school, teens need to have mastered more skills than just reading, writing and math to be successful, thriving adults.
Gold Arrow Camp’s Outdoor Leadership Course (OLC) helps campers develop important life skills that stretch them far beyond academics: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.
The OLC is a two-week program for young people interested in developing important life skills. Trained leaders guide OLC participants on a challenging, six-day, 30-mile backpacking trip into the High Sierras. Throughout the session, campers develop backcountry navigational and survival skills, practice wilderness first aid skills, and participate in GAC activities.
The purpose of OLC is to challenge teens to learn and grow in self-awareness, develop maturity, discover the value of community and working with others to solve problems and accomplish shared objectives. While growing and learning, participants develop five skills vital for success: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.
“Being a part of OLC has influenced my life after camp because it taught me how to be a leader and being a part of a high school swim team, being a leader is a big part of staying together as a team.” – Sophia, OLC Participant
After arriving at camp, OLC participants receive leadership training before departing on the backpacking trip. They do exercises in team building, learn conflict resolution techniques, and practice positive communication. While in the wilderness, campers have the opportunity to learn and practice map and compass navigation, outdoor cooking, Leave No Trace principles and ethics, sustainable backcountry living, and wildlife biology.
All OLC participants serve as “Leader of the Day,” which means they use navigational skills to determine which path to take, when to stop for breaks, and what to do about any situations that arise while hiking. At the end of the day, the “Leader of the Day” receives feedback from trip leaders and peers.
Achieving independence is essential to making the transition to adulthood, and participating in challenging outdoor program with other teens is a perfect way to develop the self efficacy needed to feel confident away from home. The hard skills learned during the OLC — navigation, outdoor cooking, wilderness first aid, camping, and hiking — require independence, curiosity, and creative problem solving.
3. Communication Skills
“I really enjoyed getting to discover myself in the woods, thinking and hiking and communicating with my fellow campers.” – Blake, OLC Participant
Effective communication is arguably the most important of all life skills. Trained trip leaders use positive guidance to facilitate reflection, dialogue and group
discussion throughout the program. Leaders encourage campers to think about what happened that day, what their successes and challenges were, and how to grow from those experiences. At the end of the course, all OLC participants have improved communication skills with peers and counselors.
Research shows that wilderness courses are well-suited to teach outdoor skills, self-confidence in general and confidence during adversity. Participation in an outdoor leadership program have a positive impact on emotional intelligence, specifically on stress management and adaptability. All OLC participants set personal and group goals before leaving on the backpacking portion of the course and work to accomplish those goals throughout the session with the help, direction, and encouragement of trip leaders.
A multi-day backpacking trip through the rugged terrain of the High Sierra has days that tax participants both mentally and physically. In the Outdoor Leadership Course, teens learn to push through challenges through encouragement from their trip leaders, supportive group dynamics, and building their self leadership. While surrounded by their peers, they learn just how far they can push themselves. They learn, literally, that they can climb mountains. After their OLC accomplishments, finding a way to make it to sports practice or finishing up a college admissions essay seem easy.
OLC participants are responsible for managing their equipment, completing tasks carefully and on time, admitting their role in mistakes, and working to correct those mistakes. The OLC equips campers to take the initiative to make their own decisions, fulfill obligations, and grow from their experiences.
In addition to the skills OLC participants learn and the growth they experience from the program, there is something else that too many teens don’t have the time to find; genuine face to face FUN!
“What I enjoyed about the OLC was that everyday was different, some days we would do longer hikes, and others we would have lot of time to relax and the enjoy the people and scenery. One of my favorite days out in the backcountry was when when we hiked about 5 miles and then hung out in a river for the rest of the afternoon, and then made quesadillas for dinner. The food was always amazing, and there was always plenty to eat. My favorite lunch was probably Nutella and English muffins. We had a lot of Nutella.” – Charlotte, OLC Participant
“Friends are everything. They are always there if you have a problem or if you get hurt,
they can always help you up.”
