I Notice…


By Maddi Green, Naturalist at the Camp Mason Outdoor Center

In my first month as a Camp Mason Naturalist, I’ve asked question “What do you notice?” of my students often. Sometimes, they notice the painted turtles sunning themselves on a fallen tree in Lake Mason. Sometimes they notice that looking up at zip line from the ground is a very different perspective than looking down at the ground from the top. And sometimes they notice that their teammates need to pause and really hear each other if they are ever going to complete their team building challenge.

From hiking with families across the cable bridges of the Yellow Trail to the abandoned Christmas tree farm, to guiding middle school students through righting a flipped canoe, to encouraging high school peer leaders to engage with their fear of heights, being a naturalist gives me many chances to make some observations of my own. Fifth graders will stop to discuss, at length, a slug sunning itself on a rock on the trail that we adults already walked right past. Kids on the rock wall who are willing to try, even if they are unsure of themselves, usually can reach the top, with a little encouragement.

The most effective leaders are the ones who are willing to seek out ideas from the people around them. Best of all, I’ve noticed that Camp Mason gives everyone (naturalists included!) who comes through a chance to really stop and notice the world and the people around them. And once we’ve started noticing all of the turtles and slugs and great ideas from our teammates, we start to notice what our place is in it all.

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The Camp Experience For All!

1404940_10151984874926418_786166735_oBy Kelli Varon, Outdoor Center Director

Sixteen summers ago I stepped off an old small retired yellow school bus into a sea of cheering camp counselors. My first year as a camper at sleep away camp was smack dab in that “awkward stage” of life. I was insecure, shy, and unsure of what this whole “camp” thing was about. Little did I know, that first step off that small yellow bus was a leap into a world of opportunities for personal growth with life lasting positive impacts.DSC_0163

Summer Camp provides amazing opportunities for personal and social growth, though unfortunately not everyone has access to a Summer Camp experience. Yet, when Summer Camp is not in session, YMCA Camp Mason is still in full swing creating these same opportunities for participants of all ages and background.

Through our 9 month Outdoor Education Center program we are able to provide these developing experiences in a more condensed version. Participants learn new abilities, build self-confidence and develop community all throughout their stay at Camp Mason.

Whether it’s the quiet visiting student who steps up and discovers the solution during his team building obstacle, the father who watches his daughter gain courage as she flies down the zipline, the family that takes time to spend a weekend to reconnect with each other and the environment, or the teacher who learns more about and from their students in a few days at camp then an entire semester of school- camp is an experience for all.

UNIS spring 2014 (45)

Where Friends Turn Into Family

Anna Bilton Blog Photo

By Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Program Director

This summer at Camp Mason was an incredible journey. From the very first day of staff training all the way through to waving off our last campers of the season on Saturday we witnessed growth, friendship and endless joy. There is no better place to see relationship building and connections being made than at an All Camp Programs. Whether it’s at opening campfire, talent show, a game of ragnarock or a theme day, there is something very special about having everyone play, learn, support and even compete together. It is heartwarming to watch our oldest campers include, care for and play with our youngest. It works the other way too. This summer I watched the smallest Apache camper teaching an Iroquois teen how to stay on her skateboard as she tried using a ramp for the first time. We all have something to learn from one another.

DSC04785This year, we held a brand new event on the last full day of the summer and not only did we have all of our overnight camp participate, but we also invited our fabulous day camp program too. Every single camper and staff member at camp showed up that morning to run and play together. The first Camp Mason Color Run was an event that everyone could enjoy, regardless of age, physical ability or interests.

Campers chose to sign up for either a 5km run or a shorter fun run around camp. The 5km runners did wonderfully and supported one another each step of the way. Each fun run group was made up of campers of all ages and each group had their own silly method for working their way around the course. There was a group of blindfolded runners, a three-legged crew and even a dancing group. Everyone worked together to make it to the finish line where we held a huge color party to celebrate.

Camp events like this show us that age really is just a number and camp builds strong relationships and develops life skills in our campers and staff. The Camp Mason community truly is where friends turn into family. Oh, and it was a lot of fun too!



