Camp Mason

Camp Mason

Project Crossroads is back for 2016! We’re in! Are You?

12390996_10153541597496749_7753774273703067288_nBy Melissa Silva, Summer Camp Cabin Life Director

Camper in a 2016 Crossroads Shirt!

Camper in a 2016 Crossroads Shirt!

For a second imagine if you or your son or daughter had never had the opportunity to experience Camp Mason, as a camper or staff member? How would their lives be different? I recently had the opportunity to talk to different staff members, many who had been campers themselves, about this question and the responses were over whelming. Some spoke of this place as a home away from home where they’ve turned to in times of need. Other spoke of the confidence in themselves that developed because of how loved and empowered they felt here. It was clear, Mason was home and without it they would not be who they are today. Now instead imagine if any family, regardless of financial status was able to provide this life altering experience to their son or daughter? This is the hope of Camp Mason’s initiative, Project Crossroads.

On average, 1 out of every 8 campers at Mason receive financial assistance to help make the summer of their lives possible. Project Crossroads is just one of the many ways that summer staff, campers and families help make that a reality. For summer 2016, our goal is to help send 117 children to camp, to mark the 117th summer of Camp Mason. Our staff have already begun raising money through our yearly staff auction. Because of their generosity we were able to raise $2758 dollars! You can help too! At the trading post, campers can buy our camper designed Crossroads t-shirt. For every shirt sold, $8 goes to Project Crossroads. A new addition to Camp Mason this year, Crossroads Cards not only help make our staff feel like celebrities but the proceeds also go entirely to Project Crossroads. With all of these things combined, it is truly amazing to see an entire community rally behind a single cause: Making Mason possible for every child.

A crossroad. We have all been there before. When we reach a point in our lives where we are faced with an important decision. In order to make this decision we reflect on the past and look to the future. Camp Mason is this special place, the crossroad for many of our young people. It is a safe environment not only where they can grow as individuals but also where they are given the tools to meet any obstacle they may face. A walk through our camp on any given day will reveal the smell of campfires, the chuckle of children’s laughter, but must importantly the countless stories, new and old, of how Mason has changed their lives. Let’s help spread this Mason legacy to every child through Project Crossroads!

Click here to make a donation to Project Crossroads.

Summer Camp is Around the Corner!

11825786_1121200707907366_2850426733543746186_nBy Salva Cossu, Assistant Camp Director for Summer Camp 2016

If you already know Camp Mason, you very probably know why everybody wants to come back, year after year, for Summer Camp. The energy, the happiness, the life that fills the Camp bubble is amazing. I came here for the first time in 2008 from France: I still don’t know where my parents actually found Camp Mason but there I was, for my first time in America. I loved it, went back to my country and thought that was it. 7 years later, last summer, I ended up applying to come back as a staff member, got hired, and spent the best summer of my life. Don’t ask me why I waited to do it until so long after my first experience, I still don’t know: Camp Mason drags you in. But what I can tell you is that I met friends for life, kids I taught things to and that taught me things in return.

Everybody here loves what they do each day, the staff members and the kids alike. That’s why everybody is so full of energy and so true. Back to nature, no cellphones, no computers, no virtual reality: your friends are here, with you, laughing, running, talking to each other, being their true selves. In a society where we all want to share every small bit of our lives, to show it, to capture it, Camp Mason is like an island where time stops.

So here I am again, like a lot of staff members and kids, ready for summer 2016 at Camp Mason, ready to have fun, to laugh, to run, to share, to care, to be honest and responsible. To live.

This will be Salva’s second summer as a staff member at Camp Mason and before that he was a camper too. He comes from France and brings passion, care and dedication to his role this summer. We’re excited to have him here busily preparing for Summer Camp! 

Stop and Take It In

DSC_0298By Michael Hwang, Naturalist for the Mason Outdoor Center

Look around: You’re 35 feet above the ground at the top of the Vertical Playpen with your best friend and who knows when you’ll get another chance to conquer the challenging element. Or maybe you’re at the top of the daunting Catfish Fire Tower, watching a turkey vulture soar past as you admire the view. You might even find yourself gliding through the air on a rope swing towards eight new friends who are trying to find room for you to land on the already crowded 3 ft. by 3 ft. platform they call “Proudy’s Landing.”

