MEDFORD >> Matt Foran is the director of Camp Ockanickon, the boys sleepaway camp at YMCA of the Pines in Medford. To many people, the notion of sleepaway camp conjures visions of carefree summer days of swimming, boating, archery, rock climbing and bunking in rustic cabins under the stars. While Foran loves these traditional camp activities, he also feels determined to do more to bring out the full potential of his young male campers during their summer sessions at camp.
“We believe that each child has amazing potential and our program at Camp Ockanickon is designed to help call it out,” he said. Foran has spent the past several months developing what he calls the “Six Heroic Potentials,” which are based on legends associated with the 113-year-old camp.
Foran also believes that society needs to do a better job of raising decent young men – and he’s making some wide-ranging changes to the summer camp program towards that goal. “Camp Ockanickon has always been about promoting core values, such as caring, honesty, respect and responsibility – but it’s clear we need to do more to ensure these values are impactful beyond the scope of summer camp,” Foran said. “As a single-gender camp, I believe we are uniquely suited to create an environment that will benefit boys in a positive way. The Six Heroic Potentials, our character development approach, is one way that we’ll try to accomplish this.
Upon arriving at Ockanickon, campers will see signs and posters of the Six Heroic 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 to. “We will then ask that camper to help model the particular potential for other campers throughout their stay.”
The first heroic potential is Ascender, inspired by Ockanickon alum Frank DeMartini and his actions during the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. “Frank DeMartini saved a lot of people that day,” Foran explained. “He was one of the people who went back up into the tower time and again to save others; he lost his life in the process. The Ascender potential for campers is about taking action when action is necessary.”
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 potential is about having a joyous and inclusive attitude,” Foran said, describing the third potential. “We think it’s a heroic thing to ‘seize joy,’ especially when things aren’t perfect – as they rarely are.”
The Stargazer potential is inspired by all the achievements and explorations of our camp alumni over the last 113 years. “It’s all about exploring more,” Foran said.
Storm potential is inspired by the catastrophic 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. “The Monk potential is all about understanding, truth and self-discovery.”
Foran hopes that each of the Six Heroic Potentials will eventually resonate with the campers. “The potentials provide a strong character basis and lay out a path towards growth. They also provide a foundation for a truly caring community.”
Character development is something that Foran, who is the father of a 3-year-old son, cares deeply about, especially in the wake of the ‘Me Too Movement’ and the idea that we, as a society, need to do a better job raising good, respectful, responsible young men. Further, he feels that boys have been disenfranchised by society and believes we need to pay careful attention to their plight. He cited some pretty disturbing statistics, connecting male teens and adult men to incidents of sexual assault, gun violence, technology addiction, opioid use, incarceration and mental health problems.
“If you look at the statistics, boys seem to be at the core of some of our most crucial societal problems,” Foran pointed out. “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. Our message to an Ockanickon camper is that ‘the hero is you,’” Foran said. “We see kids that way, and we want to help them call out their potential.”
Foran and Ockanickon Program Coordinator Christine Giannobile have been working hard to not only plan a meaningful camp experience, but to convince the organization about the merits of the change.
At the recent annual meeting, CEO Mark Dibble talked about the evolution of the boys camp program and the implementation of Foran’s character development program. “Matt’s program is designed to help Ocky campers grow into upstanding young citizens,” Dibble said. “We’ve always had value-based programming but now, among the staff, we’re having conversations about the deficits young men are experiencing and we’re designing programs that give our young men the chance to strive, fail, and strive again; and the chance to experience adversity and success in a nurturing environment.”
YMCA of the Pines is also home to Camp Matollionequay for girls and Lake Stockwell Day Camp. Summer camp season begins on June 23. For more information, go towww.ycamp.org. To learn more about Foran’s plans for boys camp, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.