Blog

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 – anna@campmason.org]. 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.

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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: https://campmason.org/alumni/reunion-information/.

 

Camp Mason Family Camps

 

By Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director 

Family Camps are one of Camp Mason’s most popular weekend programs. They are wonderful weekends full of family bonding, meeting new people, exciting activities, and so much more! There is something for every member of the family.

All of our family camp weekends begin on Friday night with a snack and board games in the Dining Hall. Families arrive, settle into their cabins, and prepare for the weekend ahead.

Saturday and Sunday mornings start with breakfast and then activities begin. One family may choose to start the day by exploring a local trail through an off-site hike to Van Campen’s Glen or the Catfish Fire Tower, while another family might decide to get creative with our arts & crafts or candle making activities. We also offer more traditional camp activities such as riflery, archery, canoeing, and survival skills. Everyone will gather in the Dining Hall for lunch, and then it’s back to activities for the rest of the afternoon. Sometimes families break into groups to enjoy a few of their personal favorite activities like tie dye, outdoor cooking, or the zip line. Families are also able to cool off in the swimming pool or spend some time relaxing beside the lake.

The afternoon activities end and everyone heads to the Dining Hall for dinner, but the fun continues with our evening activity. The evening activities vary from year to year, but past activities have included water balloon volley ball, night hikes, pumpkin carving, a pool party, life size board games, and much more. We also have a traditional campfire complete with songs, skits, and s’mores.

The weekend officially ends on Monday morning with a continental breakfast, and an opportunity to visit the Trading Post. Families are welcome to hang out on camp and enjoy the property before heading home after a fantastic weekend.

Our Family Camps are offered on the following holiday weekends: Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and President’

s Day. To find out more about our Family Camps visit the “year round” tab on our website here.

Teacher In-Service Day Training Programs

By Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director – Groups and Retreats

Gather the faculty and staff at your school and come to Camp Mason for a teacher in-service day. Spend the day outdoors participating in a variety of activities that promote group collaboration and hands on learning. The group will leave at the end of the day with new teaching techniques and activities, as well as a better understanding of one another.

If you choose a teambuilding session your group will be lead through a number of teambuilding exercises by our professional staff. The exercises are designed to highlight the various aspects of teambuilding such as communication, leadership, and trust. After each exercise the group will have a chance to reflect on how they worked as a team, and discuss how they might improve upon any weaknesses. The group can also relate the discussion to how they work with one another throughout the school year. The teambuilding experience can continue by choosing to add a session of high ropes to the schedule.

To build upon the teambuilding experience, groups can participate in a session where they learn how to run teambuilding exercises with their students. The exercises require few to no props, and can be done within the space of a classroom. The group will also learn how to facilitate a debrief session to promote teamwork among the students.

We also offer academic focused sessions, in which our professional staff share interactive techniques to teach information in the content areas. Sessions may include questioning techniques, development of student’s observations skills, games that get students thinking about specific topics, and much more. The information in these sessions is best suited for teachers who teach 4th – 7th grade.

Scheduling is flexible and can be created based on the interest of the group. We are able to offer both full and half day sessions. If you have any questions or would like to book a teacher in-service day please call us on 908-362-8217.

 

Winter Happenings at Camp

By Anna Bilton, Senior Camp Director

It might be cold outside, the trees are bare and summer seems like it is a long way away but the winter is not all doom and gloom here at camp. We are able to take time to reflect on the work we do and make plans to make the camp experience better than ever this spring, summer and fall. In case you were wondering what’s on the agenda for 2018 here’s a preview of what’s in store!

1. Summer Camp staff from 10 different countries!

We have been busy interviewing and selecting an all-star summer staff team to run amazing programs this summer. They are all raring to go and are going to be incredible role models this summer for our campers!

2. New and improved candle making area

We’ve offered candle making at Camp Mason for years and it is a huge hit with our weekend Outdoor Center guests but its never had a home of its own. This year we are planning to convert an old cabin into a candle making workshop to be able to offer the activity to all of our visitors including our summer campers. Prepare to get creative and make a candle of your own. 

3. Preparing our new covered space for action

You may have heard on the grapevine that there is a large, new covered space in our main entrance way as of the end of last year. We are thrilled to have a large covered space for rainy day activities, meeting spaces and evening programs. Before we can fill the space with people there are a few things we need to do first – we need to decide on lights, a screen, chairs and tables as well as anything else we can think to make the space as useful as possible. It’s an exciting project and should be fully functional and ready to go for the spring season. We know this space is going to make rainy days and evening programs much better.

