LIVINGSTON, NJ – This summer at Heritage Middle School, hundreds of local children attended the annual Livingston Recreational Summer Camp, where they participated in numerous activities such as soccer, kickball, tennis and arts and crafts with a special event to end each week.

During the final week of the consistently growing summer camp, campers enjoyed a surprise appearance from former professional basketball player Rafael Addison and a “Last Blast” dance party to end the six-week experience.

For more than 25 summers, Livingston youth entering grades one through seven have been eligible to enroll in the camp. For six weeks each year, campers are divided into groups by age and gender and follow a pre-planned daily schedule. Some of the many activities include outdoor sports, indoor gymnasiums, a game room, dress-up days, arts and crafts, trips to the town pool and more.

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“The ultimate goal is to provide both the campers and the parents with the best six-week camp experience we as the Township of Livingston can provide,” said longtime camp director Brian Cohen. “It was a very fast, successful summer that would not have worked without the leadership and support of Jennifer Haessberger and Brittany Elsasser from the Township of Livingston. They helped provide all of the support we as a camp needed to make the summer of 2015 successful.”  

Each Friday, the camp holds Special Events that include fan-favorites such as the annual Red versus Blue All-Camp Color War, MTV Day, a Pool Party and Carnival Day. According to Cohen, the camp is constantly getting complimented on new special events this year, like the first-annual “Color Run," the annual carnival and the swim-carnival pool party.

The camp also surprised the camp this year by getting the Livingston Fire Department to bring the trucks to Heritage to provide an afternoon sprinkler on a large scale for full-day campers. The surprise visit from Addison in the final week was part of “Surprise Day,” an activity enacted so that each year involves something different from the last. Cohen, who has grown close to the former All-Big East player from Syracuse University who also played for the New Jersey Nets, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets, thought it would be a fun and interesting experience for the campers.

“The children learned life lessons,” Cohen said of Addison’s motivational speech. “Even if they weren't interested in basketball, he taught them different agility drills that they could apply to other sports they play.”

According to Cohen, the camp was originally held at Monmouth Court in Livingston and has grown so tremendously that they were made to switch venues. Now larger than ever, the camp offers a half-day special as well as a full-day activity option, during which campers can begin as early as 8:45 a.m. and can choose to end their day at either 11:45 a.m. or 2:45 p.m. According to Cohen, the majority of the staff is returning campers who enjoyed their experience at the camp as a child.

Rachel Tirella, a Girls 2 counselor, said many of her soon-to-be second graders looked up to her as an older sibling by the end of the six weeks. She said that it’s important for young girls and boys to find new role models outside the school year so that they learn how to respect authority figures other than their parents and teachers.

“A summer camp gives kids the freedom to explore their personalities and experience structured activities outside the ‘norm,’” said Tirella. “Most of these kids are elementary-school age, so I also think it’s important for them to interact with kids from the other schools in town and build relationships outside their usual element.”

Cohen said the most rewarding aspect of his job is seeing the campers enjoy a positive experience being involved in the many activities the camp offers each summer.

Special Event Coordinator Natalie Natale said, “It’s important for kids to interact outside of school to build relationships, make new friends and play cooperatively with one another.”