Camp Magic and the Staff Who Make it So

It’s hard to believe that we’ve rounded the corner into the final week of second session and all of camp 2022! Crazier yet – today marks the final day of the final block of summer. Yet we haven’t called it on the end of summer just yet – the camp magic lives on for another five days.

As I type, there are skiers out on the water pushing for their slalom queen, archers squeezing in one more level, actors singing their way through rehearsals for High School Musical. And while we are sad to hang up our ski lines, put away our bows, and to soon close our scripts – we still have full days ahead that promise memories made of beach trips, swimming to Oak Island, cheering friends at the variety show, laughing until we burst at Miss Tacky, and much more.

And so, while this past Sunday was our yearly #SundayFunday – complete with snow-cones, s’mores, a waterslide, chances to sink counselors in a dunk tank, a slip-n-slide, and fun galore – camp is more of an #EverydayFunday deal here at Runoia.

 

It’s an all-day-every-day affair! Fun is in the wake-up music played in shacks, the uncontrollable giggles at breakfast when an unsuspecting counselor gets plated, the songs and traditions of assembly, the friends made from other shacks in classes, the quiet whispers and games of rest hour, cartwheels on the grass at dinner, the surprise of EP, the sharing of funny moments at circle time.

But since a giant waterslide isn’t a permanent fixture of the apple tree field, the daily fun of camp can truly be traced back to our wonderful staff. Not only are they experts of their activity areas, they are masters of silly costumes, makers of magic, causers of belly-laughs, singers of songs, servers of meals, wipers of tears, solvers of problems, inspirers of smiles! How lucky we are at Runoia for its camp magic and for those who make it so.

 

Camp is a Puzzle

Camp is a puzzle – and our pieces are slowly starting to come together this week.

The funny thing is, we don’t have a puzzle box for reference – we know what previous summers looked like in memory, but no two are ever the same! We will have to wait for each piece to be laid throughout the next two months until we can stand back and admire the picture made. 

For the past month at camp, we’ve strategically laid edge pieces and built the frame of our 2022 puzzle, leaving the sides of pieces open for others that hopefully click in perfectly. Edge pieces set in place include boats built and placed in the water, cabins cleaned and prepped for staff arrivals, seeds planted – literal and metaphorical, beds built, a kitchen stocked – you name it, it’s been done!

Yesterday we gained 10 new pieces – bringing hints of what our puzzle will look like this year. Of these 10 staff arrivals, 9 made their way to Runoia from across Mexico. Summer 2022 brings back puzzle pieces painted in hues of cultural exchange!

Today and tomorrow bring 8 more pieces – 7 of these to round out the leadership staff who have worked all year in preparation for summer. After this, the flood gates open – over 50 more staff members will make their way to us between now and opening day, and suddenly staff training is rolling in full force!

On the Runoia home page, way down at the bottom, is a countdown to camp. I’ve watched it dwindle from triple digits to double digits over months, and now it sits at a mere 14 days. In these two short weeks, on opening day of 2022, we will still only have a partially complete puzzle. Our campers will be the ones to fill in the remaining spaces and truly paint the picture of the summer with their experiences, skills gained, laughs shared, bracelets made, songs sung, games played, and friendships formed.

Here are a few more pieces I can’t wait to see click into place:

  • trip songs shared by brave Katahdin summiters
  • plaques and a dinner signifying our graduating camper’s accomplishments
  • levels passed and awards earned
  • cozy campfires on the beach
  • Oak Island swimmers crossing the finish line

Some pieces of this summer we will know well – traditions passed for years down the line at camp. But it’s the “new in 2022” pieces which I can’t wait to see find their place: new campers, new staff, brand new norms and traditions.

And we can’t wait to see how you fit into our puzzle this summer.

Until then,

Aionur

Earth Day: the Runoia Way

As Earth day approaches – you may be wondering: how do we love the earth here at Runoia? To that I say: let me show you and we can count the ways – the Runoia way!

Learning to grow our own food…

and loving and caring for animals!

Learning outdoor skills and Leave No Trace in camp craft…

for the chance to practice those skills on trips to enjoy the natural beauty of Maine!

Learning to create with natural materials…

and watching sunrises and sunsets over Great Pond!