4. Planning training for our Outdoor Center team

Each season we welcome over 11,000 people to camp with their schools and other groups to visit our year round Outdoor Center. The training we do with our team is crucial to prepare them to lead activities, learn skills to work with people of all ages and learn all things Mason. It takes a long time to plan the sessions and seminars we teach each season and we put a lot of thought into how we do things. It’s exciting to prepare for our new team!

5. Continuing our team’s education

Did you know that our staff attend numerous training events and conferences throughout the year continually working to improve ourselves and the work we do? We want our team to be as prepared as possible to work with children, young people and their families. This year our year round team have attend 4 different conference between us and have come back with lots of ideas to make sure 2018 at camp is better than ever!

We would love to hear your ideas and suggestions on the things we are working on at camp. Call us on 908-362-8217 or email us at information@campmason.org to share your thoughts.

Reflections on the Fall

By Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director

The Outdoor Center has wrapped up another fantastic fall season. We enjoyed spending the season catching up with all of our returning groups, and even welcomed some new groups to the Camp Mason family. We spent countless hours climbing trees, exploring the lake, and playing gaga; but the most important thing we do here at Camp is learn. We learn about ourselves, each other and the natural environment.

This season we had over 60 schools and groups come to camp to enjoy the outdoors and make new friends. Kids and adults alike learn valuable life lessons about teamwork like this student from Pleasant Valley Elementary School that said,

 “At Camp Mason I learned to include everyone in what you are doing because everyone is important.”

Or this student who learned more about himself during his stay at camp.

“At Camp Mason I learned the notion of perseverance which will be useful because whenever I encounter challenges or tribulations in life that may degrade me, I will now want to push past my comfort zone.” –  Student, Age 17, Bloomfield High School

Being at camp also kindles lifelong friendships between people who may have never interacted with each other. Often times people go to school, girl scouts, work, etc. with others for years and never initiate conversation with one another, but the camp environment (and lack of cell phone service and Wi-Fi) helps us to discover friends and connections we never thought we would. A student from Old Bridge High School shared her experience saying,

“At Camp Mason I learned you can become friends with people you never though you would, you just have to give them a chance.”

Along with the life lessons and group bonding, we engage students on fieldtrips in science based curriculum that involves kinesthetic learning and develops students’ curiosity. This curiosity is just the beginning of a larger lesson that can be expanded upon by teachers when the students head back to the classroom.

“My favorite class was the insects and reptiles. We saw so many cool animals and touched and held them too!” – Student, Age 10, United Nations International School

Even our groups that aren’t here for field trips can learn a new skill, or fact about nature. Many of the people who visit camp with their youth group, girl scout/boy scout troop, or corporate group leave camp having tried a new activity, like this Girl Scout from troop 135 that said,

“It was a very fun experience at Camp Mason because we got to learn how to do things we never thought we would do. Also the staff was very nice and helpful.”

Or this boy from the Christian Missionary Alliance who shared,

“At Camp Mason I learned to conquer my fears through rock climbing, and now I’m not afraid to try new things!”

As you can see, we had a very busy fall immersing ourselves in all that camp has to offer. Camp is quiet right now with the holiday season among us, but rest assured that the Camp Mason Staff are working hard to prepare for both the winter and spring seasons that are quickly approaching. We can’t wait to see everyone again soon!

The Leaves They Are A-Changin’

By Alex Loop, Outdoor Education Naturalist for the Mason Outdoor Center

And so is camp! The new pavilion is going up, leaves are going down, and cars and buses continue to roll in for the last few days of the fall season. With the constant countdown to summer camp posted on Facebook and Instagram, one would think that there is substantially less happening here at Mason over the fall and into the winter. This is not the case. We have had crazy weeks here at camp over the past few months. A different kind of crazy from the summer, but hectic nonetheless.

Long days with ropes setup starting at 6:30 in the morning, ending with night hikes lasting til 9. Days filled with back-to-back ecology classes, and hours of belaying. Sometimes we facilitate every activity for a group, from a structured course on sustainability to leading songs around a campfire. Other times, we are merely here in the background, as the group has (almost) free reign over camp. I have been lucky enough to experience Mason both in the summer and the fall. I could not tell you which season I prefer – these are two different camps that happen to be in the same spot, with their own kind of magic.

