Meredith “Mocha” Monke is a senior at Westmont College and a three-year veteran GAC counselor. Because her parents (Audrey “Sunshine” and Steve “Monkey” Monke) are the camp owners/directors, Meredith spent all of her childhood summers as a camper. She wrote about her own “grit growing” experiences as a child for a recent creative writing assignment.
By Meredith Monke
I think if I hadn’t grown up at camp I wouldn’t be an outdoorsy person. But camp is where I feel free—breathing fresh air, being myself. There was this little nook between a big rock and a Jeffrey Pine tree on the hill beside the Dining Porch where my sisters and I would play after dinner. Little bark flakes would scatter on the dirt and if you cut one in half, it made a sort of auburn chalk which we’d use to scribble on the rock. Sometimes we’d sit on the rock and just watch the people go by, pretending that they couldn’t see us up on the hill, hiding amongst the trees.
One day my older sister, Gretchen, asked me if I wanted to go sailing with her out on the lake. During camp season, activities run all the time, and sometimes we’d just pop by and join. I wanted to be like her, and I wanted her to think I was cool and adventurous and brave, so I agreed, even though my stomach was flip-flopping just thinking about setting foot in a tippy boat with no one but my sister.
There were a few different kinds of boats, bigger ones in which to fit lots of littler campers and smaller ones for campers to ride in on their own. One time I had gone in the bigger boat with all the “scared” campers and the boat had capsized. A great way to thoroughly convince a bunch of scared kids to be even more scared of sailing! But Gretchen and I were just extra tagalong people that day, and the sailing staff was busy, and Gretchen was confident. I begged to take a bathtub boat and Gretchen looked at me, seeming to say, Seriously? We called them “bathtub boats” because they resembled bathtubs, deep and exactly opposite of what one would call “sleek.” But my favorite thing about these blessed boats was their smooth, slow and steady speed and their unwillingness to capsize, even with the most inept driver. I thought they were a beautiful invention, but my sister wondered what the point of sailing was if all I did was venture in a bathtub boat.
Despite her desire to sail in a faster boat, she accommodated me. Mixed in with jabs about my love of slow speeds were giggles, moments of pretending to be mermaids, and hair blowing in the wind. We hardly made it anywhere in that boat. She steered, and I pulled in (to speed up) and let out (to slow down) the sail. Of course, I was more focused on letting out the sail.
A few years later I was back at the sailing dock with my cabin mates—my peers. They were pairing everyone off to go in smaller boats, but this time, the faster ones. We hopped in a boat, and unlike past sailing experiences, I was put in charge of steering. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, accustomed to my brave big sister taking charge. I squinted my eyes to focus on a rock across the lake, finding a spot at which to aim the boat. We swerved, the waves rocked the boat, and my heart dropped like I was on a roller coaster. I pushed the tiller one way, and the boat would swerve the other way. Then the boat would be straight until some waves decided to angle us in a different direction.
We sailed farther out into the lake than I’d been before, and I saw the sun’s white reflection on the blue lake. I felt the breeze on my sunburnt face. My toes rested in the pile of water in the base of our boat. I chatted and laughed with my friend in the boat. I was free. That’s when I realized that things become less scary once I take the time to figure them out. When I calmed my nerves long enough to look beyond my tunnel vision of the rock across the lake, I experienced the joy of whooshing and splashing across crystal blue water.
My sister, though she teased me at the time, met me where I was in my level of comfort and sailed with me anyway in the slow bathtub boat. Now my sister and I sail together whenever we get the chance, and we cherish those moments flying across the lake. Countless other family memories have emerged over the years because of camp, and now I know to be grateful and to cherish them. They have shaped me to be who I am today.
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.
“Push the tiller towards the sail!”
Boris Gregory’s distinct voice boomed through his megaphone across the GAC cove for close to three decades. Campers from the 1960s well into the 1990s will never forget the dynamic sailing duo of Boris and Irene Gregory. They taught countless campers and staff how to navigate the Huntington Lake winds.
Last weekend, surrounded by his four children, including current GAC staff member Claudia “Cloudy” (Gregory) Werlin, Boris passed away in Santa Barbara, California, at the age of 96. He joined his beloved wife Irene, who preceded him in death by 14 years (April 16, 2002). Born on May 14, 1920, Boris lived a full and energetic life, which included not only his many years of teaching GAC campers how to sail across Huntington Lake, but also coaching sailing at the college level. Up until he was 90 years old, Boris taught fitness classes to seniors. All of us who were blessed to be at GAC with Boris remember trying to keep up with the brisk pace at which he walked through camp and wondering how he could be so much fitter than staff members a third his age! According to his son Michael, the answer may be Boris’ discipline and that, like the rest of the Gregorys “he rarely ate processed or preserved foods.”
The Gregorys arrival and influence at GAC is documented in the upcoming GAC history book:
During that summer of 1966, a community college teacher and sailing coach from the Bay Area was vacationing at Huntington Lake with his wife and four children. It was a trip they’d been making for years as a family, trekking to Lakeshore with two sailboats and a loaded Volkswagen Westphalia camper. They lived for a month each summer at the “College Camp” campground, sailing every day on what had become known as one of the finest sailing lakes in the western United States. After their sail, the coach and his wife—Boris and Irene Gregory – made it part of their daily routine to picnic on the beach across the cove from Gold Arrow. From that vantage point, they could see that Manny had skimped a bit on the sailing program.
