Jess, Summer Camp Activities Director

Meet Jess, Our Summer Camp Activities Director

Hi friends!


My name is Jess DeQuattro and I am a long time Camp Mason camper/staff member. Camp Mason has been a part of my family for many years. My siblings were all campers and I continued to come back to camp as a staff member. I started off as a Day Camp Counselor/helped with overnight camp. Then returned as a Hilltop Counselor for 4 years and in 2017 I was the Hilltop Village Leader.


After camp, I had the amazing opportunity to work at Disney World in Entertainment. After doing that for a couple years I felt like I was being called back home and found myself applying to return to Camp Mason. In the spring of 2023, I was hired as a Senior Outdoor Education Instructor for the Mason Outdoor Center. In the summer I was the Assistant Activities Director for Summer Camp, recently promoted to the Activities Director.


Camp Mason is so important to me because it’s where I have done a lot of growing up. Camp is where I’ve made friendships that have lasted for many years. I’ve experienced diversity, inclusion, gained skills such as time management and leadership, as well as confidence. It was my first job, the first time I’ve ever received a pay check and had the first sense of independence and responsibility. I believe that camp is so important to other kids because it’s where they feel like they can be their best selves and have that sense of belonging, independence and gain confidence. Camp is where the impossible becomes possible!


Moving forward, I am excited to bring an activities team that is cohesive and provides fun, skill gaining and creative activities.


The Summer Camp Activities Director works closely with the Summer Camp Director to prepare for and run summer camp. We are busy putting together a stellar team and making plans to make this summer a ton of fun!


Contact me here with ideas for summer camp activities, events and anything else!

How to Prepare for Camp

By Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Director


Summer is fast approaching and it is time to prepare for camp! Some of this advice may be old hat to returning families, but it’s still worth a read to get camp ready. For new families, these tried and tested tips from Camp Mason recent and returning families will help you and your camper/s get ready for this summer. 



Plan a sleepover

Organize a sleepover with a friend or family member you trust and that your camper/s know well. This is especially helpful if campers have never spent the night away from home before. It gives them a taste of being apart from you overnight and builds confidence and independence ahead of the summer. 


Pack together

Spend some time with your camper/s and go through their packed bag. Make sure they know what’s in there and where to find it. It really helps campers and counselors when kids know where to find their toothbrush and what clothes they have to wear. Now, we will always help campers when needed, don’t worry, but it does make kids feel good to be able to find their things themselves. You can find our suggested packing list here.



Take a hike

We spend most of our time outside at camp in our wooded natural environment. It’s a great idea to take a hike or two as a family before you arrive at camp so your camper/s know what to expect and feel comfortable outdoors. Now, this is not to say you need to go far afield, this can be an adventure in your local park or neighborhood. It’s all about getting outside and moving. 


Talk about the communication at camp

Parents can send one way emails to their campers (which we deliver within 48 hours) and send physical mail. Campers can write letters to their family and friends. Campers cannot make or receive phone calls while they are at camp and we are phone/tablet/smart watch free camp. It’s beneficial to talk together with your camper/s about how you will communicate while they are at camp. It means you are all on the same page and can picture how it will work. 


Attend an in-person or virtual welcome event 

We still have one final in-person Open House on Saturday May 13 you are welcome to attend. Contact us to schedule a private tour if this date doesn’t work for you. There is a Virtual Open House Slideshow to watch here. And, due to popular demand we have added one more New Family Welcome Call on June 10 at 11am EST. Returning families are welcome to join this call too if you’d like a refresher on all things camp. You can find the details for that here.


Missing home

It’s normal for campers to miss home when they are at camp. Many of us miss home a little when we are away, even as adults, so it’s easy to relate to this feeling. We cover how to support campers when they miss home in staff training. Plus, we have a lot of experience within our leadership team to support staff and campers with this throughout the summer.


