Unplugged, Rustic Bliss by Nina Adams

This summer, Nina Adams will be returning to join our staff for the first time as an Activity Counselor on our sailing dock. Nina spent 5 Sierra summers at GAC as a camper and wrote the following article about camp for the Larchmont Chronicle.

This summer, I will finally be returning home to Gold Arrow Camp, this time as a counselor. I am looking forward to reuniting with my friends from several summers ago and reliving my camp childhood memories.
-Nina Adams

Longtime camper, Nina Adams, wrote an article for the Larchmont Chronicle titled “Unplugged, Rustic Bliss: Camping in the High Sierra.”

Young Nina boards the bus to GAC!

As summer approaches, every kid has an activity he or she looks forward to most. For some it might be video games; for others, it is traveling with family; for me, it was always Gold Arrow Camp.

Gold Arrow is a sleepaway camp located on Lake Huntington in the High Sierra for kids ages six to 15. The camp is a traditional summer camp in the truest sense, offering campers an unplugged (as in no electronic devices!), rustic outdoor experience. Campers live in cabins for two weeks, and they participate in daily activities including horseback riding, hiking, water skiing, backpacking and rock climbing.

When I left for sleepaway camp at age 10, I had tears in my eyes and an unmatched anxiety. Would I make friends? Would I get homesick? I was beyond nervous concerning the two weeks I was about to have away from home. After my long, five-hour bus ride to the High Sierra, my feelings instantly changed. No one could have prepared me for the thrill and excitement I would feel when I stepped off the bus onto the campgrounds on Lake Huntington.

Read the full article here.

April!

Episode 40.

The GAC POG-Cast is over the hill! We’re also over the moon that April joined us to talk about her role as a photographer at camp last summer. She also had great insight on how to deal with the fear that coming to camp sometimes creates in campers. Soy is back to playing guitar and telling Dad jokes and there’s a GACspiration too!

The Magic of The Campfire

Campers at Gold Arrow Camp, a summer camp in California, gather around the campfire

by Andy “Soy” Moeschberger

My single favorite time of day at camp is campfire. Every night each of our 31 cabins has its own campfire unless the cabin is at a social (a campfire with another cabin) or our dance. Why do I love this time of day so much? In part because I love the smell of woodsmoke. In part because it means the day is winding down and I’ll be in bed within the next 3 hours. But mostly because of the magic.

What could be so magical about a campfire? Some logs, some pine needles, a match, and some popcorn. That’s simple and fun, but it isn’t magic.

I beg to differ. I think that the time spent around a campfire is magic. It’s transformational and powerful in the way that nothing else I have experienced in my life is. When a group of 10 friends is gathered around the flickering flames under a blanket of stars they can and will share truths that are more lasting and meaningful than if they were in a game room or around a dining room table.

Campers at a summer camp in the High Sierra gather around a campfire with a lake in the background

But why? What is it about the campfire that makes this possible? Well, maybe it isn’t magic. Maybe it’s science. According to a study from the University of Alabama, adults who were exposed to a “fire with sound condition” (a video of a fire with the sound turned on) showed lower blood pressure and increased “prosocial” behaviors (such as smiling, making eye contact and engaging in conversation). And that was a VIDEO of a campfire with an adult by themselves! The authors hypothesize that this is an evolutionary development. They believe that for ancient humans the fire provided warmth and a way to cook, and also signaled the safety of numbers. Our ancient forerunners knew that by being around the campfire they could relax. Even a millennium after we moved indoors, our minds still subconsciously know that a fire is a place where we are safe.

Children need this more than ever today. The pressures of the world increasingly weigh on young people. If they can have an opportunity to feel, like the cavemen of old, relaxed and safe, then they can begin to become their best selves. The campfire is a natural way to do that. As I tell our graduating campers at their Paddle Ceremony, the most meaningful moments of their camp careers probably occurred around a campfire. 

Campers gather around a campfire with a mountain lake in the background

Many camps have only occasional campfires, or “flashlight” fires. While there are benefits to that, we know the nightly practice of an actual campfire is important. Our counselors are trained specifically on campfires. The training is far more than how to stack the logs and what the ideal marshmallow looks like. Indeed, they practice in our training how to lead a meaningful discussion around the fire. They lead campers in sharing their highs and lows of the day. They help to facilitate discussions about real life topics that campers are interested in or struggling with.