The Value of Sports at Camp

LatrelBy Latrel Citizen, Summer Camp Sports and Games Coordinator

Sports are usually perceived as physically exerting activities used as a means of entertainment, competition and even rivalry, both good and bad. Sports to me, however, are so much more than that, especially for children. It’s where they first learn not only how to communicate, but how to work as part of a team as well as learning more about themselves as individuals. All-in-all sports are a cultural phenomenon that everyone can essentially be part of.

Communication is one of the first things that children learn when they join a team. This is an integral part of a child’s development because they are now in a new environment where they are pushed into interacting with both children and adults from different backgrounds. In other words, children who join sports teams will be more accepting of others when they are older because they have already been exposed to people of other cultures. But, communication is only one of the few skills learned when part of a sports team.


Many would also focus on the fact that participating in sports is physically beneficial for children which is true however, it is also emotionally and mentally helpful as well. Participating in sports can help children become more aware of who they are and who they want to be. For lack of better terms children learn to be comfortable with who they are (with proper guidance and positive coaching). Along with that children are given the support they need and therefore learn how to persevere through adversity from a young age. They can transfer every skill they learn from participating in sports and utilize them in real life experiences.
Sports in general are not just about entertaining fans and competing, it’s about learning how to work with others to achieve a common goal and accepting people for what they can do. It’s a culture where children can come and learn not only about skills needed for a specific sport, but skills transferable to everyday life.


The Magicians of Camp Mason


By Shannon Burton, Summer Camp Teen Director

There are many reasons why camp is magical, but for this post I’d like to focus on just one. Today, I am reminded that camp is magical because it is a place where 16-year-olds not only recognize that camp provides amazing experiences, but then turn around to help provide that experience to younger campers by becoming Counselors In Training, or CITs.

What could be more heartwarming? And with all the work the CITs this summer have put in so far, it’s no surprise that I’ve been getting compliments about them all session. They’ve bonded over an intense 3-day, 2-night canoeing and backpacking trip on the Delaware River and Appalachian Trail. They’ve planned and run a Talent Show. They’ve earned Red Cross certifications in CPR, First Aid, and AED use. Just yesterday, they completed the same week of staff training that Camp Mason staff complete every summer before campers arrive.

They’ve been busy, and their hard work shows as I walk around camp. Here, the CITs huddled together with day campers, sharing tips on how to run a Talent Show. There, two CITs are proud to show me their gloved hands and a camper with a freshly applied band-aid to a scraped knee. They shine with confidence and excitement to be in the leadership roles they have just stepped into, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.

This Friday, they will begin the final phase of the CIT Program; they will move into their assigned junior cabins to experience what it is like to be a counselor. They’ll have a huge support system comprised of their co-counselors, their Village Leaders, the CIT Coordinators, and myself to guide them along the way. They’ll gain experience that they can refer to later when searching for jobs. We’re hoping, of course, that they will be searching for jobs at Camp Mason, where they can keep the magic going.

CIT Group 1 2015


Summer Reflections

Jackson Patterson

By Jackson Patterson, Summer Camp Director

As I enter my third summer at Camp Mason I find myself reflecting about the people that led me here. At some point that remains a mystery to me someone saw a potential within me. More than likely a few different people saw it at different points along the way. A train of people come to mind, teachers, coaches, my own camp counselors. Each of them helped me to recognize a part of my capabilities that I didn’t even think to look for.

When I was 18 I worked at summer camp for the first time. I watched my Village Chief work hard to lead our group of boys towards an amazing summer experience. I had a great time playing and working with kids and at the end of the summer I told myself that I’d never be the Village Chief; being a counselor was just too good of a job. Over the next two summers I was often “volun-told” for various responsibilities. I was a returner and knew the ropes. After six summers of working at camp I found myself the Assistant Director. I went from never wanting the responsibilities of leadership to now craving it. I had become something entirely different.

I have had the absolute privilege of seeing many staff step up this summer. Former campers are now running camp. Last year’s CITs are now putting their experience to the test by leading cabins and campers of their very own. Today I witnessed a camper move up to the senior villages after years of being in the junior villages. I’ve never seen a wider smile.

It is small moments like this that change us without us even realizing it. I believe that this world could fundamentally change for the best if more people had these opportunities. Opportunities to learn. Opportunities to travel. Opportunities to expand their horizons. A single moment can make a difference and put a child on a life changing path.

Summer Camp Superheroes


By Keith Vanderzee, CEO 

Every child deserves a real superhero and in the next week, they will be arriving at Camp Mason! They may come by bus, car or train, but make no mistake they are real superheroes.