Talk to your campers and let them know it’s okay to miss home and feeling this way is common at camp when everything is different to their regular day to day. It’s actually a good thing, it means that there are people, pets, places and ways of life that you care about and love. What’s important is that they know that after the first couple of days, most campers settle into camp life. And while they still may miss home a little, they will be so busy having a great time that it’ll fade into the background!


Campers quickly learn they can be independent, take on new challenges and have a blast with new friends at camp. 



Get in touch as you prepare for camp

As always, please get in touch with any questions so we can guide you through the process. It’s a big deal to attend camp for the first, second or even tenth time and we are here to support you. 


You can only imagine how excited we are to welcome you all to camp very soon. We are doing everything we can to plan, prepare and get ready for our best summer yet! 

Free time gives kids room to grow

By Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Director

Our scheduled free time period at camp is more valuable than ever in today’s world. Children tend to have full schedules of school, recreation and family commitments, and just like many of us they are often constantly engaged online.

Now, there’s a lot on offer to do at camp as well. Between the wide variety of skill-based activities on offer, swim time, cabin activity and non-stop evening program fun, we are busy! And that is a good thing for most of the day – it means campers can try many things, hone their skills and learn to work together as a group. However, there is also enormous value in unstructured free time for children. Let’s delve into how free time at camp gives kids room to grow.


What is free time at camp?

First of all, you probably want to know what free time is and when it happens. Most days there is a free time period each day before dinner. It’s around 50 minutes long and gives campers the opportunity to do what they like for a time. Various program areas are open for kids to drop into such as arts and crafts, the swimming pool, climbing wall, garden and sports courts. The camp store is open for campers to buy ice pops and more. Kids can also sit and talk to friends, play cards and relax. It’s entirely up to them. Our team supervises each area with care to make sure everyone is accounted for and is safe.

Sometimes we run special free time events and competitions for campers who want to participate. They are always optional and fun, relaxed offers.


Kids have fun during free time at campFree time fosters independence

It’s important for campers of all ages to have some autonomy over how they spend their time at camp. Kids can choose what they want to do, for how long, with who and when they do it. (Camp staff are always on hand to intervene if needed or to buddy up with a camper who is looking for company.) It’s good for kids to feel confident in their decision making and make independent choices. These are powerful life skills that make for healthy happy kids and adults.


The benefits of boredom

While there is no shortage of things for campers to do during free time, they don’t have to anything at all if they don’t want to. And that’s no bad thing! We often see boredom in a negative light, but in truth it’s good for us to be bored sometimes. When kids have nothing specific to do and no agenda to complete they are able to be their most creative. Often the best and most interesting ideas come about when we have time to think.


In addition, kids need brain breaks. Sometimes they just need time to play and relax. Down time gives campers an opportunity to switch off, relieve stress and anxiety, and provides room for creative play.


A chance to reset and refocus

It takes a lot of energy to focus all day at camp on the instructions and directions for activities and events. Free time is when campers can stop and listen to their own bodies and needs. There’s room to try something new during free time, but we do notice many kids find something they are comfortable doing. It’s usually because they have been concentrating all day on their scheduled activities and need to recharge. For some campers, playing hockey does just that and for others it’s sitting on a bench to make friendship bracelets gives them a boost. When the period ends and it is time to return to the structure of the day, campers are recharged and ready to go!


Learning through play

Finally, we learn when we play. It’s when we practice how to win, lose and compromise. A pick up game of basketball or a competition in the gaga pit can be a great teacher! Campers will often revisit an activity they tried earlier that day or that week during free time. They have time to persevere and work through the challenges that come with learning a new skill.

Free time is the perfect time to play, to get creative and to try out new ideas. We notice that campers come up with the most interesting games and ideas during free time. It’s wonderful to see a group of campers play a new game together or come up to the director and share their ideas for theme day activities. Free time is when so much of this creativity comes to the forefront.


Free time fun this summer

Hopefully by now you too are sold on the value of free time at camp. We see the benefits of this unstructured time each day during the summer and campers look forward to it. Above all, free time is fun and we sure love to have fun at camp!