– Patricio, Camper, Age 8
The commonly accepted trajectory of do well in school -> get into a good college -> make a lot of money -> flourish in life is not exactly accurate. You only have to know one unhappy wealthy person to know that’s not the path that will lead to happiness or fulfillment.
What is a more accurate trajectory? good interpersonal (social) skills -> positive relationships -> flourish in life.
Michael Thompson’s statement, “Friendship is the gold of childhood,” stuck with me long after I attended his conference session on the social lives of children. Friendship is not just the gold of childhood, but also of life. In my research for my Master’s degree in Psychology, I looked closely at studies related to friendship, social skills, and well-being. What I found was not surprising. For children, and adults as well, positive relationships are the best predictor of overall happiness and well-being. As parents, teachers, and counselors, we should be putting a primary emphasis on helping kids develop the social skills they need to make and keep friends.
Unfortunately, our culture is not supporting the development of healthy, solid friendships between kids. Friendship is more important than any academic subject or athletic skill, and yet the way our kids spend their time does not reflect this importance. For many kids, there simply isn’t time in their lives for developing strong, close friendships.
What are our kids learning about friendship in this Instagram, Snapchat, and texting era of “friends?” Many boast hundreds, even thousands, of “friends” and “likes” on photos. Yet some of those same kids don’t have one single person in their lives that meets the criteria of a true and trusted friend. Face-to-face social skills, such as being able to read non-verbal cues, are learned through practice. If communication is primarily through media, then those skills are not being honed.
Another cultural factor that is counter-productive to the development of solid friendships is the constant, high-stakes competition our children are constantly in with their peers. Who’s ranked higher at school? Who made the “A” team? Who’s more popular? Often, instead of being truly supportive and encouraging of each other, kids want their peers to fail.
“Friends are those rare people who ask how you are and then wait for an answer.”
– Author Unknown
Making friends, and being a good friend, doesn’t come naturally to all people. And, coupled with the crazy culture we’re in, it’s no surprise that many kids are struggling to form strong friendships.
Friends are the reason campers and counselors return to Gold Arrow Camp year after year. “Make Friends” is one of the three main goals we chant at the opening of camp each session. At camp, there is time for friendship — precious, relaxing time to get to know each other, spend time making memories, and communicating face-to-face. Our whole camp community is built around inclusion, respect, and kindness. There is no competition at camp, no “A” team or “popular” group. Just kids having fun together and learning to live and play with each other, work out disagreements, and become better friends to each other.
Counselors are trained to help kids connect from the moment they get on the bus until the last good bye. Long talks at meals, around the campfire, and under the stars in sleeping bags are uninterrupted by cell phones and other technological distractions. Campers can’t “tune out” by putting earphones in. They stay engaged with each other and learn to connect. Counselors gently coach campers who need to develop social skills in areas such as listening skills, empathy, sharing, flexibility, initiating conversations, and understanding non-verbal cues. They encourage campers to be intentional about being good friends to each other and observant about what they appreciate about their friends.
On the final day of camp, our campers receive their session yearbooks, which include a space for them to share contact information with each other. We hope that campers use this tool to stay in contact throughout the year.
“Friends are awesome, because they stand up for you, and they care for you.”
– Joey, Camper, Age 11
At one final campfire gathering last summer, the Randy Newman song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” came on during the slide show. A group of four twelve-year-old boys sitting on the bench in front of me spontaneously put their arms around each other and started swaying back and forth, singing along to the song. I will never forget that vivid picture of the power of camp friendships.
Want to get some tips on Coaching Your Child to Better Social Skills? Join Sunshine for an online workshop on Thursday, September 29 from 11-11:30 am (PDT). RSVP here and the meeting link will be sent to you!
By Andy “Soy” Moeschberger
In all probability the educationist of the year 2000 AD will look back upon us and wonder why we, the school people of 1938, failed to include the camp as an integral unit of our educational system.