The program was mostly chaotic, especially given the typical afternoon wind conditions. But much of it had to do with the battered, twenty-year-old sailboats. The Naples Sabots kids sailed were not only worn from years of tough service, they were difficult to sail and even more challenging to turn upright after capsizing. In general, the Gregorys took note of what seemed to be a lack of instruction, chuckling at misguided directions hollered through megaphones.
One day they saw Manny himself on the sailing dock blasting instructions through a bullhorn to his sailors. It was clear that challenging afternoon winds were frustrating the kids and the man tasked with teaching them. Finally, the Gregorys had seen enough. They sympathetically packed up their picnic and went over to Gold Arrow to introduce themselves, tracking Manny down on the dock. We couldn’t help but notice…, Boris began. He went on to tell Manny that he coached the sailing team at the College of Alameda in the Bay Area, that he had an excellent first mate in his wife Irene, and he had four kids who were terrific sailors in their own right. He then asked Manny if he wanted a little help. “Manny enthusiastically accepted,” said Len Gregory, the second of the four Gregory kids. He then invited Boris and Irene to the dining porch “for a look around and a talk,” said Len, and by the following summer (1967), Manny had a whole new staff of sailing instructors. Boris directed the program, with Irene and oldest son Ron providing instructional support; Len was hired at sixteen to work as a “mechanic’s assistant” while the two youngest, Mike and Claudia, “were quite young and they became campers.”
If the decade of the sixties was one of expansion and great change, the seventies ushered in a shift in focus on activities. “The Gregorys,” wrote Hoff, “solidified the sailing program as a key component of camp experiences.” They introduced a variety of new sailboats more appropriate for training, and emphasized water safety and sailing techniques that had been previously lacking. Activities like canoeing, kayaking, and “paddling on a surfboard,” wrote Hoff, “took a back seat to the more adventurous appeal of sailing.” Gold Arrow Camp yearbooks from the seventies reflect as much; all of them feature the sailing program prominently, with pictures of an impressive fleet of sailboats as well as campers holding High Sierra regatta trophies alongside their tanned and very proud sailing coach, Boris Gregory. “My father poured his heart and soul into the sailing program and it became his pride and joy,” wrote Claudia Gregory-Werlin. Holiday newsletters echoed that success, highlighting accomplishments from previous summers: “Every year, our sailors seem to conquer greater heights in the regattas.” Camper Vic Karidakes (1968-70, 75), who won the Will O’ the Wisp race twice, wrote that the Gregorys “were the greatest family ever”: “They were great at teaching every aspect of sailing, from pure beginners to advanced sailors.” Boris and Irene enjoyed their work, and they enjoyed each other.
“My parents had an agreement […] that they would go for a swim off the sailing dock every day in the snowmelt called Huntington Lake,” added Claudia. “They never missed a day.”
We are incredibly grateful for the legacy the Gregorys left at GAC, which goes far beyond sailing. Their son Michael Gregory summed it up well, “Life with Boris & Irene was a parade and celebration of humanity. No bystanders, spectators or wall flowers, all were welcome to join in.”
We are grateful for the legacy of the Gregorys. Their hard work, love for others, and positive impact on all who worked with them and learned from them, continue to live on in the generations that have followed. In fact, two of of their grandchildren, Jake “Genki” and Jessie “Cosmo” Werlin, spent time on the sailing dock serving as GAC Sailing Instructors and then as Sailing Directors! Boris and Irene’s daughter, Claudia “Cloudy” Werlin, has continued to work at camp in various capacities over the years, and in the most recent years has brought her husband Bill “Oddjob” to join the GAC team. So while we have said goodbye to dear Boris and Irene, we know the Gregory legacy will live on forever at GAC.
If you listen carefully while sailing in the GAC cove, you just may hear the echo of Boris’ voice in the wind.
A celebration of Boris’ life is being planned for mid-September in the Bay Area (Oakland). We will post an update here.
Notes of remembrance can be sent to:
4518 Nueces Drive
Santa Barbara, California 93110
The Gregory family has suggested that, for those alumni wishing to make a remembrance donation, the Max and Marion Caldwell Foundation (campership fund, please designate Gregory Fund, Gold Arrow Camp) or the American Red Cross, would both be great choices that honor Boris and Irene.
It’s impossible to cover a life like Boris’s in a simple fashion. At 18 he made what for most people would be an inconceivable decision to leave his family and head for US shores. Ironically, as soon as he arrived, his American dream began with volunteering for the US Army, wading ashore at Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion, hard duty in the Battle of the Bulge and finally a purple heart in the service of his new homeland.
As with all dark nights, new dawns bring new adventures. An invitation to a party in Malibu and a chance encounter with a newly arrived, beautiful German girl led to 54 years of true wedded bliss, four exceptional children, eight grand children and life-long impact on hundreds if not thousands of students and children who had the good fortune to fall under his wing.