Register now to save your spot for Summer Camp.


The Dirt on Dirt

By Sara Davis, Outdoor Center Program Director

At the Camp Mason Outdoor Center, we have several opportunities to get up close and personal with dirt. Why would you want to? Dirt is beneficial to people, in many different ways. Not as just a substance used to educate, but as a substance that can be therapeutic, and bring joy to the hearts of young and old.  

Our Wetlands class involves hands on, down and dirty activities in order to learn about the characteristics of a wetland.  One special characteristic of a wetland is the soil. The students get to dig in the soil to get a sample, and then use their senses to gather information. They learn how to use color palettes and read flow charts to learn more about wetland soil.  

Now Archaeology is a class anyone could dig. Participants get to learn about the history of this area and unearthen hidden artifacts by digging in the sand pit.

Compost isn’t just for the worms! In our dining hall we encourage students to create as little food waste as possible and to separate their food waste from things that can be composted. Such things include apple cores, banana peels, brown napkins, and any fruit or vegetable matter that will be used in our compost bins to break down into healthy, fertile soil. In our Sustainability class, students learn about the compost itself and the insects, microbes, and plants that benefit from it.

Which brings me to our garden. Whether it is planting, weeding, or harvesting, there is always fun to be had done in the garden. Working in this dirt proves to leave one with tangible, and edible results.

Dirt matters

The benefits to people are great indeed. Education about our natural world through hands on experiences will help to ensure future generations caring about the health of our soil and our planet. Exposure to various bacteria in the soil has much needed immune boosting benefits in an ever increasingly sterile world. There are also mental health benefits. Certain bacteria in the soil can increase serotonin levels in people. This is the chemical in the brain that elevates mood.  

So whether it is exploring the wetlands, the archaeology dig site, the compost or the garden at Camp Mason or getting dirty in your yard or local park, take opportunities to get dirty and you will see and feel the benefits. The joy of playing in the dirt isn’t just for kids!

Find out more about our programs for schools here.


Cabin activities teach kids how to compromise

Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Director

Cabin activities teach kids how to compromise. In addition, they allow kids to share their own interests as well as to try new things at summer camp. Our schedule at camp is intentional and each activity type serves a purpose. So, let’s have a look at what a cabin activity is at Camp Mason is and then dig a little deeper.

What is a cabin activity?

A cabin activity (or group activity in day camp) is the first activity of the day, it happens right after breakfast and cabin clean up. It’s when the whole cabin takes part in an activity together with their counselors.


Cabin activities are an opportunity to do something fun and special as a group that facilitates bonding, teamwork and togetherness. We also use this time to inspire, surprise and encourage campers to do things they don’t usually get to do. The cabin activity slot in our schedule is a time set aside for cabins to do anything, and we mean ANYTHING they can possibly think of. The idea is to create an activity that is unique and memorable to the group and place rather than repeating an activity over and over again. 

Who decides what activities the cabin group does?

The cabin group does. Counselors and village leaders get as much input from their campers as possible. We ask campers, ‘if you could do anything at camp, what would you do?’ Together each cabin group comes up with a list of activities they would like to do and shares them with their Village Leader who makes the schedule. The Village Leader works with the Program Director to book in specialist-led activities as well as creative counselor-led ideas too. 


What activities do cabin groups try?

Sometimes a cabin will sign up for a program activity area, such as pool games, boating or archery. Other times, cabin groups might play a game of kickball against another cabin or go on a nature hike. And then, there are plenty of mornings when cabin groups play completely original and unique games like Roaming Gnomes or Woodland Ninjas for example. These are creative and fun games that bring the group together. After the on-site overnight camping adventures, cabins might use the time to debrief and talk about their experiences.

How do cabin activities help campers learn to compromise?

Well, there are 8-10 campers in each cabin group and everyone has different ideas of what they like to do. This means that on some days campers get their first pick of activity and on others they try something that another cabin mate chooses. On other days, the whole cabin could try a new activity together that a counselor has designed.


