How Camp Can Change A Life

Posted by on Apr 29, 2015

It was a hot summer in 2001, my teary-eyed mother watched as her only child started playing Uno cards with the rest of the boys in his new home for next week. It was a dusty old cabin filled with over packed suitcases and a daily schedule that my mother read 10 times over. As I watched her finally will herself away from the laminated paper, I gave her a big hug and asked her to send me lots of candy. Once my mother pulled it together and eventually left camp, I was on my own for the first time in 9 years. I was scared to death but also uncontrollably excited.   “So Donny, what brings you to camp?” asked my cabin counselor.  At the time I didn’t really know how to answer that question. I grew up without a dad and I was a problem child. Some might have called me a “teacher’s nightmare” while others would say I was a “demon child”. I spent more time in the principal’s office than I did making friends. I got kicked out of every after school program and summer camp. It was at that time that my mom realized it was time for some positive male influence in my life.  So what better way than an all-boys camp in Medford, New Jersey? With a puzzled look on my face I gave my counselor the shy, run of the mill, 9 year old answer because he had no idea what he was about to endure for the next week. Needless to say, my first summer at Camp Ockanickon was pretty rough. Not for me, I had a great time. My counselors on the other hand… not so much. Even after the weeklong dose of me they received, I never got yelled at by my counselors. My counselors never put me in timeout. They wouldn’t give me the negative attention I was so good at receiving. In fact, the only time I got attention was when I did the right thing. They didn’t want me to change or behave myself to make their jobs easier, which I was so used to. Instead, they accepted me for who I was and took the time to work with me to make me the best I could be. It was rare for me to meet anybody besides my mom that cared about me so much and tried so hard to make me a good kid, but every counselor at camp was like that. I was stumped. A week later my mom was the first parent to arrive at camp. She arrived in the same mess just she did when she left. However, this time she got to keep me. When I got home and life started turning normal again, my mom saw an immediate change in me. I was making friends, staying out of...

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Homecomings and New Beginnings

Posted by on Apr 22, 2015

If you’re driving on Stokes Road in Medford, New Jersey and you turn left onto Tabernacle Road, as you bear right onto McKendimen Road, there’s an unusual sight you just might miss if you blink. Next to this road, there is a canoe wrapped around a tree. If you look at this, some thoughts like “oh wow, why is there a canoe wrapped around that tree?” or maybe you think “I can’t believe a tree grew through that a canoe.”  Whichever comes to mind, it’s definitely an interesting sight. For me, seeing that canoe gives me an undeniable sense of being home. The first time I saw that canoe was the middle of July in 2004.  My parents had signed me and my younger brother Ian up for our first session of overnight camp at Camp Ockanickon, but two days earlier Medford experienced a massive flood that completely destroyed the dams at Camp Ockanickon and had left them lake less.  So there we were, two brothers going to camp for the first time and the camp had no lake. My parents dropped us off, got back in the car looked at each other and said “they’re going to HATE it!” I’m happy to say my parents were wrong. Ian and I continued to go to Camp Ockanickon for years after that first summer and Camp has been a home for both of us for over a decade now. Over the years I’ve had various roles and responsibilities at Camp from camper to CIT to counselor to challenge course facilitator to a village chief to the CIT director, each year learning and growing while trying my best to give people the experiences at Camp that I had. In 2013 I decided to it was time to step out of my comfort zone and leave Camp Ockanickon for a while. So, in October of that year I said goodbye to Ocky and hello to Camp Jewell YMCA in Colebrook, CT as a program instructor for their outdoor center. I learned a lot at Camp Jewell and really enjoyed myself. It was good for me to be able to try new things while still doing what I have loved since I was 13 years old. However, in March of this year I decided it was time to come back to Ocky. This brings us to two weeks ago. I was back with Camp Ockanickon’s outdoor center team and looking forward to another great year working with some of my closest friends, when I was offered the full-time Aquatics Program Coordinator positon here at camp. I’m thrilled to accept this role and the challenges it brings.  In the months of June through August, there will be around 700 campers here every day. That is a whole lot of buddy checks! The waterfronts are places we can create some of the best memories for...

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Welcome Spring!

Posted by on Apr 15, 2015

As winter melts away, we here at the YMCA Camp Ockanickon Outdoor Center are excited to welcome Spring and all that comes with it. Put away the heavy coats and mittens because it is time to get back outside and have some fun. This past week at the Outdoor Center, we had two different schools join us at Camp just before hosting our annual Spring Military Family Weekend.

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Reflections on my first month

Posted by on Apr 8, 2015

I started my new role as CEO of YMCA Camp Ockanickon, Inc. on March 9, 2015, so it’s been about a month. I figured this was a good time to share a little more about myself and to take a breath and to reflect a bit. I moved to Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, on March 1 from Rockville, Maryland. It is my first time living in New Jersey, and the sixth state I’ve called home as an adult. It was a welcome move for both me and my wife, Beth. We are now much closer to family, which is important to us. I have a brother and a sister-in-law and three nephews who are now only 90 minutes away; and a second brother, a second sister-in-law, two nephews, and a niece who are now only 4 hours away. Both seem like a short drive after living in D.C. Beth and I are almost done unpacking. I think we have one picture left to hang and then we’ll be settled. People tell me that a month seems like an unreasonable amount of time to take to unpack. They may be right, but in a month I’ve: moved, started a new job, attended our open house, had Breakfast with a Bunny, met all of the wonderful staff at Ockanickon, gone on my honeymoon, and had my in-laws visit for a week.* I feel good about what Beth and I have accomplished! Next step: Beth is going to find a job and I’m going to continue to drink from the firehose that is Ockanickon. A few other things about me: I have a French Mastiff named Dylan, after Bob Dylan. She’s a rescue but we guess she’s about 11 years old. She can still muster the energy to chase the occasional squirrel though. I enjoy reading, SCUBA diving, running, and spending time with my family. I’m nervous about these chigger things I keep hearing about. Now onto the important stuff. Camp! Between staff, campers, the Board of Directors, alumni, and volunteers it seems as if I’ve met hundreds of people by now. Each and every person has welcomed me with open arms. Most have taken a moment to make sure I understand what a special place this is. I can’t say that I feel depth and breadth of it as much as others, but rest assured I do understand. I’m honored and humbled to be one of the stewards of this magical place for its next phase. Next year will mark the start of our 12th decade serving the community. In our 11 decades, we served hundreds of children and families. We gave away countless dollars in assistance to people in need and perhaps most importantly, we changed the lives of thousands of people. So many people have already told me that they would not be the person, the parent, the success,...

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