Putting himself through UC Berkeley and settling the Gregory family in the East San Francisco Bay Area, Boris was the true immigrant success story. Hundreds of students and adults at local colleges experienced a loving but no compromise education in gymnastics, swimming, physical education, sailing, first aid and how to never cry “uncle”. As if his mentoring wasn’t enough in the Bay Area, he took the Gregorys on a year’s teaching exchange program to London and another foray to work the Munich Olympics. Trains, planes and old VW buses introduced the family to a myriad of cultures, languages and friends, the memories and impact of which have sculpted family members even today.
Lido races on Lake Merritt, US travel adventures in that same Euro VW bus, the Jolly Trolley which followed them home from Europe, countless hours sailing the San Francisco Bay on the Mad Rush, dance parties until early morning hours were constant color additions to his life’s palette.
Truly impactful participation in Rotary Club, the American Red Cross and Encinal Yacht Club added to the sum total of how widespread his influence and legacy ranged. Perhaps most of all was Boris and Irene’s 30+ years of introducing children from all walks of life to the joys of sailing and reveling in the outdoors. Patience, care, support, encouragement and the reminder to first time solo sailors, “Don’t forget to write!” as they sailed away from the dock are etched into countless memories of Gold Arrow Campers.
From Harbin China, and literally around the world to his final resting place in California, perhaps about Boris, Kipling says it the best…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Thank you Boris!
“To be able to experience all of the amazing activities in such a supportive and friendly environment has been such a gift.” – Courtney Cohen
For the Cohens, Gold Arrow Camp is an important family tradition. With a combined total of 38 years, they’ve created a second home at camp. According to mom Lisa, “Gold Arrow has been, and will continue to be, an incredible part of our family’s life.”
Dad Scott Cohen discovered both ceramics and sailing, two hobbies that he still enjoys, during his days as a camper in the 1970s. He enjoys ceramics so much that the Cohens have a kiln in their garage, and Scott has incorporated creating and installing ceramic tiles into his clients’ projects (he has a landscape design business). Scott sails as often as he can and has his captain’s license, and he has passed along his love of sailing to his three daughters, all of whom have attended GAC for 10+ years!
Oldest daughter, Kinsey “Tootles” Cohen, taught sailing at GAC in the summer of 2015, is returning for 2016, and is the captain of her university sailing team. Says Kinsey, “Being able to come back to GAC as a counselor after being a camper for so long was an amazing experience. I got to pass on my stories of how much fun I had to my campers, as well as teach them that it’s ok to be yourself all of the time, and that people will like you for you. It was amazing to give back to the GAC community.”
Kinsey attributes a lot of her personal growth to her time as a camper. “I was really shy when I was a kid, but whenever I was at camp I was never shy. I became a completely different kid, and eventually as I got older, I used what I learned at camp to burst out of my shy shell in the ‘real world’ too. I wouldn’t be as confident, as accepting of myself, and as free to be me no matter what without camp.”
According to Kinsey, “GAC has been a HUGE part of our family. Camp gets brought up all of the time whenever we’re all together, and it’s usually Courtney, Cassandra, and I talking about funny moments during our years there. Dad will try to throw in a story from his time too, to be included in the conversation. It’s given us something to bond over, and without GAC we wouldn’t be the kind of family we are today.”
Courtney Cohen, who is excited to come back in 2016 as a counselor, says, “GAC has made me a much better person. I have developed a love and respect for nature, an understanding of why it is necessary to step back from technology every once in awhile and enjoy what life can offer. Being able to interact with people from multiple nations has expanded my worldview and allowed me to have and maintain friendships from across the world. Camp taught me a lot about recognizing my fears and being able to conquer them. Not only that, but to help support others conquer their fears as well. It also helped me break away from my shyness and feel safe being my silly weird self.”
Courtney also thinks GAC has brought her family closer together over the years and appreciates her time at camp: “To be able to experience all of the amazing activities in such a supportive and friendly environment has been such a gift. I have learned to be more patient and understanding when it comes to mistakes and arguments. Also, I think there is a more positive attitude after being around a family like environment with all the friends at camp.”
Youngest sister, Cassandra “Mystery” Cohen, participated in our new month-long Junior Counselor program last summer. She says, “Being part of GAC has impacted my family because it brings my sisters and me a lot closer to each other through our fun experiences of going to camp together. Also, being that my dad went here as a kid, it also allows the whole family to share fun memories and have a good laugh.”
For Cassandra, “GAC is another home to me and to have been going here for 10 years is absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can’t imagine my life without GAC. I have made life-long best friends from camp and I wouldn’t have met them if it wasn’t for camp.”
Says mom Lisa, “I am thrilled that we were able to give our children the opportunity to spend so many summers at Gold Arrow Camp. They each have grown more confident, independent and mature through your guidance. They have learned to overcome fears, work in group environments and have gained leadership skills that will help them throughout school, the work environment and life.”
It looks like the Cohen family will continue to be part of GAC for a long time, because, according to Kinsey, “I know that once I have kids, they’ll be attending GAC and continuing the tradition.”