In 1924 a group of teachers, social workers, and businessmen saw that girls in New York City’s Lower East Side needed summer respite, and could benefit from exposure to a new environment outside of the city streets. In response, they formed East Side Vacation Camp Association and began providing summer camping opportunities for girls from working poor families and later expanded to serve boys so that they too could benefit from the fresh air, sun, exercise, and community living in a lakeside mountain environment.

Seeing that young people from both New York City and New Jersey needed the same summer camping experience, East Side Vacation Camp Association expanded its service area in 1948 and again in 1955 when it changed its name to Camp Vacamas and moved from Kingston, NY to its present location in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains in West Milford, NJ.

In the mid 1980’s, Camp Vacamas started providing year-round services in New Jersey and New York schools when demand for quality youth support programs increased. During this period of immense growth, Camp Vacamas modifed its name to Vacamas Programs for Youth (Vacamas) and added a new summer location in Harriman State Park, named Top of the Pines, while continuing to run After-School enrichment and educational programs in several locations.

For almost a century, Vacamas has understood the changing needs of children, families, and communities, and responded with quality summer camping, after-school, in-school, and experiential learning programs.


After 90 years of serving diverse young people from hard-pressed communities throughout the Greater New York area, Vacamas underwent a full organizational review and formed a more nimble youth agency with a refreshed name, brand, updated program model, and clear mission and vision for the future—we are now “Hands In 4 Youth.”