On our last night of camp, we gather for an all-camp campfire that we call Appreciation Campfire. There are songs and stories and skits. Off to the side of our amphitheater (which we call Big Campfire!), there is a campfire pit, where the logs crackle away merrily. As the night winds down, the flames grow lower and lower. At the end of the night, counselors share their appreciation for their cabins by candlelight as the last embers of the campfire glow.

That’s just a last tiny piece of magic before we go home.  

Counselors at Gold Arrow Camp, a summer camp in California, light candles to show their appreciation for their campers

The Gift of Handwritten Letters

by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

Recently, I’ve been going through the many boxes of letters, photos, and memorabilia which I have collected over my first five decades. It’s been a time-consuming task, but I’m trying to organize into a smaller number of boxes what has been accumulated over the first half of my life.  What has struck me most is the huge number of letters I amassed from my childhood, high school, and college friends. Until this week, I didn’t remember how much we corresponded, but I just finished going through hundreds of letters.  I now have proof of the many friendships that were solidified over hours of writing to one another.

I mostly have the ones written to me, but I can assume from the “Thanks for your letter”s that I was writing at the same rate as my friends were. Maybe some of my letters are in a box out there somewhere?

Not only was there a huge volume of letters (see picture), some of the letters were ten pages long, with tiny writing. Others were short notes or fun greeting cards. Most of them were in beautiful, cursive writing, even some from boys!  What an amazing thing to think about. Back then, without the distractions we all have today, we had TIME to write letters like that!  Plus, we enjoyed it and were good at it!  We wrote letters, because often long distance phone calls were too expensive.  Many of us traveled and studied overseas, so the letters chronicle our trips.

The process of trying to get rid of most of this paper required that I at least skim through each one. I pulled out many that I simply can’t bear to throw away.  I found letters from my late grandparents, with their words of wisdom. I found letters my parents had written to me over the years.  I also found letters from friends showing major teen angst, which is a good reminder now that I have teens of my own. We weren’t that different back then after all! It’s just that we didn’t splash our anger and sadness at each other on Facebook. We wrote each other heartfelt notes.

One thing I realized is that my kids will not have a big box of letters like mine. They don’t write letters like we did in the pre-computer, pre-email, pre-social networking, pre-cell phone era.  But then I had a revelation! They DO still get to send and receive letters.  It’s when they’re at camp!  I have told parents how much campers enjoy getting “real” mail while at camp (the kind with a stamp), but now I have realized another benefit – they will have these letters as keepsakes and memories of their childhood. And you, as parents, most definitely should save all of the letters you get from your camper!

Among my box, I came across a postcard I sent to my parents in 1977, when I was a camper at Gold Arrow Camp. This is what it said:

 

My postcard home from camp, 1977.

 

“Dear Mommy,

I think it’s mean that you have to write a letter to get into dinner, but I’m glad to write a letter to you because I love you. It’s been raining since we got here. But we still went horseback riding. I wrote a letter to daddy this morning and sent it. Camp is so fun. I can’t wait to tell you. My counslers name is Liz. She’s nice.

Love, Audrey”

Let me tell you, we have gotten some good laughs in our house over this postcard. Not just about how I spelled “counselor,” but about my comment about the “Mail Meal” (dinners on Wednesday and Sunday that you need to have a letter or postcard home as your ticket in). The dreaded “Mail Meal” has been a camp tradition for as long as anyone can remember, but I didn’t even remember thinking it was a bad thing.  My adult view is much different than my ten-year-old one! I now understand how much parents need those letters.  I hope most kids get beyond the “I have to write this letter” part, and share some of their feelings and memories of camp. The resulting memorabilia will be priceless.

So, here’s to another benefit of camp I’ve only this week realized. We have the chance for our kids to experience the (almost) lost art of writing and receiving handwritten letters. And you, as a parent, have a chance to write down words that your child will be able to read and keep long beyond any email you’ve sent them!

P.S.  Did you see this hilarious book?  P.S. I Hate it Here: Letters from Camp  It is full of some really funny, real letters kids wrote to their parents from camps.

Frames

Episode 38.

On this episode, former camper (and current Head Counselor) Frames joined Soy. They had a great chat about why being a camp counselor is better than taking an internship and what she was most nervous about when she came to camp for the first time at eight years old. There’s also a great oceanic Joke of the Cast and we learn all about Frames’ dog’s name, which Soy enjoys more than he should.

