My name is Brent Birchler and I am the Boys Overnight Camp Director at YMCA Camp Ockanickon. I first came to camp in the early 1980’s as a member at the Family Swim Center. My parents would take me swimming, boating, and fishing during the summer months. After a few years as a member, I had my first overnight camp experience at the annual Kids Convention, a program Ockanickon used to run during Teacher Conventions in November. From then on, I was hooked on camp!
I made a lot of friends each time I came to camp and really looked up to my counselors. They were my heroes! While my school friends wanted to be firemen, police officers, or soldiers when they grew up, I wanted to be a combination of Billy Weeks, Rick Feighery, Robbie Elder, Mickey Weeks, Ian Scott, Bobby Sempsey, Chris Morris, and Rick Worrell. These guys made me feel important. They were excited when I arrived at camp and made me feel like I was really a part of Ockanickon. They taught me how to shoot a bow and arrow. They taught me how to canoe and backpack. They taught me that being out in the woods was infinitely more fun than being surrounded by walls and ceilings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they also taught me how to settle an argument, bounce back from disappointment, stand up for what I believed in, and how to do the right thing even when it was hard and uncomfortable. They helped my parents teach me how to be a man. For that, I am eternally grateful. They didn’t teach me these things by being authoritative. They taught me these things by being my friends and holding me accountable for my decisions and behavior. That’s what good mentors do. I remember letting them down more than once, but seeing their disappointment in my choices would really motivate me not to make that mistake again. These were invaluable life lessons for me.
Then came that magical day in 1994 that I was hired as an Assistant Counselor. My first day of staff training was probably one of the top five happiest days of my life! I made a host of new friends on staff such as Mikey Sunshine, Eric Altenburger, Andrew Pinger, Jeff Basiaga, and the legendary Spiffy Joe Bertolino. My two best friends, Mike Maron and Keith Controvich, also became staff members around the same time as me. I was in Heaven! I had my dream job and looked forward to working at camp through college until it was time to get a “real job”. Well, college came and went and I got to work with some amazing campers and counselors during my summers at Ockanickon. After I graduated, I was still unsure of what I wanted to do so I decided to work at camp while I was going through the interview process. After a few months, I realized that this was my calling. My impact on the world would be through camping. There was a new generation of leadership at camp at the time that helped me continue my camping education and within a few years, I found myself as the Camp Ockanickon Director. Thank you to Gary Graham, Tom Rapine, Chris Corona, and Kate Lemay for everything you taught me! I guess that has been my common theme at camp and hopefully the common theme for today’s campers. People here went out of their way to help me grow. They didn’t give me the answers, but they helped me to figure it out myself. Camp is not about the canoes or the challenge course or the gaga court or the other fun activities. Those things are a means to an end. Camp is about “helping the other fellow”. Camp is about making friends that will be a part of the rest of your life and learning how to take a chance. Camp is about being a part of a very special community. Camp is about becoming a better person. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my camp journey. You have inspired me to make it my mission to insure that this beautiful experience is made available for many generations of campers to come. I look forward to one of my campers taking my job someday. But not anytime soon!
Hello, my name is MaryAnn Birchler and I am the Day Camp Director at YMCA Camp Ockanickon. I started at camp in summer of 2000 as a counselor at the girl’s overnight camp, Matollionequay . It was one of the hardest jobs I have done in my life but certainly the most rewarding. I made friends all over the world and am still very close with them. After that summer, I went back to school and decided not to return the following summer, as I was living in Philadelphia working two jobs.
One day in June of 2001, I received a phone call from the Matolly Director at the time. She asked me if I was interested in coming back to camp as a Village Chief. Needless to say, I was surprised, but I decided to return to camp that summer. Two days later, I moved into my home for the summer, Little House, and was the Mohawk VC. For the next two summers I decided to return to Matolly, but this time I returned as the Cherokee Village Chief. Soon after that I decided to work at the camp’s challenge course. It was the next summer that I came back to be the Ranger Director for Matolly. It was in 2006, where after graduating from St. Joseph’s University and teaching for 4 years, I took on a full time position at camp as the School’s Out Director. In 2011, I was given the task of running Lake Stockwell Day Camp.
Camp has definitely shaped my life and who I am today. I am fortunate enough to have met my husband at camp, who just happens to be the Boys Overnight Director at Ockanickon! We’ve been married since 2005 and have two wonderful daughters, Katelyn, who is 5 years old and Anna, our 2 year old. Since I started at camp, I have come to realize that my favorite part of camp is watching campers grow and giving staff opportunities to learn and develop life skills.
My name is Gab Ostroski and I am the Girls Overnight Camp Director at YMCA Camp Ockanickon. Originally from Australia, I decided that I wanted to experience summer camp in America since it’s not in the Australian culture to send children to summer camp. After seeing many advertisements in newspapers and on bulletin boards at university, I decided that 2000 would be the year that I was actually going to the U.S.A.! After a very tedious application and interview process back home, I got the call from the agency one day while at work, “You are going to YMCA Camp Ockanickon in Medford, N.J.!” I was so excited that my dream of going to America to experience summer camp was about to become a reality. That summer, I was a counselor in Oneida Village and worked with the boating staff. I had an amazing experience and was sad to leave. I went back home and in January the following year I received a phone call from the camp asking if I was interested in returning to spend another summer there. I knew I just had to come back! Needless to say, what was supposed to be a one-time experience, continued on with a proposal in a canoe, a beautiful daughter and a journey that still continues 15 years later.
One of the things that I loved about camp initially was the invitation to be just yourself and accepted for who you are. Walking into an environment, not knowing a single person but immediately feeling at home was a great feeling. Being able to embrace and nourish all the different qualities in each other was so empowering. I knew the world needed more of that and I wanted to be a part of it. Becoming a parent and watching my daughter grow up at camp has also given me a different perspective. It’s important for children to have role models in their life and feel like they are a part of a community. What I knew to be true before, I believe even more now. Kids need camp. A safe environment away from home, in a supervised setting, where children can learn how to interact and live with others their own age. They get to learn about themselves and push their own personal limits. There is no technology, it’s all about being outside and playing together. Building friendships and making memories. And most importantly, being encouraged to be YOU. I believe that learning to love our true selves and feeling good about who we are empowers us as individuals. And when we are our true selves, there is a happiness that shines through that is more often than not, contagious. How awesome is that?! So here I am, very thankful and blessed to have met so many amazing campers and staff who have not only impacted my life, but the lives of so many… In each of you will live the Spirit of Matollionequay.
We can’t wait to see you at camp this summer!