My earliest and best memories of camp all revolve around the camp staff. I remember Kevin Roden, a real outdoorsman, who took our camp group on a “rattlesnake hunt.” Looking back I am sure it was probably just a nature hike because even in the early 70’s, it was probably not appropriate to take 10 year old boys looking for rattlesnakes! But at the time, and in my mind’s eye still, is the image of this young bearded man, standing 7 feet tall with a forked stick which he told us was to pin the rattlesnake’s head so it wouldn’t bite him. He strode through the woods with the confidence and stature of Paul Bunyan and we were in awe of him. And then there is Jergen, from Germany. I picture him as a caricature- a tall, blonde as can be man with ridiculously wide shoulders and bulging biceps. Jergen was a lifeguard and I distinctly remember him jumping off the bridge stanchions on the Esopus River into whirlpools and teaching us that the way to escape a whirlpool was to swim out the bottom where it got thinner. I picture him now popping out of the bottom of the water, all muscles and smiling- basically walking on water!

These are the types of memories and stories your children will come home and tell. Listen to them with wonder and awe because that is what they believe. When you hear the story of their counselors who wrestled a bear (or two!) or when you hear the story of the counselor who shot an arrow blindfolded across the camp only to hit the bulls-eye, remember that the stories may not be true, but they are real.

Superheroes really do live today. They live at Camp Mason and we can’t wait to introduce your children to them.


The Importance of Sleeping Under the Stars

By Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Program DirectorAnna Bilton Blog Photo

For one night every two weeks, each cabin group adventures out into the woods with their sleeping bags and food in hand to spend a night in the great outdoors. As a camp counselor, I loved nothing more than putting my backpack on and leading my campers along the trail knowing that soon we would be cooking over an open fire, telling stories, and finally falling asleep under the stars. Today as a Summer Camp Program Director, my most cherished moments are welcoming cabins back to camp after an overnight. I delight in hearing campers’ stories of their experiences, the challenges they overcame and most of all, their excitement and pride about the adventure they had. The power of this traditional summer camp activity should not be underestimated. Perhaps spending a night outdoors is something we should all do more often.

Reconnect:  Getting away from the grips of technology and getting outside, even for one night, can make all the difference. Campers and staff share stories of becoming closer over the course of an overnight. Taking the time to talk, share and listen to one another without the usual distractions helps groups connect and bond tightly together. That these meaningful interactions take place in beautiful, natural surroundings serves to make them even more powerful.

Marvel:  Campers often tell me about the deer they saw or the sound of a babbling creek that they fell asleep listening to. Think back to the first time you saw a frog, bird or other critter. Try to remember the excitement and intrigue you felt. If the kind of feeling I’m talking about could be bottled up, it would be labeled wonder. Spending more time outside in nature creates opportunities for us to rediscover our sense of wonder. We are lucky to live in a world with such beauty.

Accomplish:  For an overnight to be a success groups need to work together to carry supplies, collect firewood, clear out a sleeping area, build a fire and cook meals. Teamwork is paramount and achieving your group goal is a fantastic feeling. For many campers and staff spending the night in the woods without electricity and other comforts is an enormous achievement. I cannot begin to count the number of campers whose overnight experience has given them the courage to try other new things.

Where will you go on your next outdoor adventure? What will you discover?

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This post was originally written for the Y’s “This Week in Young Leaders” blog. You can it by clicking on the link below.

Staff Spotlight: Kyle Van Laar

Kyle is a Day Camp Shannon institution.  Both campers and staff alike look forward to seeing his welcoming smile and find out what fun he has in store every morning at drop off. Not only is Kyle passionate about Day Camp and the work he does here, but he is training to be a teacher because he loves working with young people and their families in the community too. He is known for giving 100% to Day Camp theme days so watch out for his amazing costumes around camp!

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Hobo Meal Recipe

How to make your very own hobo meals at home

Every summer camp cabin group goes on an overnight camping trip on our property during their stay with us. Groups hike out, make a fire to cook over and sleep under the stars. The dinner menu is a traditional Mason offering of hobo meals followed by s’mores. There are already some of you out there who are making the Camp Mason overnight favorite, hobo meals, at home but for those of you that want to, but aren’t sure how and want to give them a try, this post is for you.

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