Skip to main content

BOLD GOLD Program History

BOLD & GOLD was born out of two Seattle programs and a desire to inspire young men and women.


In 1996, Jane Bierman‐Siebel and Annie Lareau, two young educators, met on a whale-watching voyage and realized they shared a passion for female empowerment and a common concern for the growing troubles facing young women in their communities. They began leading wilderness trips for young women to discover and develop their physical, expressive, and inquisitive courage and interest in the natural world.

In 2006, Craig McKibben, a rock climber‐turned‐computer developer, recognized a similar need for the area's young men. Craig saw the importance of time in nature and shared challenges. He recognized what time outdoors had given him as a leader, businessman, and person. Based on the existing model for girls, he worked with the YMCA of Greater Seattle to create a program using wilderness adventure to foster leadership and emotional awareness in young men.

Both programs valued diversity and inclusion and prioritized serving youth that fairly reflected the Seattle community. The two programs combined under the YMCA umbrella to form BOLD & GOLD in 2011. The program doubled in size for the first several years, and it became clear that such experiences were needed.

Sharing the Vision

In 2013, through a partnership with the YMCA of Greater Seattle and the YMCA of the USA, the YMCA of the North began running its BOLD & GOLD Program at Camps Menogyn and Widjiwagan. In March 2015, after two summers of small successes, we invested in BOLD & GOLD by creating a full‐time position to oversee the program. Since then, our BOLD & GOLD program has grown to serve over 300 teens a summer.

BOLD & GOLD has become a national YMCA program that operates in almost 30 locations across the country, taking teens on wilderness canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, and sea kayaking expeditions to learn and develop 21st Century leadership skills and become stewards of the environment.

The BOLD & GOLD program for the YMCA of the North is the second‐largest program in the country, and its Director is one of three members of the BOLD & GOLD National Leadership Team. YMCA staff from around the country now come to the Twin Cities to receive training on bringing together diverse groups of campers and teaching them to be leaders in their community!

King Leadership Camp

In 1996, a dedicated community member named Eric Fotsch approached the Peter J. King Family Foundation to fund a research grant. Eric's research reached out to hundreds of youth and their families and various youth service organizations to discover what percentage of Twin Cities youth were engaged in outdoor activities. Out of Eric's 1,100 youth survey responses, most youth did not consistently participate in outdoor activities but wanted to do so!

Therefore, Eric approached the YMCA to learn what opportunities the Y could offer through its summer camps. After a couple of early programming trials, Eric was able to develop a partnership with YMCA Camp St. Croix in Hudson, WI. From 1996‐2003, Eric recruited and sent about 30 elementary school-aged 4th‐6th graders to Camp St. Croix each summer with no cost to the camper families.

While these were great experiences for the youth involved, there was a clear need for more youth to be involved and for the experience to last longer than one summer. With the support of Camp St. Croix and the Peter J. King Family Foundation – the King Leadership Camp (KLC) was born!

KLC was designed to be a three‐year progression of camp opportunities for its participants to develop into community leaders. It was such a hit that many of its participants returned to Camp St. Croix to be KLC counselors – passing on the skills and lessons they learned at KLC to the next wave of campers. In addition to attending Camp St. Croix in the summer, KLC participants were encouraged to attend a fall and a spring retreat each year – all at no cost.

By the end of the summer of 2016, KLC had served over 780 campers and had 300 graduates of the program (campers who completed all 3 years of participation).

Coming Together

In the fall of 2016, YMCA Camp Staff, the Peter J. King Family Foundation, and Eric Fotsch all met to discuss the future of these two great programs. After a variety of discussions, the team decided that we should use many of the core elements of King Leadership Camp, such as its three‐year progression and its focus on year‐round involvement, and combine it with the nationally recognized BOLD & GOLD name and curriculum to develop one large program that can serve teens through challenging and rewarding outdoor experiences. These stakeholders decided to call the entire program BOLD & GOLD and to recognize its graduates as King Scholars.

King Scholars

YMCA of the North now runs its BOLD & GOLD program at four Overnight Camps (Ihduhapi, St. Croix, Menogyn, and Widjiwagan).

Most first‐year campers attend either Camp St. Croix or Camp Ihduhapi for a one‐week session, which includes a two‐day canoeing or rock‐climbing trip on the St. Croix River. In years two and three of their BOLD & GOLD King Scholars journey, campers are encouraged to head to Camp Widjiwagan or Camp Menogyn for progressively longer canoeing expeditions in the Boundary Waters. We also offer a variety of free outdoor and educational programming in and around the Twin Cities throughout the school year. All campers who complete all three years of participation get to celebrate their accomplishments at our annual graduation weekend and ceremony, which is held every April at Camp St. Croix.

By graduating as a King Scholar, our BOLD & GOLD campers demonstrate their commitment to improving themselves and their communities by developing their cultural competency and leadership skills through challenging outdoor activities.