DSC07652Whatever you’re doing: stop and take it in.

As someone new to Outdoor Education, the last few months have been a whirlwind for me. Fresh from Rutgers University, I moved out to “middle-of-nowhere” Hardwick, New Jersey and immediately began staff training. After meeting new coworkers and friends, I spent the next few weeks (literally) learning the ropes. Soon I had learned ins and outs of multiple high rope elements, teaching skills, and knots, and before I knew it I found myself teaching students from visiting schools about Forest Ecology, Wilderness Survival, and the countless other topics Camp Mason offers.

ase 020But Camp Mason is more than learning about the outdoors and climbing rope ladders. As a staff member, I still find myself constantly amazed at my occupation. Sure, I get to hike trails, canoe on lakes, and shoot rifles. Of course, I get to swing from ropes, cross bridges, and scream songs during campfires, but the part of my job I consistently find the most rewarding is the positive influence I am able to leave on those that spend time here at the camp. Whenever I encourage a student push himself beyond what he thought he was capable of doing, I find myself smiling. Every time I notice a camper’s eyes widen with excitement when she catches a dragonfly nymph during a Pond Ecology class, I become thrilled. When I see the moment a group collectively realizes the key to solving a team building puzzle they’ve been struggling on, I become filled with pride. If they say “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” I don’t think I’ve worked a single day at Camp Mason so far.

For me, it’s all about instilling the passion for the outdoors and nature in those that normally don’t see this side of learning. Nature has so much to offer, and here at Camp Mason, we try our best to show everyone the best of it. So if you’re ever find yourself spending some time at Camp Mason, take the best advice I can give you as a staff member: stop and take it in. You won’t regret that you did.


Spring Work Weekend Update

bernie_sBy Bernie Sulzer, Facilities Director

We Thank You!!!

Our bi-annual volunteer work weekend was held over this past Mother’s Day weekend and what a turnout we had! Well over 100 people turned out despite the threat of unpleasant weather and while there was a bit of rain on Saturday morning it turned out to be a nice weekend. We had dozens of projects ranging from various landscaping tasks to some fence construction and everything in between. As always we had our Firewood crew at the maintenance shop manning the splitters…they probably split and stacked about a dozen cords of wood over Saturday and Sunday!

I had the opportunity to stop and chat with a lot of our veteran volunteers, it’s always great catching up with people that I only get to see twice a year. There was also a significant number of first timers this spring who jumped right in like they’ve been coming for years! There were so many different projects going on that I can’t list them all here but on behalf of all of us here I extend a hearty thanks to all our volunteers. We did weeks and weeks worth of work in just two days! Bravo! See the gallery below for some pictures of the projects and volunteers.




4th Annual Tee Shirt Design Contest Winners!

Anna Bilton Blog PhotoBy Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Director

Every Spring we hold a tee shirt design contest that is open to all of our Summer Campers. The winning design is made and sold in the Trading Post during the summer with all of the profits going towards our camper scholarship campaign. As well as being able to see fellow campers walking around in their creation the winner also receives $50 of trading post credit and 5 days of fruitfulls. Two runners up also receive 5 days of fruitfulls.

This year we had a record number of entries and shortlisting just three finalists was not an easy task. Thank you to all who entered and shared your creativity with us. We have been truly impressed with the quality and care put into the designs. The Camp Mason staff took a vote to determine the final winner and while it was close we did have a clear winner. Here they are:

First Place: Fiona Iosso

Runners Up: Kieran O’Carroll & Mia Loughlin

You can see the winning design below. I can’t wait to buy one from the Trading Post this summer. Congratulations to our three finalists and thank you once again for your efforts!



Hall of Fame Nominations

By Colleen Murray-Seig, Alumni Committee President

As we all know camp is a magical place that leaves a lasting impression on our hearts and minds. Often the lessons we learn at camp and the people who teach them to us, stay with us with us for the rest of our lives, shaping who we are and how we treat others as well as the planet. Some of these people even inspire us to be better individuals.

