Building Empathy is our 2024 Summer Theme!
Empathy is our ability to understand how others feel, and building our empathy skills are foundational for closer friendships and improved well-being. In a world that is increasingly divided, building empathy is vital to cultivating meaningful relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.
Empathy is a skill that can be practiced, and this summer, we will focus on six tools to help campers cultivate empathy:
Our logo this year includes a blueprint drawing and construction tools. A blueprint drawing is one of the first phases in planning and design during a construction project. Just as architects must consider various perspectives when designing a building to meet the needs of different users, developing empathy requires understanding and appreciating the perspectives of others. A blueprint also provides a comprehensive plan for a building, considering not just its individual components but how they interact to create a functional and harmonious space. Empathy requires seeing the whole picture by considering the emotions, experiences, and circumstances that shape others’ perspectives and behaviors.
Just as construction tools are used to measure, cut, and shape materials, empathy involves using various “tools” such as active listening, perspective-taking, and emotional literacy to understand others’ experiences, perspectives, and emotions.A well-equipped construction toolkit contains a variety of tools for different tasks and situations. Just as construction tools are used to build structures that connect people and communities, empathy serves as a tool for building bridges and connections between individuals, fostering mutual understanding, compassion, and cooperation.
This summer, we will talk about how we can build our empathy each day at Morning Assembly, and we’ll be adding skills to our empathy “toolkits.” At campers’ nightly cabin campfires, counselors will facilitate empathy-related discussions, and help campers practice active listening and storytelling through daily sharing.
Building Empathy is about putting less emphasis on “me” and more emphasis on “we.” Empathy builders connect with others in meaningful ways and seek to better understand how others are feeling. Our goal is for campers and staff to become empathy builders in their schools, workplaces, and communities.
Our theme this summer builds many of our past themes related to gratitude, kindness, kindness (Cool 2B Kind), relationship building (Creating Connections), helpfulness (Give a Hand), grit (Growing Grit), positivity (The Energy Bus), a focus on friendship (Find-a-Friend), building up others (Filling Buckets), being our best selves (Be You), appreciating our community (Better Together), and Choosing Kindness (2022).
We can’t wait to build our empathy skills together this summer!
I would not be the person I am today without camp.
My three decades of camp experience, coupled with my own and others’ research, have shaped my long-held opinion that camp experiences benefit children in profound ways. Yet even I was astounded by the revelations shared at our closing campfires last summer for the campers who were completing their final seasons as campers. These campfires were an emotional time to say goodbye to our high school kids heading into 10th grade.
After their counselors spoke about each of them and shared words of affirmation and encouragement, I asked the kids if they wanted to share anything they had learned at camp they might use throughout their lives. I knew we had a special gig going at camp, and that we were providing a positive, healthy community where kids could have fun, make friends, and grow, but I hadn’t heard the specific life lessons that they believed they learned at camp in such direct and heartfelt words spoken out loud.
Our oldest campers shared that they learned how to be happy, “to just have fun and not worry so much.” In a time when so many young people struggle with depression and anxiety, it was heartwarming to hear that, for many of them, camp is their “happy place.”
Campers also said they learned to be happy in their own skin, gaining confidence in their abilities, speaking up for things they believe in, and worrying less about what others think of them. “I have the freedom to be myself,” said one. Added another, “When I am at camp, I am a better version of myself than anywhere else on Earth.”
Being their truest selves, they found, paved the way for them to meet new people and explore new friendships. “Camp has made me a more open and caring person,” said one. At camp, many said they experienced a sense of belonging they didn’t always feel in their schools.
This comfort at camp enabled them to take risks and conquer fears, and they challenged themselves in new and adventurous ways. It didn’t matter if they failed, they said, because they were surrounded by counselors and friends who supported them no matter the outcome. “I’ve learned that the magic happens,” said one, “outside of your comfort zone.”
But among the sentiments that cheered me most from those older campers was the idea that camp helped them learn to live in the moment, to enjoy where they were in the Great Outdoors, and not worry about what the future held. Said one, “I found a passion for the outdoors I thought I would never have.” That’s what tends to happen, of course, when kids are unplugged from their technology for a time. Experiences and relationships are more vibrant and real, and kids expressed how great it was to connect face-to-face.
I really loved the way one camper put it: “When I was put in a cabin group with seven other random girls, we bonded really well and didn’t judge each other before we got to know them, because we had never seen each other’s social media profiles.”
I reflect back on those and other words and see that these 15-year-olds have wisdom that many adults have yet to acquire. Truly, I was blown away by what they said they learned at camp, and I could see in their spirits what one of them expressed: “Being at camp has influenced me to be a better person who wants to be a leader, not a follower.” I feel honored to know these articulate, honest, and thoughtful young adults who do not fit the teenage stereotype and are far more mature than I was at their age. These kids chose sleeping outdoors and sitting around a campfire instead of hunching over their phones.
When I look back on those memorable campfires, I feel deep gratitude for our oldest campers, the life-changing experiences they had at camp, and that I had the opportunity to play a small role in their learning. I am also grateful for the parents of these kids who were willing to share time with their children, and a piece of their childhoods, with our camp. And I am reminded, as a parent, that although there are many things I want my kids to learn—and I’d love to be their teacher—many of their best lessons will come from experiences apart from, and from someone other than, me.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, MA, has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989 and currently serves as the Chief Visionary Officer. In addition to her vision-casting and mentoring at GAC, Sunshine is an author (Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults), podcast host, speaker and coach on the topics of parenting, social skills, and happiness. Find out more at her website, Sunshine Parenting.
Frames and Cabin 3 host this week’s episode of WHADDA WEEK! We’ve started off Mini Camp/Shaver Specialty Week with tons of fun and we look forward to packing our next few days together with activities and special events.
Bravo, Soap, and the members of Cabin 24 (with a guest appearance by some of Cabin 22) host this week’s episode of WHADDA WEEK! Find out what’s happening at GAC this second week of Session #4, learn about some highlights of camp so far for these kids, and hear about some of the friendship skills that they’ve been practicing.
Bravo and Cabin 24 host this week’s episode of Whadda Week. Find out what’s going on this second week of Session #3, 2021!
Our Session 3 JCs (Junior Counselors) host this week’s episode of Whadda Week!
Get to know them and hear their goals for Session 3.
It’s the second week of Session #2 here at Gold Arrow Camp. With help from Hooper and Sunshine, Olivia, Hadley, Lindsay, & Dove (Cabin 18) host this week’s episode of Whadda Week!
Each session at camp, we talk about and practice friendship skills. One skill that is really helpful in making friends is learning to ask questions. Questions help keep a conversation flowing and help us get to know others better. Here’s Sunshine talking about why this is an important social skill our kids need to practice:
We have campers brainstorm – with their cabin groups – two or three questions that would be fun to ask their friends. We type up all of the questions and put them on index cards on large rings for each cabin group. These question rings stay on our dining tables as a helpful tool for campers to connect with one another.
All summer long, we use the questions to spark fun conversations.
Download Sunshine’s “Questions for Connection,” one of many helpful resources from her book HAPPY CAMPERS: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults.
Hosts Bravo and Frames, along with Cabin 27, kick off Session #2 with this week’s episode of WHADDA WEEK!
What’s happening this week at GAC? Find out on WHADDA WEEK – Your weekly look into life at camp!
We’re halfway through Session 1. Here’s an update from campers on what’s happening this week and what we’re learning about being BETTER TOGETHER and friendship at GAC. Listen to more episodes about camp at https://goldarrowcamp.com/podcast-2/.