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.
“The paddle ceremony was so emotional and special. All of the people who felt as passionate as I do about camp were there, and it was such a supportive and reflective environment where we could analyze why our experiences were invaluable to us and how we could take the feeling of being our best selves out into our lives as well as inspire others. It was such a vulnerable and raw moment, and although there was a lot of closure, there were still aspects of finding myself (the challenge word) that I could work on in my life.” – Greta, 2015 Graduating Camper
At the close of each camp session, all “graduating” campers (the final year of camper eligibility is the summer after ninth grade) receive an invitation to attend a special private campfire ceremony commemorating their camper years at GAC. Each graduating camper is presented with a wood paddle, engraved with their names and a notch for each year they attended GAC. Counselors speak about each individual camper’s positive qualities and how they have contributed to the GAC community, then offer a specific challenge about how to be positive, contributing members of their communities.
The purpose of the paddle is to encourage former campers to be paddles — a symbol that connects them to camp and gives purpose and direction to move forward. The paddle pushes through the water to allow the boat to move forward in the same way we challenge GAC campers to take the valuable life skills they’ve learned at camp to create a positive environment where everyone has fun, makes friends, and grows. A paddle is also a familiar camp object, and it reminds former campers that learning to navigate, and even enjoy, goodbyes and reunions is part of growing up and the positive, lifelong memories from camp will be with them always. When campers leave Gold Arrow Camp, the paddle will reassure them that GAC will always be home, an illuminating place where they feel safe, valued, happy and able to be themselves.
“The paddle ceremony was a place where I was surrounded by everyone I love and everyone who was experiencing the same thing as me, leaving camp, and it felt very safe. I felt so loved and protected with all the stories and traditions and people standing around me, and it’s such an amazing closure. I really appreciated it, and I will always remember it. I also love the idea of the paddle. You can be an oar or an anchor and, being a paddle, you can carry on, and I love it and treasure it. It reminds me every day to live with determination and grace and kindness.” – Julia, 2015 Graduating Camper
The Junior Counselor Program is designed to introduce older, returning campers to leadership roles with specific training and responsibilities in the camp environment. As a result of their certifications, experience, and training, Junior Counselors will be positioned with skills to have a profound and positive impact in future school and work roles. Our goal is for Junior Counselors to return home confident in their leadership abilities and able to create positive change in their schools and communities.
The month-long program is divided into two parts — the first two weeks consist of interactive leadership and counseling training, American Red Cross certifications, and participation in camp activities with the Junior Counselor group. The second two weeks consist of hands-on leadership and camp counseling experience while living and working in a cabin with younger campers and experienced counselors.
The Outdoor Leadership Course is designed to train and prepare young people to be future leaders who influence self, others, and community through experiences in the wilderness. The OLC is for older campers (9th-11th grade) who are interested in learning and the outdoors, who desire to develop self-awareness, confidence, independence and leadership.
The purpose of the OLC is to challenge young people to learn and grow in self-awareness, develop maturity, and discover the value of community and working with others to solve problems and accomplish objectives.
Sunshine recently shared her thoughts about the Paddle Ceremony in the GAC blog. She noted some of the comments graduating campers had to say about what they learned at camp.
“I learned how to be happy.”
“I learned to be myself and not worry what other people think.”
“I learned the beauty of simplicity and simple living.”
“I learned how to make friends with all different kinds of people and that anyone can be your friend.”
“I learned to live in the moment and just enjoy where I am now rather than worrying about the future.”
“I learned to take risks and challenge myself and not worry about looking stupid if I fail.”
“I learned how great it is to put away my phone and connect face-to-face.”
“I learned what it feels like to belong.”
Interested in sending your teen to camp? Check out 5 Reasons Teens Should Go To Summer Camp on the GAC blog.