Social change inspires revamp at YMCA of the Pines boys camp

Meet camp director Matt Foran, the brain-child of a new, social centered, initiative.

Matt Foran is not your typical John Wayne-like strongman, whipping the young men of tomorrow into moral and physical shape. No, he’s a modest, elegant-speaking, passionate 30-year-old who’s whipping the old tradition of yesterday into, according to him, what it always should have been.

He socially aware of the connection between male teens and adult men with incidents of gun violence, technology addiction, opioid use, incarceration, mental health problems and, especially, sexual assault. For those reasons, Foran believes society needs to do a better job of raising decent young men, and he’s making some wide-ranging changes to a summer camp program toward that goal.  

“If you look at the statistics, boys seem to be at the core of some of our most crucial societal problems,” Foran said. “But here at camp, we don’t believe boys are inherently flawed, rather, we think many boys are not getting what they need to fully thrive.”

As the director of Camp Ockanickon, the boys sleep-away camp at YMCA of the Pines in Medford, he’s behind a new, social-centered, initiative. He’s spent the past several months developing what he calls the “Six Heroic Potentials.” 

Each potential is based on legends associated with the 113-year-old camp. Upon arriving at Ockanickon, campers will see signs and posters of the six potentials and will be asked to think about their own strengths and weaknesses – and to determine which of the character qualities they feel most connected with.

Foran, along with program coordinator Christine Giannobile, remember having conversations with several parents who are worried about the direction of their young sons without a positive father-figure, or any positive male-figure at all.

“For those young men to come to camp and find those things here, and then become these wonderful, responsible, respectful, strong adult men – that’s our greatest hope,” said Giannobile.

The first heroic potential is Ascender, inspired by Ockanickon alum Frank DeMartini and his actions during the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001. The second potential, Elder, is inspired by the camp’s Lenni-Lenape namesake, Chief Ockanickon, and his famous last words, “Be plain and fair to all, as I have been.”

Spirit, the third potential, is about having a joyous and inclusive attitude, Foran explained. The fourth, Stargazer, is inspired by all the achievements and explorations of camp alumni over the last 113 years.

Storm, the fifth potential, is inspired by the devastating 1,000-year storm that hit Medford and the surrounding area in 2004. “The rains kept coming and a series of dams failed, including two at camp,” Foran explained. “We lost our lakes for two summers. Storm potential is about gritting it through when things get tough.”

Monk, the sixth potential, is inspired by the esteemed Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, who stayed at Ockanickon during the summer of 1962. According to Foran, the Monk potential is all about understanding, truth and self-discovery.

“Why do we exist as a boys overnight camp? Why are we here? You arrive at when you look at some of those problems, you start when they’re a boy,” said Foran.

Those interested can learn more about the camp or register at https://ycamp.org/overnight-camp-for-boys-nj/.