Smoke curled up from campfires under redwood trees and stories and songs went around as 40 alumni of the YMCA Camp Jones Gulch recently met in La Honda. Multiple generations of campers, counselors, staff and even their spouses and children came together for the camp’s first formal reunion.
It was a special moment for the camp, whose leaders estimate it has served 1 million young people in its 83-year history.
“They were all here,” Executive Director Andrew Boyd-Goodrich said, adding that the Camp Jones Gulch team realized that camp experiences were as much about the people as they were about the horseback riding, handicrafts, archery and cabins.
They wanted people to recall those defining characters: “Who were the people next to me and behind me and near me … who provided support?” Boyd-Goodrich said.
On Aug. 19 and 20, alumnus Alex Grauke relished seeing the people he looked up to growing up — people who helped him become the person he is today.
Grauke still recalls how he felt years ago when one of his camp mentors told him that he wholeheartedly respected him and gave him an award when he became a counselor.
“I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” Grauke said. “You shouldn’t try to live your life for others’ approval, but when your mentor is telling you you’re doing a good job, that means more than anything.”
Grauke grew up in Half Moon Bay and said he had the good fortune to first attend Camp Jones Gulch when his parents opened Moonside Bakery and Cafe. He was 5, and his brother was 7.
“It’s tough starting a business and trying to take care of kids. They needed a place they could drop us off for daycare,” Grauke said. “We met really fantastic people (through the YMCA). My brother and I just enjoyed being there.”
The kids he met came from many walks of life, but at Camp Jones Gulch they walked the same trails, played the same games, ate in the same dining hall and slumbered in the same bunks. In this environment, personalities shined.
“We learned how to embrace the differences and uniqueness that each person is,” said Grauke, recalling that camp helped bring out his artistic side and inspired him to pursue a career in graphic design. “To have a job like that that promotes it’s OK to be goofy, it’s OK to be creative, and it’s OK to be yourself, there’s not a lot of places like that anymore.”
Some of that magic returned at the reunion, and sparked new memories. Boyd-Goodrich said that one of the goals was to include people who couldn’t make it in person.
As alumni visited the forest, they used social media to tag friends with whom they’d originally shared memories there.
“We’re really trying to involve and engage people in the specialness of Camp Jones Gulch and of their time here,” Boyd-Goodrich said. “Camp Jones Gulch is certainly a specific location … and it was special in particular ways at those particular times … but the experience is much bigger and deeper than that.”
Someone who felt the ripples of this was Veronica Moreno. From the first time she went into nature as a kid from San Francisco to building her career as the membership director at the YMCA on the Peninsula, the organization and its values have had a lifelong impact on her.
Moreno couldn’t attend the Camp Jones Gulch reunion, but still feels the draw of its deep-rooted community. She met her husband — Grauke’s brother — at Camp Jones Gulch.
“We’re definitely going to have a Y family,” Moreno said. “We call them ‘Y Kids’ and ‘Y campers.’ We all just do the Y thing.”
Boyd-Goodrich said that “deep down to his bones,” that’s just the kind of thing he and the rest of the Camp Jones Gulch staff want to hear.
“One of the things that is very important to us is that we think those 1 million people are all (alumni) of Camp Jones Gulch,” he said.
Learn more about Camp Jones Gulch at www.ymcasf.org/locations/ymca-camp-jones-gulch.