The Blessing Of The Least Favorite Activity

A camper sails an RS Q'ba on Huntington Lake California at Gold Arrow Camp

by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

Wendy Mogel’s best selling book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, resonated with me. I can relate much of her message to camp and to my own family. I heard Dr. Mogel speak at a conference several years ago, and she continues to be active in the camp community. Many of our camp parents have heard her speak at school parenting events or have read her book. If you haven’t had a chance to read The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, I highly recommend it. In addition to sharing about the importance of letting our kids take healthy risks, and not always rescuing them from failure, Mogel gives many other valuable insights. She has recognized the value of camp experiences in the development of emotionally healthy kids, as you can read in the article “Camp Blessings” on her website.

A question I often get asked, especially by kids who haven’t yet been to GAC, is “What if I don’t want to do an activity?” Sometimes it starts with a statement, “I don’t like horses. Do I have to do that activity?”

My short answer is, “You won’t be forced to do any activities, but you will still go with your group, and you will be encouraged to try.”

I think there are three main reasons kids don’t want to do a particular activity, and they are the same reasons why adults often choose to forgo some recreational options:

1.  A previous negative experience with the activity, usually not at camp and not with experienced instructors.

A camper at Gold Arrow Camp falls off of a wake skate during a specialty summer camp on Shaver Lake in California

Falling off a horse, being dragged behind a ski boat and not getting up, or getting lost on a hike are all examples of negative experiences that make a person naturally inclined not to want to try again.

2.  Fear!

Fear of being humiliated. Fear of failure. Fear of heights.  Fear of deep lake water.  Fear of rocks.  Fear of going to the bathroom in the woods. Fear of getting hurt. The list goes on and on.

3.  Based on their perception of themselves or their past successes/failures, they think they won’t like it.

It’s not in their normal repertoire of things they like and/or are good at.

A camper at Gold Arrow Camp practices vaulting on a horse at a summer camp in California

I’m sure there are other reasons for kids to not want to do an activity, but these are three that readily come to mind from what campers have told me over the years. Interestingly, the reasons kids don’t want to do an activity are the very reason for trying the activity may be the best thing that happens at camp for that camper.

If a child doesn’t want to do an activity because of a previous negative activity, trying it at camp could lead to either a changed mind (and a new activity they like) or, at the very least, a not-as-negative experience to remember.

If a camper doesn’t want to do an activity because of fear, then trying the activity could be the most life-changing Campers work together to cross a high ropes course at Gold Arrow Camp in Californiaevent that occurs for that camper during their camp stay. Overcoming fears and challenging oneself to attempt something that seems impossible can lead to great feelings of accomplishment and improved confidence. With the support and encouragement from cabin mates and counselors, campers feel on top of the world after successfully trying something they feared.  For the camper with a fear of heights, climbing half-way up the ladder on the high ropes course will be celebrated as a huge accomplishment, and one that can make him/her proud. This is an example of something hard that leads to something good, a theme that Dr. Mogel stresses. The camp environment offers a supportive place for kids to learn how to overcome fears and accomplish things they didn’t think were possible.

If a camper doesn’t want to do an activity because they don’t think they’ll like it based on their preferences or perception of themselves, trying something different offers an opportunity for expanded confidence. A camper who sees himself as non-athletic and more adept at target sports may shy away from the more physical activities, yet trying and accomplishing them could change his perception of himself in a positive way. A camper who likes shopping and clothes and sees herself as not an “outdoorsy” kind of person may dread going on a backpacking trip. Yet, the experience of cooking and sleeping outdoors could lead to an expanded view of herself and an appreciation for the many different facets of a personality. Sometimes, the activity a camper thought would be their least favorite becomes a favorite!

So, when a camper tells us all the reasons why they “don’t want to” or “can’t” do an activity this summer, we will continue to encourage them to “give it a try,” because we know the hidden blessings in the least favorite activity.

REX and the OLC

Episode 37.

On the 37th episode of the Gold Arrow Camp POG-Cast, we’re chatting with a camper who had his life changed by the Outdoor Leadership Course. REX, who has also completed our Junior Counselor program, sat down with Soy to talk about what made the OLC special and how the lessons he learned on the trail have impacted him at school and beyond.

The Importance Of Cabin Group Activities

By Alison “Bean” Moeschberger

 

The program at Gold Arrow has been designed to provide campers with a variety of experiences and opportunities while they are at camp.  Rather than focusing on skill progression in one area, we feel it is important for campers to be introduced to activities they may not have chosen to do on their own.  We strive to create a supportive and encouraging environment in which campers feel comfortable pushing their own boundaries and can learn about themselves as they conquer fears, face challenges, and live in community with others.