As alumni we are asking you to help identify and recognize these people for Camp Mason’s Hall of Fame. The nominees must meet at least one of the following criteria:DSC_0125

  1. Persons who went on from Camp to achieve great success in the real world – with camp surely having contributed to this success.
  2. Persons who were so influential and respected that they made a serious impact in the lives of many fellow campers and staff during their time here.
  3. Persons who have since made a major contribution to Camp as volunteers, donors, or in other ways that have made Camp the successful and wonderful place it is.

If you know someone who you think would fit the bill, please follow this link, fill out the form and nominate them along with the reasons why you think they should be honored. Deadline for nominations are Friday, May 6th so that we can start the process of deliberations. Help us to recognize and give back to those who still keep camp close to their hearts.

Come to your senses – and take a hike with us!

12969303_10153573025817939_1991057243_nBy Shawn Leonardo, Naturalist for the Mason Outdoor CenterDSC06858

Camp Mason has a wide range of environmentally conscious activities and classes that delve into topics like ecology, sustainability, natural cycles and so much more. You could say that there is some sort of intentional focus on experiencing the great outdoors while enjoying your time here. One of the intentional activities we have is taking a hike along any of our breathtaking trails around the property.

Taking a group on the abandoned Christmas Tree Farm hike is one of my all-time favorite camp activities. It allows everyone, including myself, to go out into the woods, stretch our legs, and experience some of the natural beauties that Camp Mason is a part of. There are tons of different foliage, bridges, streams and natural stories to be discovered on the trail, with only so much time to be curious about the surrounding environment. Every so often I’ll pause, letting potential stragglers catch up, and encourage them to explore for a bit before moving on. This means more than walking around and admiring the view. It’s an opportunity to feel the trees or ground, breathe the fresh air and take in the plethora of scents, listen to different calls of animals or the wind passing gently through the forest, and maybe tasting one of the edible plants that grow around camp (with your camp employee’s approval of course)!

It’s common to pass by forests, woods, wetlands and the like in a daily commute. Even here at camp, we pass by these natural wonders on route to different activity locations. Taking the time to slow down and really get your hands dirty, sometimes literally, creates a valuable memory to everyone who participates, as well as helping spark future interest. It’s the difference between only seeing your favorite cookie and eating it. We have the experience telling us that cookie will taste great, but only if we get to turn it into an edible snack!

picture 041

So, the next time you find yourself walking around the breathtaking grounds here at camp, perhaps on one of our incredible hiking ventures, take a moment to fully immerse yourself in the experience. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn, experience, and grow in just a small amount of time spent in nature.

From the Feathered Flock

1By the Feathered Flock.

Translated by Kelli Varon, Outdoor Center Program Director.

Life for us feathered flock is EGGcellent here at Camp Mason!

We started our journey here late last summer, and were welcomed into the warm, caring hands of hundreds of human friends during Summer Camp. We explored the nature center during that time, learning about the constellations, the rock cycle, and meeting some fellow cuddly summer camp critters.IMG_9562

As the long summer days faded away, so did our fluffy, yellow appearance. When a few of our true feathers started to show, my sisters and I were ready to expand our territory and see the “magic” of camp we heard so much about. Soon we moved to a new house, a cozy enclosure that the hardworking CITs built for us. We were thankful to be able to munch on some fresh greens, scratch at the dirt, and started to really see what our wings were made for. When the nights became chilly we moved into our present winter home, the small barn, full of fluffy pine shavings to keep us warm at night.

Once all our feathers were in, we were given free range to roam Camp during the daylight- and boy have we been busy since!

2We helped the Outdoor Center staff prepare the Garden for winter by mixing up the soil and removing bugs, never understanding why the humans didn’t want such a tasty treat! We’ve support the winter visitors at the climbing wall, and have even tried to assist them from below; though we have been told that unless you have on proper equipment, you must stay out of the “mulched area”! We’ve checked on the status of the cob pizza oven project, climbing in to rid the area of bugs. Yet our most favorite achievement has been helping visitors to have first time experiences- such as when they interact with us, and of course feed us a few treats.

There have also been a share of challenges while out and about exploring. Such as 3when we decided to sunbathe by the pool and couldn’t find our way out, and had to be carried home. Or when the cold white stuff from the sky fell to the ground in heaps and we huddled together over the compost where the decomposition keeps it warm. But at the end of the day, we’re camp chickens, and we know camp is all about growing and learning from an experience!