Campers learn to accept that they can’t do what they individually want every time and begin to compromise on doing something else. The impact of this system is that campers expand their horizons and try things they might never have chosen for themselves. Cabin activities are a place where all voices are heard, whether they are the loudest one in the group or not. It’s a win-win for everyone.


When we compromise with one another, we can maintain healthy happy relationships and maintain fairness. Counselors help campers to get their heads around all of this and process their feelings. Being able to compromise and support the ideas of others are important life skills that campers can take back home. And of course, like all things at camp, cabin activities are super fun!

If you’d like to find out more about our schedule have a look at our Summer Camp Guide.


Summer camper competing in the Mason Olympic summer camp theme day

Mason Olympics are back for 2023

The Mason Olympics are back for 2023! They are a staple of Session 2 of Summer Camp. They take place on the first Friday and Saturday of the session. It’s an event that divides camp into ten different countries, led by coaches and an ambassador. Campers experience culture sharing, team work and activities that challenge the mind, body and spirit.

On the first day, teams (countries) create cheers, design banners, learn about their country and create a skit or song to perform at the Opening Ceremony. Each team member gets a custom country t-shirt to wear during Day 2. Day 2 of the Mason Olympics involves battling other countries in events like tug of war, country trivia among other action-packed games around camp.

The day wraps up with a closing ceremony, where we find out which country wins the coveted Hercules and Spirit awards. To earn the Hercules award, a country must win as many events are possible, while keeping good sportsmanship and teamwork in mind. The Spirit Award goes to the country that demonstrates positivity, originality, and keeps up an enthusiastic energy throughout the day.


Summer camper competing in the Mason Olympic summer camp theme day

Join us this summer for the Mason Olympics filled with energy, spirit, and fun! Session 2 runs from July 9 – 22, 2023. You can register for this Session 2 at Camp Mason here.

Meet Shani, Our Camp Registrar

Each time you call Camp Mason you are most likely greeted by our friendly, hard working Camp Registrar, Shani. We realized that while you may talk or email with Shani many times as your family prepares for camp you may not know much about her!

Shani has been working at Camp Mason for almost 14 years. Before that she worked in an Emergency Room making sure things ran smoothly. Shani lives locally to camp and has three daughters who all attended and worked at camp over the years. She likes animals, spending time with her family and cosy wood fires! Shani loves her work and genuinely enjoys getting to know all our of summer camp families. 

Shani is always happy to help you with registration, making payments and preparing for camp. You can reach by her on 908-362-8217 or by emailing Shani will also be ready at the front desk for our Open Houses and check in days if you’d like to stop by and say hi!



Where Friends Turn Into Family

By Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Director

Every summer at Camp Mason is an incredible journey. From the very first day of staff training all the way through to waving off our last campers of the season, we witness personal development, friendship and endless joy. We meet daily as a whole camp to give announcements, share meals and play in our free time. However, there is no better place to see relationship building and connections being made than at an ’All Camp’ activity where everyone gets involved. These usually happen once or twice a week in the evenings and over the weekend.

Whether it’s at an opening campfire, the talent show, a game of Ragnarock (a unique camp game) 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 round too. Not long ago, I watched the smallest Hilltop camper teaching a Ridgeline 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.

One camp

On the last full day of the summer we hold a Color Run event, not only do we have all of our overnight camp participate, but we invite our fabulous day camp program too. Every single camper and staff member on site runs and plays together. The Camp Mason Color Run is an event that everyone can enjoy, regardless of age, physical ability or interests.

Moments like this teach us that age really is just a number. It also shows us how camp builds strong relationships and develops life skills in our campers and staff. We can learn a lot from one another, sometimes it’s a skill like how to dribble a basketball and other times it’s a value such as how to show empathy.

