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 campers. My goal is to make sure that when any camper from any of the three camps steps into the waterfront they enjoy themselves, in an environment that is both physically and emotionally safe. I’m very excited to work with the waterfront directors from Stocky, Ocky, and Matolly to make that happen with both swim lessons and free swims.
Being back at Camp is such a great feeling and as the summer gets closer and closer I can’t help but smile every morning. It feels pretty great to know that for the foreseeable future I’ll be seeing a lot of that old canoe wrapped around the tree.