LONG BRANCH, NJ – 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 extensive schedule of activities, local artist/philantropist Peter Nicolaou, from Ocean Township, will paint on commemmorative surboards to mark the role Seashore has played for generations of families at the Jersey shore for nine decades. Sand Sculptor John Gruber will teach children to build castles. Professional ballerina Ellen Gunn, a registered instructor with the Royal Academy of Dance and Artistic Director of Monmouth Academy of Ballet in Red Bank, will introduce the camp’s new ballet class. Scott Keller will teach wind surfing using a special simulator. DJ Craig Daniel will play top tunes. And White Knight Balloons will show children how to make elaborate creations.
“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 Super Bowl hero Phil Villapiano, talk show host Wendy Williams, actress 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 just inducted into the Monmouth Democratic Party Hall Of Fame, 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.
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 2015 National League Champ 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 started with 19 campers, has nearly tripled in size. Under the the leadership of founder Director Renee Harrison Pincus, who was later joined by award-winning Producer Anthony Greco, boys and girls put on large-scale productions with live orchestras, professional lighting, sets and costumes. In addition, they 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.”
Throughout the years, these activities have included running the bases and being featured on the Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium, listening to Jacquie Lee (VOICE Finalist) perform and sign beach balls at the onsite Rockit Live concert, sled riding down an eight foot mountain of ice in August, performing gravity defying circus stunts under the “Big Top” with an international troupe called “Circus Of The Kids,” samba-ing down Ocean Avenue in a Mardi Gras Parade to the sounds of an eight-piece Samba Band, building a city from sand with international sand sculpting champion John Gowdy and dipping more than 600 fingers in paint to create a 6’ x 8’ FingerSmear (which currently hangs in the corporate headquarters) with national artist Kelly Sullivan.
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.
To thank area residents for their patronage over the years and give children a chance to preview new activities for Camp 2016, its 90th anniversary summer, Seashore will hold a Day Of Fun – Open House February 6 from noon to 3p.m. at its 345 Second Avenue Headquarters and 404 Broadway Campus in Long Branch. In addition to watching Nicolaou’s live paint show, the schedule will include swimming and bellyak races in indoor heated pools, sand sculpting, jewelry making, ceramics, gymnastics, spins on the Rockit, skateboarding, pizza making, Knock Out Basketball Contest, ballet lesson, game room and more. Anyone who enrolls that day will enter a 90th Anniversary Raffle for exciting prizes including an original Nicolauo one of a kind painted surfboard.
For directions or more information, please call 732-222-6464, visit www.seashorecampandschool.com, visit facebook or follow us on twitter and instagram.