Camp builds community

When we spend time together at camp, there is always laughter, learning and growth. It’s something special to see children of all ages come together as one, look out for one another and enjoy each other’s company. We plan it this way, there is plenty of time in cabin and village units to bond and try activities together, and All-Camp events are the icing on the cake!

The Camp Mason community truly is where friends turn into family. And each one of us, campers and staff alike, take the things we learn and develop back into our communities, families and schools. Summer camp gives so much. Oh, and it’s a lot of fun too!

Find out more about how overnight camp works here.

Meet the Summer Camp Director

By Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Director

Hi everyone! I’m Anna, the Summer Camp Director. This will be my 7th summer at Camp Mason. I’m no stranger to camp, but I did leave to focus on my family in the UK for a little while before my return. It’s a delight to be back on the team and I am counting down the weeks until the first campers arrive in June.

I never went to a traditional summer camp as a child, and not a day goes by when I wish I had. It wasn’t an option my family or I knew about when I was growing up in the UK. When I first started working at summer camp in 2008 I had no idea what to expect. I quickly realized there is no place like summer camp and I couldn’t stay away. The connections I made at camp were steadfast and the sense of adventure and community spoke to me. I also learned a lot! Now, 15 years later I am still just as enthused about planning for summer camp 2023. It never gets old to me.

Getting ready for summer

My goal at summer camp is for campers and staff to feel welcome and valued. I plan carefully for months ahead of each summer to hire and train a team that shares this vision. I also spend lots of time organizing the fun stuff, the activities and events that make Camp Mason so memorable. I love coming up with new activity ideas and then making them a reality with campers in the summer. And if there’s a costume involved, then all the better! Everything is put together with care to set kids up for success when they are at camp. We all want campers to have loads of fun and make friends at camp. And all this planning has camper safety at its center, both physically and emotionally.

About me

I have three soon-to-be campers at home too. Ellis is 6, Giles is 3 and Sylvie is still a baby. Between the children and our sweet border collie Buseok, my husband and I are busy outside of work too. We love to play and explore outside whenever we can. On a free weekend, you will usually find us running around in the woods, making sandcastles on the beach, camping in tents, or all the above!

Let’s talk

Since becoming a parent myself, I understand more than ever how important it is to feel comfortable and confident about the choices you make for your child. It’s a big deal to sign your kids up for summer camp, so please get in touch and ask any questions you have. You can reach me by email here [email link needed –]. Don’t be shy, I love to talk about camp!

Find out more about Summer Camp at Camp Mason.

Why I come to Alumni Weekends

Colleen on the far right

Colleen on the right

By Colleen Murray-Seig, Alumni Committee Chair

It’s no secret that camp is one of my favorite places to be. There’s a magic there, a feeling of coming home that envelopes me as soon as I turn in the driveway that’s more than nostalgia. It keeps me coming back whenever I can, especially to work and Alumni weekends.


Alumni Friends Reunited

I realize some people think “you can never go home again” and that things always change. This of course is true, but at camp the changes are purely cosmetic, and I get even more out of these weekends then when I was a kid. Now that I’m older, I appreciate more the gift of just being. Feeling time slow down to a pace where I can enjoy it, instead of racing so fast that I’m constantly playing catch up. Taking time out for a hike or doing something creative gets lost in my day to day world. Whether it’s going for a walk in the woods, painting or singing I realize I need to do this for me and that I’m a better wife, mother and person because of it.

Alumni weekend also allows me to make new friends of all ages. When I was a camper, I hung out with a lot of the same kids who were mostly my age. Now when we hang out at night around the village fire ring I meet people from different generations and can hear from their tales how much has and has not changed. I’ve made friends with several people who weren’t even here when I went to camp which I wouldn’t have been able to do were it not for these weekends. We all have one thing in common, a special place in our heart for camp.

So if you’re not doing anything the weekend of September 28- 30 why not come and join us? You can take a canoe out on the lake, sing old camp songs around the council fire or reconnect with your inner camper. Come on I’ll race you down Sioux hill and meet you at the flagpole! Find out more about the weekend here:


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