– The Kappan Magazine, the official magazine of Phi Delta Kappa – 1938
If you ever have the opportunity to visit us at camp, you’ll have the opportunity to sing the GAC Song. While many people love the “wadda-ing” that takes place in the chorus, my favorite part comes in the final verse. We sing, “I sure did learn much more here than I ever did at school.”
My love of this line comes from my teaching before I came to work for Gold Arrow full time; I was a high school social science teacher for 14 years.
It may seem odd that a teacher would love a line about learning more at camp that we did at school. But I do, because camp and school operate symbiotically. While those of us in camping and education have known this anecdotally for many years, there is an increasing body of evidence that supports that belief with data.
Some of that research has been supported by the American Camping Association, and I was privileged to hear one of the leaders in the field, Lance W. Ozier Ed.D. speak on this at a recent conference. He has written on the history of camps and schools (you can read it here). In that article, Dr. Ozier lays out the reasons that camp blossomed in America after the Civil War. As people moved to the cities, adults began to worry that their children were losing touch with nature, and so they sent them to live in nature. How familiar does that refrain sound to us today?
And yet the challenges for young people are even greater now than they were then. The rise of computers, social media and cell phones have had as great a social impact as urbanization a hundred years ago. Today, camp serves not just as a way to reengage children with nature, but as a way to help them learn vital social skills in a systematic way. We are fortunate that one of our camp owners and directors, Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, has studied the impact of camp on building social skills. Her research shows that a significant majority of campers report having improved social skills because of camp. She believes that this is because camp counselors are specifically trained in helping campers to improve skills like making friends and listening to others.
It isn’t just Sunshine that has found these results. According to research conducted by the American Camp Association, campers and their parents report that campers have more social skills, higher self esteem, and more independence.When a child returns to school more comfortable socially, they have more confidence, and are more likely to sit up front, ask questions, ignore distractions and choose a seat near the front. When they do that, they are setting themselves up for more academic success.
But wait, there’s more! Camp also provides an opportunity for children to struggle in a safe and supporting environment. Sunshine has written about this as well. That post is about Growing Grit, a concept that has been moved into the public discussion about education by Angela Duckworth’s research. We think that grit is so important we made it our theme for an entire summer! But there is increasing research that shows how struggling actually changes the way the brain grows. This research in neuroplasticity shows that the brain grows much more when it is engaged in something difficult. So every time a camper tries to waterski another time, or climbs the rock wall, their brains are growing!
(Interestingly, that same research shows that the brain also grows more and stronger synapses, in mice at least, when they are allowed to roam openly in nature.)
None of this is news to people who send their kids to camp, or those of us who work at camp. We can see anecdotally that kids are more confident and more “alive” after camp. But this research simply confirms what so many educational researchers knew in the early 1900s: going to camp when you’re not in school will help your education.
Visit Sunshine Parenting for more of Sunshine’s articles about the benefits of summer camp, children’s social skills, and parenting.
Written by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke
Campers often describe camp as their “happy place” or “the best two weeks” of their year. And, from my own observation, I’ve seen that kids and the counselors who work with them are obviously happy at camp. They smile a lot. They look relaxed. There’s a lot of laughter. So many fun things happen at camp every day that it’s no surprise it’s such a happy place for kids.
Recently I’ve read several books about the science behind happiness and the research that’s being done to determine the specific elements that cause people to “flourish” in life. (See my reading list below.)
Traditionally, psychologists have focused on studying psychological diseases – depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. – and their cures. But led by Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania), a new breed of psychologists called Positive Psychologists have, for the past decade, been studying the positive side of people. They ask not what is wrong with people, but what is right. They research what makes us do well in life and the reasons why some people thrive and find success and happiness in life.