 

Cabin groups are scheduled to participate in activities together for two of the three activity periods each day.  During cabin activities, the Group Counselor plays a key role in fostering personal growth in campers.  These specialized Campers sail on a large Hobie Catamaran Sailboat at Gold Arrow Campcounselors attend activities with the cabin group and help campers set personal and group goals and hold the group accountable for reaching their goals and encouraging others.  Participating in activities as a cabin group allows campers to take risks and push themselves in a safe, supportive environment.  Through watching cabin mates overcome fears and accept new challenges, campers learn resilience and empathy.  Everyone’s role in the group is necessary, and the Group Counselor serves to build and enhance the supportive community so that the cabin group feels like a family.

A camper works on a ceramic wheel at a summer camp arts and crafts program

 

The third activity period of the day, called “Free Time,” gives campers an opportunity to sign up for activities as individuals.  Campers can try special activities that are only offered during this period or return to an activity they enjoyed with their cabin group.

You can find out more information on activities offered at Gold Arrow Camp here.

Wolfie

Episode 36

On episode 36 of the POG-Cast, we’re talking with Wolfie about backpacking and the Outdoor Leadership Course. Wolfie led OLC trips in 2017 and 2018 and has amazing things to say about the experience for teens. We still have space in our second OLC for 2019, which you can find out more about on this page. If you would like to hear more about the OLC, you can also check out the third ever episode of this very podcast, where Soy chatted with Mac and some OLC participants about the trip. Today’s episode also features a joke about seafood and music as well as a brand new GACspiration about love.

2019 Theme: Filling Buckets

by Alison “Bean” Moeschberger

A girl at a summer camp in California smiles at the camera with a heart taped to her back
Girl with heart on her back

Every summer at Gold Arrow Camp, we choose a theme to guide our efforts in helping campers become the best versions of themselves. This practice started in the summer of 2012 when the staff selected “gratitude” as the guiding theme. We followed that with kindness (Cool 2B Kind), relationship building (Creating Connections), helpfulness (Give a Hand), grit (Growing Grit), positivity (The Energy Bus), and 2018’s focus on friendship (Find-a-Friend).

One thing that makes life at camp special is that we live in a community where our shared experience is derived solely from our interactions with each other.  At camp, we exist in a perfect bubble, shielded from input and news from life outside of GAC. This provides us the privilege and responsibility of maintaining our own positive and encouraging atmosphere. Every interaction we have with another person is an opportunity to have a positive, negative, or neutral impact. It is easy to be too self-focused and worry about our own agenda and needs. Encouraging others and actively seeking opportunities to have a positive impact are noble challenges we are excited to embrace in our community.

A counselor and a camper at a summer camp in California on Shaver Lake both smile with thumbs up
Doodle and a camper thumbs up

In keeping with our core value of equipping campers to bring positive changes to the world, we’re proud to announce our 2019 summer theme: Filling Buckets!

Carol McCloud’s children’s book Have You Filled A Bucket Today? is our inspiration. McCloud tells the story of a young boy and the impact his kindness and encouragement have on his community. Every person carries an invisible bucket.  When someone does something kind, encourages another, or helps in some way, it fills another person’s bucket. Conversely, negative interactions empty people’s buckets. In the story, the boy discovers an important truth about kindness.  He realizes that when he encourages others, his own bucket is filled. We’re thrilled to make our GAC community stronger by helping campers understand that encouragement makes others feel valued. Together, we will experience the joy that comes from making others our focus.

There are many opportunities at camp to fill other people’s buckets through kindness and encouragement. Filling Buckets means using our words and actions to show how much we care:

Filling Buckets builds on the work we’ve done in the areas of positivity, friendship, and kindness. The friendships we forge at camp are special for many reasons, and we know that keeping the focus on lifting each other up will add depth and richness to our connections. It is our sincere hope that 2019’s GAC campers will take this theme home and continue to make positive changes in their communities by being kind and encouraging with everyone they encounter. Everyone deserves a full bucket!

Enjoy this video of Monkey and Soy announcing the theme on our Facebook page.

Campers at a summer camp have their arms over each other's shoulders while they look out over the Sierra Nevada and a mountain lake
Hands over shoulders on a mountaintop