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 trouble, and the teachers actually liked me. It was a great year and of course, I had to come back to camp. My mom whole-heartedly and enthusiastically agreed.
So summer after summer I got better and better as a person. It was up until my 6th summer when I really got what camp was all about and I remember the specific time it happened. It was during a program at camp called Big Brother Little Brother where the oldest age group, the Mohawks (which I was), hung out with the youngest age group, the Cherokees (which I used to be). We would look out for our little brothers throughout the session and meet up with them every so often. This one time I was making a sandcastle with my little brother and he asked me what my favorite part about camp is. I looked back at the first time camper and thought for a moment. My answer may have been a little perplexing for a 9 year old but I talked about how camp simply changed my life. How it made me a better person and how awesome it is to learn from all these great counselors. How I get to be apart of something so much bigger than myself and that I get to be apart of something so important. It was at that moment I knew camp would always be a huge part of my life.
The next summer I enrolled in the Counselor in Training (CIT) Program and I was asked back to be an assistant counselor for the next summer. That summer I was a counselor and the summer after that I was a counselor again. After that, I was a CIT Director, then a Village Chief, and then I became the Ranger Director. 14 summers later, I still can’t stay away and I don’t think I want to. I love camp so much and have such a deep understanding of how important camp can be. Now I want to my career to be directing a camp. And I want that camp to be like Camp Ockanickon.