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!

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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.

New Beginnings

Jackson Patterson

By Jackson Patterson, Summer Camp Director

As much of our community already knows, I recently I made the announcement that I will be ending my time here at Camp Mason to pursue a new challenge of working with the Student Conservation Association. While closing out my week at camp I wanted to share my appreciation for this community and the individuals that have been a part of it.

Each summer we speak about the importance of trying new things, of feeling part of a community, and of impacting those around us. These notions are often intangible and hard to quantify and perhaps all the more impactful for those reasons. One day you wake up and you just realize that you’ve grown and that’s the beauty of camp. It changes you subtly and greatly all at once.

As I get ready for the next chapter in my life I wanted to say thank you for welcoming me into your community and giving me the opportunity to learn and grow. I will miss much about Mason. I will miss the “magic,” the impact, the community, and fun that only the staff and especially campers can create. Camp will be in good hands this summer and there’s already a great team in place to carry the torch. I wish you all the very best in the summer and seasons to come. Be well and maybe I’ll see you at the Alumni Reunion!


Winter Meeting at Camp Mason

Anna Bilton Blog Photo

By Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Program Director

Twenty-six Summer Camp staff members made their way to camp last weekend for our annual Winter Meeting. We talked about what went well last summer, what we could do better next time and shared new ideas for this summer. We are fortunate to have staff that care wholeheartedly about camp and the work that they do. So much so, that they gave up their own time to help us make the summer program even better.

When we weren’t deep in conversation about all things camp there were games, a Winter tour and a whole lot of laughter. It was wonderful to spend time together and build even stronger relationships with one another. Thanks to everyone who joined us for this valuable weekend. Not long until summer now and we can do it all again!


How Do You Know Camp is as Important as You Say it is?

Anna Bilton Blog PhotoBy Anna Bilton, Summer Camp Program Director

If you know any of us personally or have ever read any of our blog or social media posts the chances are you’ve probably heard the staff here at Camp Mason talk about the benefits of camp. We really do believe that a camp experience can have a powerful, positive impact for children and young people (and we can’t stop going on about it)! We can say this because we see the impact every day around camp and we even feel it’s effect on ourselves. But what is it that we see? What is it that makes us so sure of the value of camp?

I can’t speak for all of us but I can share a recent moment when I felt a big, old dose of camp magic that screamed volumes to me about the positive impacts children experience at Camp Mason. This past summer was a blast and that makes it a pleasure to travel back in time all the way to the second Wednesday in Session 2A.IMG_3543

As I made my usual afternoon round of camp I quite literally stumbled on the Making the Movie activity group. They were crouched down in the undergrowth, speaking only in excited whispers and focusing so hard on their project that they hardly noticed me arrive. It turns out I had showed up at just the right time and was quickly told to get down and quiet down. The campers and activity leaders were in the middle of filming a nature documentary about the wildest of all beasts; Camp Mason counselors. If we made too much noise we would disturb the staff in their natural habitat and draw attention to ourselves. I was told this would not only ruin the documentary but that it could be dangerous. From a safe distance we watched the archery counselor run the range until the last arrows were fired and then we made our move. He spotted us and we had no choice but to retreat, and retreat fast.

After we’d reached safety I went on my way continued to walk through the woods visiting archery, riflery and high ropes. I couldn’t stop thinking about the five minutes I’d spent with our camper film makers. The Making the Movie is an elective for campers and while this group only got together on Monday, by Wednesday they were already as thick as thieves. Each camper was an important part of that group and was equally involved in the acting, filming and directing process. Their idea showed a ton of creativity and everyone was perfectly in character. This group was full of confidence and appeared to be enjoying working together to complete their project. This group was having fun together!

The few moments that I was a part of that group I felt included, important and happy, not to mention entirely convinced that watching the staff was akin to being on a safari. That’s what camp does. That’s when I know for sure that camp positively impacts children and young people. That’s why I harp on and on about how great camp is. And this was just one moment with one group during one afternoon in one summer. There are so many more wonderful moments like this at camp. Children develop invaluable life skills all while enjoying what they’re doing. Camp does this. Just ask any of us! We’d be happy to tell you, and then tell you again and then again and again…

I’d like to thank our tireless media team for their hard work and dedication in running, leading and editing the Making the Movie activity. In case you wanted to see the finished documentary (and you do, it’s hilarious) check out the video below. It’s the best 3 minutes you’ll spend all day!


Movie Credit to Trent Lawson.

A Busy Time of Year!

bernie_sBy Bernie Sulzer, Facilities Director 

Albino Squirrel

Albino Squirrel

Hello, a lot’s been happening around the camp this fall, a lot of groups have come and gone and will come again no doubt. We’ve begun construction of the Dining Hall bathroom addition and it’s progressing nicely despite the late time of year…we’ve been very fortunate with the weather so far and it seems to be holding steady. Good thing too since the squirrels seem to still be gathering their winter stores. There’s is a picture above of an albino gray squirrel that lives close to the Maintenance Shop.

I’d like to thank everyone who came out for the Fall Volunteer weekend. It was structured a bit differently this time, being combined with the Alumni Reunion. I feel it went very smoothly, everyone took the changes in stride. We got some good projects finished and folks seemed satisfied with their contributions. Here’s a quick recap of the finished projects:

  • the shiny new pile of firewood at the maintenance shop
  • the frosting of cabin bathroom windows to improve camper privacy
  • winterizing the Dining Hall and Algonquin village windows to conserve fuel
  • a new set of big triangle benches across the lake from the Dining Hall
  • a nice paintjob on Lake Mason’s boathouse.
triangle bench

New triangle benches

Everything our volunteers do for Camp really matters; to the campers, the staff and even to the people just driving down Birch Ridge Rd.

I’d like to introduce a project that my department has been working on this past summer and fall. We’ve re-purposed an old, unused water tank into a clubhouse/overnight site for our campers and guests. It still has a ways to go, I’m expecting to see it finished this coming spring. It will be one of a series of remodels to add some unique destinations/hangout spots around camp. I have the next project picked out and some initial ideas planned. Here is a photo of the Tank at present and a photo of the Silo that will have to go thru a safety check and then a remodel for 2016.

I’ve received a lot of great feedback already on the Tank and I hope to keep that enthusiasm up for the Silo next year.

Take care and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Bernie Sulzer

Food Glorious Food!

By Maryann Ledder, Food Services Director

As Food Service Director I have the privilege of feeding everyone that comes through the doors to the dining hall. Whether it’s the Summer Camp or the Outdoor Center, all campers, students, teachers, chaperones, and alumni meet three times a day to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I love watching the summer campers come back every year. Watching them go from the junior tables to the senior ones, growing into wonderful young adults. I love when summer camp does theme days and the dining hall is transformed and the staff and the campers are in costume.

The Outdoor Center brings all kinds of groups, from schools to family camps, reunions, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts, which we gently remind to “please walk” as they eagerly get their food.

I’m happy knowing everyone has a variety of foods to choose from and that there is always something even for the pickiest of eaters. It’s very easy to work with everyone here because of the wonderful Camp Mason kitchen staff. Just as in other departments of the camp, the kitchen staff have gone from co-workers and friends to family! Always working together to get the job done. Knowing we’re a team and helping each other makes it easy to get the food cooked and out on the line.

My favorite line to hear from returning campers is “I was here last year and couldn’t wait to come back!” So, as this year winds down, everyone is looking forward to hearing those words again next year.


Campers ready for dinner in the Camp Mason Dining Hall.

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