The global pandemic that rocked the world in 2020 turned the camp experience upside down. In June, when we learned with less than a month to prepare that we would be unable to operate summer sleepaway camps in New Jersey, our overnight camp directors, Charlotte Brown (Camp Matollionequay) and Matt Foran (Camp Ockanickon) pivoted and created Camp Matocky — an extended day camp aimed at recreating the overnight camp experience. Camp Matocky ultimately earned the Harold Breene Youth Education Award from the American Camp Association New York and New Jersey in recognition of actively promoting youth development in a unique camp environment.

The Purpose
The purpose of Camp Matocky was to provide a program where campers could safely connect with their friends, counselors, and the YMCA of the Pines property this summer to experience some sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of our overnight campers are past the age where camp is necessary as childcare, and instead are attending for growth opportunities and the experience. After months of isolation coupled with the possibility of remote or hybrid-model schooling again in the fall, we wanted to create an opportunity for youth to socialize and continue their development during the summer months.

How it Worked
Camp Matocky operated four one-week sessions in July serving approximately 85-100 campers each week. Charlotte and Matt incorporated ceremonies, evening program, and a cohesive character-development framework into the extended day program with very little lead-time to get the camp off the ground.

Campers were split into single-gender “teams” based on age. The teams traveled together to activity periods throughout the day, and spent time at their “home base” – a group of cabins where they could keep their gear and relax a bit. During the day, the teams enjoyed traditional camp programming, such as archery, fishing, hatchet throwing, sports, mountain biking, and the challenge course (climbing wall, high ropes elements, zip line and more).

Character Development
Teams also had the opportunity to participate in The Elder Quest by hunting for the elusive Matocky Block (an epic item that it hidden around camp with clues revealed daily to its location), and Open-World Stargazing (an all-camp scavenger hunt designed to encourage campers to explore the world). On an individual level, the campers worked on their emblem blocks – a skill-mastery program in which campers earn emblems as their progress in skill at various activities.

On the final day of the session, teams were awarded epic items that they earned for group and/or individual achievements. For example, a camper could earn the Sword of Ascender for stepping bravely and doing the right thing in a difficult moment, the Elder Torch for valuing and helping others, or the Stargazer Scope for exploring outside of one’s comfort zone.

The Results
Simply put, Camp Matocky was an incredible program that gave kids a much needed opportunity to socialize and work together after months of isolation. While many camps decided not to open due to the pandemic, our team took a creative approach, quickly implemented a myriad of safety protocols and adapted the camp experience to the current situation. We’re proud to report that 97% of camp families surveyed reported having a positive experience, and 98% would recommend Camp Matocky to another family. We are grateful for the award, but even more so, we are thrilled at the opportunity we were able to provide for campers this summer. We look forward to incorporating many of the elements that made Matocky successful, into our traditional overnight camps for the 2021 summer!