Originally, Seligman had a theory of “happiness” outlined in his book Authentic Happiness, but he moved away from only using the word “happiness” to a new theory that focuses instead on well-being or “flourishing.” Seligman determined that it’s inaccurate to use the term “happiness,” as some people simply don’t have the personality to appear outwardly happy to others, even when they are doing quite well in life. I’m an extrovert who smiles a lot, so, objectively, people would probably say I’m pretty high on the happy scale. But how do we account for an introvert who doesn’t show a lot or emotion or display the outward symptoms that we equate with happiness? He may not smile a lot or appear outwardly happy, but, Seligman contends, he could still be flourishing. So, instead of using a one-dimensional definition that’s dependent on momentary emotions and personality traits, Seligman developed a more thorough theory of well-being that moved beyond his original happiness theory.
Seligman uses the acronym PERMA to define his theory and the five measurable elements he has determined lead to well-being. As I read about each pillar of PERMA in Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, I kept having “ah-ha” moments. “This happens at camp!” I would think. “And this, too!” In fact, as I read, I determined that ALL of the elements of flourishing that Seligman describes happen at camp. According to Seligman, “No one element defines well-being, but each contributes to it.”
I’ve always been sucked in by inspirational quotes and quick sounds bites about how camp contributes to happiness, but I love knowing the science behind why kids flourish at camp.
PERMA at Camp
P: Positive Emotion
Positive emotion is exactly what it sounds like: feeling happy and having positive thoughts about yourself, the people around you, or your surroundings. When someone reports they are feeling content, relaxed, or happy, then they are experiencing positive emotions. At camp, positive emotions are the norm, not the exception. We’re singing; we’re dancing; we’re doing skits that don’t make sense but that cause us to laugh so hard our stomachs hurt. Whether we’re telling jokes and stories around the campfire or just entertaining ourselves talking and hanging out together, positive emotion is literally swirling around camp. You can almost see a haze of happiness and fun surrounding everyone at camp.
Seligman’s next element, engagement, describes when one is interested in and connected to
what they are doing. When you’re engaged in your hobby or book or job, you’re fired up about learning something new and energized by the activity. At camp, kids are constantly exposed to new experiences and challenges – both recreational and social – that get them interested and excited to learn. They’re pushed to get outside their comfort zone and really engage. For some kids, their stay at camp is the first time they’ve slept away from home and their parents, and they are engaged in learning to live with a group of new people. For others, the camp dance is the first time they’ve ever danced with other kids, so they’re being engaged socially in new ways.
As Seligman and other researchers found, and most of us intuitively know, “other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.”
We all know that positive relationships are one of the main contributors to our happiness in life, so it’s no surprise that relationships are an important pillar of Seligman’s theory. Our life’s relationships – with our parents, our siblings, our friends, our spouses, and our co-workers – are key to our happiness. Everyone comes to camp to see their old friends, make new friends, and just spend quality time connecting with others and building positive relationships. And camp is like no other place for that. You don’t have any of the competition or stress that often accompany kids’ relationships at home: Two bright students who are close friends are also competing for the valedictorian spot. Or two athletes who have grown up together are competing for the same position on a soccer team. The relationships at camp, without all the competition and “baggage” that kids have in some of their relationships at home, grow strong quickly. This is probably why so many kids have told me that, even though they are only at camp for two weeks, their camp friends are their closest friends and they stay connected with them all year, well beyond their time at camp.
To flourish in life, we need to feel that we have a purpose and that we matter. According to Seligman, meaning comes from “belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than the self.” Being a member of a cabin group at camp helps kids gain an understanding of how they are valued by others. For some kids, camp is the first place where they understand what it means to be a valued and accepted member of a community. Unlike at school, where some kids can be “invisible,” and go through a day without connecting with others, camp forces integration. Kids learn that they are an important and valued member of their cabin group, and they discover their character strengths through recognition from peers and counselors. While at camp, kids also have the opportunity to feel part of something bigger than themselves – a camp community that goes back nearly a century, where we still get to follow the same traditions our predecessors did. While learning about friendship, gratitude, and kindness, and practicing those skills, kids learn that they can positively impact others. They learn that they have value and that there is meaning in life.
