Seashore Day Camp Celebrates 90th Anniversary
LONG BRANCH, October 26 –When John Cittadino, a teacher and swim coach in Asbury Park, founded Seashore Day Camp in 1926, he knew children needed a recreational program where they could interact with others during their summer break. What he did not know was that he was pioneering an industry that would ultimately benefit hundreds of thousands of children in Monmouth County and that the camp would become as synonymous with summertime as the beach itself.
The landmark award-winning camp, which will kick off its 90th anniversary at a DAY OF FUN-OPEN HOUSE FEBRUARY 6, has announced that as part of the schedule of activities, local artist/philanthropist Peter Nicolaou, from Ocean Township, will paint on commemorative surfboards to mark the role Seashore has played for generations of families at the Jersey shore for nine decades.
“It is amazing how far we have come over the years,” Seashore Director John Villapiano said. “I wish John Cittadino and my parents could be at the kick off to share this moment.”
Opening as the first day camp in New Jersey and one of the first in the United States with just seven children, Seashore has grown into one of the largest businesses in the area, accommodating more than 500 boys and girls each summer, providing jobs for approximately 100 staff members per season and setting the standard for what camping should be.
Highly respected by the American Camp Association, Seashore has been voted best camp in Monmouth County three times, won Asbury Park Press Readers Choice Awards the past five years, received the 2013 Louis. G. Libutti Community Service Award, has been named Family Business of the Year Award and has even had a day proclaimed in its honor by Long Branch City officials, where February 12 will always be Seashore Day Camp Day.
The shore choice with generations for 90 years, the camp has been attended by celebrities including Phil Villapiano, Wendy Williams, P.J. Marks, Ashley Tisdale and recently crowned 2016 Miss New Jersey Teen USA Gina Mellish.
According to director John Villapiano, a former professional football player and state assemblyman, more than 45,000 young people have spent summers at Seashore and more than 80 percent of the staff was once campers themselves.
Villapiano’s family became involved in the business when Cittadino retired in 1974 and sold Seashore to the late Augustus (Gus) Villapiano, a 25-year employee, who moved the camp to its present headquarters, located a block from the beach at 345 Second Avenue in Long Branch.
While Cittadino’s original principles have been the driving force through the decades, under the ownership of the Villapiano family, the camp has changed with the times to give today’s children the kind of summer experience they are looking for – and one which is much broader than in the past.
Led by Villapiano, his sister Carolee, brother Gus and team of dedicated counselors, Seashore is known for taking camping way beyond the ordinary — and adding elements of sports camps, surf camps, and day trips into an all-inclusive package that brings campers back year after year. Eighty five percent of the enrollment is repeat business.
According to Villapiano, the camping industry has significantly changed over the years. It has become a big business with regional and national camp shows featuring hundreds of vendors who help hundreds of camps compete for the latest equipment, entertainment and activities. The face of camping has also changed with the introduction of specialty camps that focusing on skill building in specific areas ranging from athletics to the arts.
Seashore has responded to the changing market over the years by modifying the program to include the best parts of it all and at the same time, make it easy on parents who have to work while their kids are off for the summer and can’t drive them from one activity or type of camp to another.
While daily instructional swim and standard recreational activities will always be part of the schedule, these days, Villapiano explained that it is more about advanced sports camps and large-scale interactive special events. It is about scaling an Adventure Ropes Course through the Cottonwood trees, zip lining 300 feet, jumping 25 times higher on an attraction called the 4-Way Trampoline Thing, competing in Olympics on a 50’ inflatable sports park on water, spinning on a teeter totter known as the Rock It, climbing a 28’ rock wall, designing jewelry in a bead room, speed boating around the Statue of Liberty on the jet engine “Beast,” tubing down the Delaware for a floating BBQ, going to Yankee and Mets games, Sea Gypsy Pirate Adventures, Sky Zone, water parks, amusement parks and so on.
And with Seashore’s close proximity to the beach, rivers and bays, it is about water sports that rival Caribbean vacations. The water sports program features a surf camp taught by an expert who has surfed all over the world and who teaches campers the range from beginning techniques to getting inside breaking waves. Age appropriate children also learn stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, kayaking, snorkeling, skim boarding and wind surfing. They go for rides up the coast on a six-seater banana boat, pedal boat around Shark River and canoe down the Manasquan River. And for the younger set, water sports begin with power paddlers and bumper boats in a three-foot pool at the on-site water pavilion.
Ten years ago, Seashore also ventured into a new area with a theater camp “On Broadway” for children interested in performing arts. The program, which began with 19 campers, has nearly tripled in size. In addition to putting on large-scale productions with live orchestras, professional lighting, sets and costumes, campers hone their skills by going to Tony winning Broadway musicals and taking workshops at New York City rehearsal studios with stars in the shows they see.
“We know for children to want to get up early in the summer and take a bus to a structured program after being in school all year, the schedule has to give them exactly what they are looking for. There has to be variety, excitement and challenges,” said Villapiano, who has only spent three summers away from Seashore since he attended as a camper himself. “We constantly research the market and introduce new activities that give campers a chance to stretch their imaginations, develop skills, test limits, build confidence and try things they might not experience elsewhere.”
Villapiano summed it up by saying, “You know you’ve got it right when Week 8 of the summer comes and the energy level is still running so high that campers don’t want the program to end.”
While other camps have followed suit since the 1920s and opened throughout the state with their own particular styles, Seashore will always have the distinction of being first and of being the leader that paved the way.