Just as summer staff were challenged to “Make Magic,” we make magic here at the Outdoor Center with every new or returning group that visits us. Whether we are explaining the science behind the changing foliage that lights up camp with its dazzling splendor, or guiding a nervous 8th grader through the full high ropes course, Camp Mason continues to impact the kids that come here. The Outdoor Center is much more than a plug for summer camp – it is its own entity. In a span of a few hours to several days, students learn about themselves and the natural world around them. I have never visited Mason with my school. I am a naturalist who lives and works on camp seasonally, however, like my coworkers and the participants I teach, I too, am a student who constantly learns and grows in this unique, magical place that has so much to offer, no matter the season.

Art in the Heart

By Dan Dickerson, Naturalist at the Mason Outdoor Center

When I was ten, I spent a lot of time inside of the house, avoiding the facets of the worlds around me; lost in the land of video games.

When I turned 19 after my first year of college I took a leap and applied for my first job working as a summer camp counselor at Camp Mason. I didn’t really know what it was going to be like, but I did know that I would make friends and do my best to go above and beyond. What I didn’t expect to find, was my passion. Sometimes you have to be lost to truly find yourself, and being lost in the woods of Hardwick, New Jersey has allowed me to find the true educator within.

Education is my passion and art is my medium. YMCA Camp Mason provides a place to foster your individual skills through active community support systems utilizing outdoor education. Being challenged to step out of my comfort zone allowed me to discover the power of expression and how to teach it to children.

Being able to bring the ‘Improvisational Contemporary Flow Art’ form know as gloving to camp mason has allowed me to share my belief in the power of expression through art, and has fortified my love for the therapeutic attributes that art can provide. Gloving is micro dance form where you use LED lights on your finger tips to express music like poetry. The improvisational skills acquired through flow arts can help anyone understand their strengths – change can start with art in the palm of your hand.

A camper once shared with me that they were glad that they joined my gloving class because it helped show them how to refocus their attention; as they were easily distracted. The following summer they had told me their grades we exponentially better ever since they started using gloving as the outlet for their frustrations in school. Hearing that, I realized my true passion is education using the skills of art therapy. The power to express your self is already in your hands, and with art you can teach others how to make a difference.

Whether I’m speaking to a parent, teacher, co-worker, or student I am always inspired by the strength they exhibit to push past their comfort, to step into their growth zone. Camp has granted me a sense of Identity, discovery, and ability.

There is a light in every person and the people you meet at camp are a lot like the stars, no matter the time or place we are surrounded by stars. The memories you create at camp are crystal gems crafted within to assure you you’re not alone, and to remind you to return to your greatness.

Why Come and Work at Camp?

By Salva Cossu, Assistant Camp Director (summers 2016-17)

Over the past three years, I’ve heard that question so many times: from my friends, my school, my fellow camp staff member’s parents, people considering joining a camp staff, and many more. Why work at camp when you’re going to college, when you have high career prospects? I asked myself that question at some point, I’m not going to lie. Here’s my answer.

Just to put a little bit of context, I’m French, and study business in a French school. Getting into one of these schools in France is a long, hard and studious process of two years after high school. Therefore, when you finally get into college, you’re expected to do internships in big companies, increasing your marketing or finance skills. I chose to work at Camp Mason, against all odds and many people questioning it.

The reason why is simply because what you can learn at camp is something that you can’t learn in any company in 3 months, or even a year, or two. You learn how to be a leader, among your kids and your peers. You learn how to adapt to any situation, to manage any crisis that may come your way, and how to be confident doing it. That’ll change your way of working with people, of explaining things so that everyone (adults as much as kids) can understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, including yourself. Finally, you learn how to be yourself, to be confident in your skills, as diverse as they may be, in a diverse and international environment. Give me one other place in the world you can learn all of that, potentially be a leader at 21 or 22 years old, I promise you it’s really hard to find. I got jobs in the musical industry talking for 30 minutes about camp, because of and I quote “the qualities you show, no one has them at your age”.

If you are a friend, or a parent, trust the guts of that person who wants to come and work at summer camp. Don’t refrain them, they’re learning a different way, and that’s what makes them strong and valuable. And if you are the one thinking about it, listen to yourself, go learn how to be the leader you would like to have and be who you want to be.

908-362-8217
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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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