People flourish when pursuing goals or mastering a skill. So, while having a great achievement is wonderful, much of flourishing comes from the striving towards the achievement. Many people report that it was a lot of fun working their way up and accomplishing small steps on the way to a goal. In fact, many people feel a let down once a goal has been achieved and realize, as Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently explained, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Every day at camp, kids have the opportunity to try new things and master new skills. Some kids arrive at camp with a specific goal: a bull’s eye at archery or getting up on a slalom water ski. But others simply practice and work towards improving or challenge themselves to try something that frightens them – like completing the ropes course. And all of their progress and little achievements add to kids’ flourishing at camp.
At this time of year, when parents are busy completing camp forms and are possibly having cold feet about sending their child to camp for the first time, I’d like to remind you that camp can help your kid flourish like no school, sports team, or other activity they do. So, enjoy watching your child flourish at camp this summer.
- Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin Seligman
- Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Martin Seligman
- The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Ed Deiner and Robert Biswas-Diener
All of our 4th grade campers recently received a special envelope in the mail from GAC. As part of the National Park Foundation’s Open OutDoors for Kids program, the White House and Federal Land Management agencies partnered together to launch the Every Kid in a Park initiative.
With shrinking school funding for field trips, this program seeks to remove the barriers for kids to access our nation’s public lands and waters. Every 4th grade student in the country is eligible to receive a pass that allows for free access to experience federal lands and waters during the 2017-2018 school year. As educators and advocates for the outdoors, Gold Arrow Camp obtained passes for all of our 4th grade campers and mailed them at the end of September.
We hope that all of our camp families will utilize public lands, and we think this free pass is a great way to start that conversation in our camp community! We would love to see pictures of our GAC campers and families spending time together outdoors. Send us a picture to feature on our website and social media!
Did you know that Gold Arrow Camp is located near three great National Parks? Any camp family planning to drop off or pick up campers from camp this summer can plan a detour through one of these stunning national treasures.
We hope you’ll make it a priority for your family to enjoy the outdoors together!
Learn more about Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park.
Following is an excerpt from Sierra Summers: The History of Gold Arrow Camp (publish date: November, 2017).
[…] In the meantime, Jeanie was hatching a much bigger change in her mind, one that she’d broached only briefly with Manny in casual conversation. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to try having girls at Gold Arrow?” she’d suggest, a prompt Manny would often shrug off as nonsense and “out of the question.” Gold Arrow was, after all, the last of the rugged camps for boys. “It was definitely appropriately named,” said Jeanie. “It was for boys only.” In those days, wrote Jeanie, “Manny liked the role of Frontiersman. He wore buckskin clothes, moccasins, and had a real Indian chant wakeup and goodnight. He liked the idea of the outdoor toilets, no electricity except where positively necessary, and certainly very little plumbing and no telephone.” But the question of having girls was fair, she’d thought, one that a number of parents had begun asking as well. The more she persisted, the more Manny relented, until one day he asked Jeanie if she thought girls would like Gold Arrow. “I’m a girl and I LOVE it,” she said.
Following the 1961 season, the idea of having girls at Gold Arrow became a question of when, not if; it was a question that would move toward resolution on an early spring evening in 1962, when Manny and Jeanie paid a social call to the home of Pat Rauen, one of Manny’s first campers in the 1930s, who now had a family of his own and whose son Mike had just finished his first summer on the mountain; it was expected that younger brother Tim would soon follow. Manny had put together a slide show, which featured Mike and his camp mates participating in activities like archery, canoeing, sailing, and waterskiing; there were also archived slides of Pat when he was a camper, junior counselor, and finally a counselor, thrown in so Manny could wax nostalgic with him about the old times at Gold Arrow. They laughed about what a rascal Pat was at camp, recalling the famed Counselor’s Day rotten egg battle he engineered. They talked about how tough and rugged camp was and how boys played Capture the Flag armed with real pinecones, which left cuts and bumps and a few swollen eyes when they hit their mark. They recalled the Beaver singing and playing his drum to wake the boys and send them off to bed. And at one point in the evening, Pat broke out his green and gold five-year blanket—he was the first camper to earn such an honor—and he showed it off proudly to Manny and Jeanie. Manny winked at Mike and told him one day he might earn one too.
