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Personal Reflections on the Great Outdoors

Letters from Boys Outdoor Leadership Development (BOLD) and Girls Outdoor Leadership Development (GOLD)

As a BOLD & GOLD team leader at Camp Jones Gulch, having lead countless excursions over the past few years, I'm struck by how much personal growth can occur over the course of a single week. Through BOLD & GOLD, diverse groups of teens bond as a team, learn outdoors skills, and develop their leadership potential on backpacking trips in some of California's most beautiful places.

At the end of all of our YMCA BOLD and GOLD backpacking adventures, we ask the youth to reflect on their experience in nature and write a letter to their future self, including reflections on all that they have seen and accomplished.

Each winter, when the previous summer's excursions seem like a distant past and the following summer is coming up quickly, I get the joy of reading the letters, prior to sending them out to their authors. Every year, I am amazed by the diversity and depth of the program's impacts- nature connection, cultural awareness, leadership, perseverance, confidence, and so much more.

Here are some of the personal notes we received from the letters we have collected about our BOLD & GOLD program.


“At first I really wanted my phone but now I think I’m better off without it.”


“I was so nervous about starting, but because of the friends I made and the support for one another, I really enjoyed this week. The bug bites aren’t enough to change how amazing this trip was!”


“This camp really meant a lot to me. The people and the surroundings make me so happy and I’ve learned a lot about working hard and leadership, being a good friend. Everyone here is so supportive and caring, and I’ve had a lot of amazing conversations with people. I’ve fallen a little more in love with nature out here, and a little more in love with myself too, I think.

I love that I can do this, my legs can carry me through the wilderness, my eyes can see the shimmering lakes, my nose can smell the mountain air. My brain, as much of a pain that it usually is, can process it all. I can be joyful, talking to amazing people, it can make me laugh as I tell a ridiculous story, or hear someone else’s. During courage circle last night, I almost cried about how much I’ll miss all this, these people, Desolation Wilderness. It’s been a good week.”


“We don’t want to leave camp. We love being on trail and the thought that everything you need is on your back. We feel like once we go home, everything will go back to normal, and it won’t be magical and free. But we will never forget. This has been a life-changing experience. We now love backpacking!”


“I’m writing you this on your last backcountry day of GOLD, next to a waterfall. I just paused to take off my hiking boots and sticking toes in the running stream. You loved this trip. You learned a lot and had an amazingly fun time. The people here are interesting and funny and smart, they bring out the best in you. You should come back to desolation wilderness soon. I love it here.”


“I want to remember how I felt at the beginning of today. I didn’t want to do this or even want to go on any hike for that matter. But now that I’m here I can’t believe how happy I am. I want to remember the feeling because I know that throughout the year many things will scare me or make me nervous or tired but I want to remember to try and that I probably won’t regret it. I especially want to remember this for surfing. I want to remember how excited I am. I want to remind myself that fear or anxiety or stress can not be overpowering and that overcoming them is always worth it.”