No matter what time of year, or what the weather is like, each day is an opportunity for an adventure at camp. We’re proud to call Camp Mason home, and can’t wait to learn more about the magic at Mason and meet all the friends that come by to say hello.

P.S. Remember to ask a staff member if you can share a treat with us (sunflowers seeds are our favorite)!



Ride On!

shani_kBy Shani Kately, Camp Registrar

Our Ranch Program at Camp Mason will give your child the feeling of having their own horse. Whether you are an experienced rider or not, our Ranch Director fits each camper to a horse that makes for the best experience. In two weeks your camper will build a relationship with this magnificent animal, learning to groom, feed and tack their horse each time they ride. How do I know all of this? Because my campers have told me!

On the very last day of camp the Ranch staff host a rodeo for parents to see their campers on horseback. It’s amazing how working with a large creature builds so much confidence in children and adults alike. One of the reasons I love the Ranch Program is because of where it is located; up on a mountain with views of open fields and the beautiful ridgeline. For those campers who desire to own their own horse and for those parents who can’t put a horse in their back yard, let us give your child the wonderful and rewarding experience of horse ownership.

To find out more about the Ranch Program click here:

A Letter from Keith

Keith VanDerzee

By Keith VanDerzee, CEO

Dear Camp Friend,

Thank you for being a part of our YMCA Camp Mason Family. I’m writing today to ask for your help, but first (at the risk of embarrassing my teenage son) I have a story to tell.

On August 22nd, 2015, the last day of the last session of summer camp, I walked from my office to pick up my son at the Dining Hall. I walked in to the usual scene of children laughing and crying, hugging each other, signing notebooks, and sharing phone numbers.

Then I saw my son, tears streaming down his face. Now, my son’s quite personable, but a little shy, and never one to make fast-friends easily. It’s one of the reasons we sent him to camp in the first place. So here he was, shedding real tears! Tears of sadness that the amazing two weeks of summer sleepover camp were coming to an end, but also tears of happiness at having made so many marvelous new friends!

As a Dad, I was amazed and pleased; but as a Camp Director I was even more gratified by the reaction those other teenage boys had to my son’s tears. No teasing, no hard time, no cold shoulder. Instead, they embraced his emotions, hoisted him on their shoulders, and carried him, chanting his name like some triumphant hero, and dropped him to his feet near where I was standing. Then each and every one of those boys hugged each other tight. I don’t think anything has made me more proud, as a father or as Camp Director.

I know lots of kids like my own: terrific kids, from decent circumstances, but who may find it hard to make new friends; kids who are super smart, but reluctant to try new things. I also know lots of kids whose circumstances are not so great: kids from broken families; whose Moms or Dads lost their jobs; kids who’ve actually lost a parent. I know kids struggling in school, suffering from bullying, or depression; city kids living in rough neighborhoods, who can’t imagine experiencing the natural world in all its power and glory.

And I know for certain that each one of these kids deserves to come to camp, regardless of their circumstances. Because what kids learn from camp can transform their lives. They learn to trust, in themselves and others. They discover that the world is both bigger and smaller than they thought, as they take in the wide night sky full of stars, and meet people from all over the globe, who are just like them! Most important, they learn not to be afraid, that they can have fun, make friends, and be safe in this magical place called Camp Mason. These life lessons are amazing gifts.

Your contribution to Camp Mason’s 2016 Annual Fund can bring these amazing gifts to a whole summer-full of kids. Last year, Camp helped more than 200 families with $182,189 in financial assistance. Our goal this year is to give out $200,000. A big number for sure, but it can get chipped down to size by donations big and small. If you can send a $5 check, know that 100% goes directly to helping a child. If it’s for $5,000.00, Bravo!, and every penny still goes to the kids.

Summer is fast approaching, and kids need your help now. Please make a gift today and help children experience the world they deserve.

Thank you.

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YMCA Camp Ralph S. Mason
23 Birch Ridge Road
Hardwick, NJ 07825
Phone: 908-362-8217
Fax: 908-362-5767
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