Taking it all in was nine-year-old Holley Rauen, Mike’s younger sister, who sat “transfixed by all the slides and stories,” she said, and started crying miserably when the reel was done. She was jealous of the boys and couldn’t understand why girls couldn’t go to Gold Arrow Camp too: “I remember climbing into Jeanie’s lap and whimpering, It just isn’t fair,” she said. Jeanie consoled her and let her know that she couldn’t agree more. Girls could and should do all those fun things. Moments later, the Rauen kids shuffled off to bed, leaving the grown-ups to talk into the night. Pat told Manny that if indeed he decided to open the camp to girls, Holley would be the first to sign up. It was certainly something Manny would consider, and now that Jeanie was in his life, she’d help him consider it even more. Manny was no pushover, but soon enough he conceded and in the summer of 1962, Gold Arrow welcomed its first group of girls to camp. Holley was overjoyed when her dad told her that both she and Mike would be going to Gold Arrow that summer. “I was the very first girl camper to sign up,” she said, “and I am proud to say that.”
Thirty-four more girls followed Holley for that summer of 1962. Jeanie said often that the limited number was by design; the Vezies wanted to keep enrollment low and manageable so they could spend a lot of time with the girls and ensure they were having a good experience. They went with them to regular programs and outposts, with Manny filming their every move. Said camper Judy Hoff (1962), “I remember riding up a ridge a couple times so he could get the shot just right with the sun in the background.” Capturing campers in action—even if it was staged—was a vital part of the recruiting plan, more so with girls in the fold. Manny needed footage of girls happily and successfully doing everything boys did, so the Holley Rauens of the world would no longer have to watch with envy as boys rode horses and sailed.
The first night of girls’ camp in 1962 likely provided the defining moment of the entire summer, a moment that Jeanie shared in various iterations over the years. It began with Manny and Jeanie visiting each of the tents and sprinkling the campfires with “fairy dust” (sawdust soaked in gasoline), which cast magical silver sparkles above the flames. They chatted with the girls and shared in the camaraderie, then returned as they were getting tucked in. Jeanie made it a point that night to visit Holley Rauen first: “She came back and tucked me into my cot and was so delighted that I had my dad’s green and gold blanket covering my sleeping bag,” Holley said. Jeanie also crowed over Holley’s foot locker, how it was organized so perfectly with all the clothes rolled up and organized by type: “I sure loved the extra attention.”
It was a big moment for the Vezies, too. Seeing Pat Rauen’s five-year blanket over Holley’s sleeping bag was emotional; it was the first blanket Manny had ever awarded, and now it had returned some two decades later to warm the very first Gold Arrow girl. “Needless to say,” Jeanie wrote, “we had difficulty controlling our emotions.”
Girls arrived in greater numbers in the summers that followed, and they traveled to camp the same way the boys did—by train from Glendale to Fresno—which six-year camper Ellen (Fead) Fields (1966-1971) said was the best part of the journey because the train was where you “met all your camp friends for the first time.” Once off the train, campers were loaded onto a bus for the slow, uphill climb to Gold Arrow. It was an unpleasant trip, as buses lacked air conditioning, and open windows let in only hot air. Fields said she actually didn’t come up in a bus her first summer, recalling instead travelling in “the back of a big, open truck”:
[t]hey piled our trunks in, then our duffel bags, then we rode on top of our duffel bags. It was a hot, long drive and I was really homesick. One girl started crying and said she missed her parents, then everyone started crying.
Once off the bus (or truck), Jeanie said that girls settled into a camp where the “quarters had softened a bit” compared to when Gold Arrow was just for boys. Manny had added two shower/toilet rooms, one in the center of camp near the horse riding circle and living area, another below the dining porch. They were a step up from the outdoor bathtubs and outhouses used in previous summers and, said Jeanie, would better satisfy the Forest Service, which had become more demanding in its requirements as Gold Arrow welcomed more campers. Despite added facilities, Jeanie continued to use outdoor tubs for a tradition that became known as “Jeanie baths,” where campers were scrubbed clean and hosed down the day before heading home.
There was nothing pleasant about the practice, and many referenced being “scrubbed raw” in an effort to remove dirt that had gotten underneath their skin. Wrote Jeanie, “I wish I had a dollar for every camper I scrubbed and shampooed because some of them were too modest to be naked with others.” Campers continued to use the small, unlit outhouses too, which became famously known as KYBOs, a crude acronym encouraging efficient visits to the toilet when Nature called: get in, Keep Your Bowels Open, and get out. “The outhouses used when it was The Last of the Rugged Camps for Boys might not be acceptable for the girls and for our increased enrollment,” Jeanie said. The Vezies in fact went to “considerable expense” to please the Forest Service in the 1960s, Jeanie said, elevating electricity and plumbing standards while also adding a staff bathhouse with toilets and showers on one side for women, with the same on the other side for men.
In addition, Manny had built a number of tent platforms and outfitted them with cots, which remained out-of-doors, on decks. Part of the allure of Gold Arrow for four-year camper Harry Chandler (1962-1965) and his older brother Norman was sleeping under the stars, much like their dad Otis did more than twenty years before them. Camper Claudia Gregory said she and her cabinmates in the late-sixties had a pact that they couldn’t go to sleep each night until they’d counted ten falling stars: “Talk about idyllic summers!” she wrote. Harry Chandler remembers “the big wooden platforms with a tent on one side and sleeping cots on the other”: “When it rained, you had to scurry inside,” he said. And if campers were lucky enough to have an all-wood cabin, they could scurry indoors to huddle around a potbelly stove during a rainstorm. Camper Dede Heintz (1964) recalled her cabin group drying their wet rubber sneakers on the stove, only to have the soles melt from the heat.
The infamous “Jeanie Baths.” Campers were hosed down and scrubbed with a brush before going home. Photo: Gold Arrow Camp archive.
Camper Ellen Fields and friend on Shaver Island with pine needles in their hair, 1966, her first summer at GAC. Photo: Ellen Fields.
The Vezies standing together at Big Campfire. Gold Arrow Camp archive.
Want to read many more stories like this one? Order your copy of Sierra Summers!
For the past three summers, we’ve celebrated our graduating campers – campers who are coming to camp for their final summer – with a special ceremony held after the dance each session. All campers entering their sophomore year of high school are invited, in addition to all of their counselors from that session. While all the campers sit around a campfire, the group counselors say a few words about each of their graduating campers, including specific strengths they’ve seen and how they’ve watched each camper grow over the course of the session or their entire time at GAC. After these words are shared, campers receive a paddle with their name engraved on it, as well as a Sharpie so that campers can write notes and sign one anothers’ paddles.
Campers then have the opportunity to share how they’ve grown because of camp. While it is optional to share, many campers are very open about how camp has affected their lives. The paddle ceremony gives campers a chance to reflect upon their camp experiences and say goodbye to their camper days. While many campers may return later as Junior Counselors, OLC participants, or counselors, there’s nothing quite like being a Gold Arrow camper.
At the end of Session 2, we said goodbye to Tigger for the summer. Tigger has worked at GAC for thirty years, and we honored her at Appreciation Campfire with a gold arrow necklace. Tigger has brought so much insight and wisdom to camp due to her extensive experience working in education as a special education teacher. Hundreds of homesick campers over the years have had “Tigger Talks” full of encouragement and perspective, and several counselors mentioned the help that Tigger provided them with when they were campers.
Tigger wrote a poem and shared it with camp after being honored for her many years of service at GAC:
As I look back on my last 30 years
I’ve shared many smiles and shed a few tears
My first days as a counselor a long time ago
I saw joy and wonder and it started to grow
I knew shortly after I walked on these grounds
I had fallen in love; a second family I’d found
But never in all of my wildest dreams
Did I think 30 years later I’d be on the GAC team
I’ve had different jobs in my life through the years
But they just can’t compare to my GAC days I fear
For the memories I’ve made and the lives that I’ve touched
Each day that I’m here, why they all mean so much
The activities are great; this place is supreme
But it’s the intangibles that touch you and here’s what I mean
The wonder you see in the eyes of a child
Or the smile you get when you’ve known them for a while
Or the hug of a counselor as they say “Hey –
Thanks a lot; you made my day!”
These are the things you can’t touch but I know
They’re the things that stay with you; the reason you grow
Enjoy each second because this I know
The times you spend here are the best of your life
Days filled with love, and not with strife
The days you spend here are the best times of all
Good times to be had, so just have a ball
But it’s the people that matter the ones you call “friend”
They’ll touch your life and be with you till the end
So cherish those friendships and your time spent at GAC
I’ll see you next year; you can bet I’ll be back!
Every so often, parents take the time to write us a thank you note. This one, from a long-time camper family, meant a lot to us. Thank you, Harris Family, for taking the time to let us know what GAC means to you! We appreciate your kind words!
Dear Gold Arrow Counselors and Staff –
As we approach the end of our five weeks of empty household, and realize that our children are approaching the end of another wonderful GAC summer experience, we would like to take a moment of your summer to express our thanks for all that you do to make Gold Arrow Camp so special.
We hear the sense of building anticipation in our kids’ voices for about 10 months of the year. They look forward to so much about GAC: the friends, the fresh air, the scenery, the activities, the food and the escape.
The end of the school year is always a frenzied scramble, as final exams and camp preparation come to a crescendo. We know that while we are going through this scramble, you are in the final stages of preparing to give our children a summer experience they will never forget. We don’t even see a small fraction of the preparation you do. Then the camp letters and camp photos start to arrive. In just a matter of days, their lives are transformed.
GAC is an annual reminder to them of hope that there is lots of good in the world: good people, good places and good experiences. This is in sharp contrast to the backdrop of constant negativity in their increasingly complex world. By going to GAC, the kids learn how to connect with other people, meet them where they are, find commonalities, celebrate differences and enjoy each other. If everyone in the world could spend a few weeks per year at GAC, much of the world’s problems would quickly disappear.
At GAC, the children build confidence. From the timid goodbyes as they board the camp bus, aware that they are leaving the safe confines of their family and homes, to the ear-to-ear grinning pictures and roaring laughter just a few days later. They learn (sadly) that they can be happy away from their parents, and that they do not need to rely on their parents to feel good about themselves and thrive. At GAC, the children recharge. Wow are their lives more complicated and busy than ours were! The children relish the opportunity to unplug from their existing social fabrics, get away from the pressure of school and extra-curriculars and get away from their watchful parents!
What you do at GAC makes a difference in our children’s lives, or else we would not entrust them to you for almost 10% of the calendar year. Your work is meaningful and impactful. The children return home from GAC feeling better about themselves, better about their families, and better about their future. Two of our children are approaching the end of their “GAC careers” but they will always carry GAC around with them. GAC is living proof that a summer camp is more than a piece of property and some equipment. You put your hearts and souls into getting to know these children, helping them grow. For that, we are forever grateful.
Thank you for another wonderful summer and for being such an integral part of our kids’ childhoods.
Tim and Kim Harris