Moving our bodies outside…

and connecting with one-another, unplugged, each day!

We are so grateful for the earth that provides the water of Great Pond for us to swim, boat, and play in, for the tree that houses our favorite hangout spot, for the rocks and peaks that we climb together, for the herbs and veggies that grow in our soil, for the materials we make art with, for the sand we’ve spent hours singing our songs on, for the grass we do our cartwheels on, for each other. Join us in celebrating our earth and all of its splendors this spring!

Grant that we have safe and fun days, and that we respect each other, ourselves, and our planet.

XOXO,

Runoia

Celebrating Runoia’s Camp Siblings

Here at Runoia, we like to describe ourselves as a down-to-earth family camp – and what’s more family-oriented than attending camp with your sibling? This past Sunday was National Sibling Day here in the states, and it got me thinking of camp siblings – both the magic of attending camp with a blood relative, and making unrelated #summersiblings along the way.

I personally know the feeling of camp years spent with my sister and the fun and strength it brought to our relationship and friendship. Camp was formative for both of us, and experiencing it together only amplified that. To be honest, my sister and I barely got along when we were younger as two very different people – but camp gave us a common ground that I believe we stand on as adults and best friends now.

Runoia itself is no stranger to sibling pairs (including twins!), triples, and even quadruples each summer. Our daily structure allows siblings to connect at camp while remaining independent. Campers choose their own schedules to try new things and continue to build skills summer after summer, and in busy days, siblings may have spent their time in completely different activity areas. There is Runoia magic in the little moments when siblings can reconnect – staff member Emily Friedman reflects on this:

“I started coming to camp in 2014, and in 2016, my younger sister Izzy joined me. Coincidentally, 2016 happened to be my first year attending camp for all seven weeks, so Izzy and I both got to experience second session for the first time.

Having my sister at camp with me means having a little piece of familiarity in an otherwise new environment. It means leaning in for a quick hug before dinner, being able to help each other through homesickness, and of course, sharing some sibling rivalry when you accidentally tag up for an activity together! Izzy’s friends have all become my “camp little sisters”, and my Runoia friends have watched them all grow up. This summer will be our eighth and sixth summers respectively, and I will be returning as a staff member. Being able to watch her through a counselor’s eyes fills me with a sense of pride, and getting the rare chance to coach her in my activities is so incredibly rewarding. Both Friedman sisters are counting down the days until we will be back on Great Pond – together.”

Emily really said it all – but check out some benefits of attending camp with a sibling:

  • Familiarity in a new space
  • Having an additional support system
  • Building traditions together
  • Easing homesickness
  • Strengthening a sibling bond
  • Recollecting camp memories together during the year
  • Building independence in the same community

We can’t wait to have the Friedman sisters back at camp this summer! Until then, we’ll be counting down the days with them.

Braids, Bracelets and other “Just Camp Things”

When you hear the phrase “just camp things!” what do you think of first? Have you ever had a moment when you realized a normal part of your life was actually not a regular thing for everyone else? There’s a good chance that “it’s a camp thing.”

Recently, I’ve been going to fitness classes where we spend 20 minutes biking, 20 minutes lifting, and 20 minutes doing yoga. I have short, thick hair so I have to get a little creative for it to stay put through three completely different activities. So, I’ve showed up to classes with every version of braids, french twists, and bobble ponies you can possibly imagine.

Normal, right? But it has shocked me how many adults have asked me how I know how to french braid – doesn’t everyone!? But I’ve realized that it was summers spent with “sisters” unrelated to me in braid trains by the lake that afforded me this skill – an experience not many people get to have, I’ve learned. Even as an adult at camp, two braids just can’t be beat for a long day on the waterfront!

The phrase “just camp things” reminds me of friendship bracelets on water bottles, weeks without a phone, singing nonsense songs, skits, footie pajamas, costumes galore, moo-offs!

 

But it’s not just the skills to braid hair or twist embroidery floss into patterned bracelets that are unique gains from camp. Without camp, my friend group wouldn’t have a go-to fire builder when we get together. Maybe you would have never stepped foot on a sailboat, or ridden a horse. Perhaps we would all have a harder time taking a step away from our phones and other technology without knowing we can actually do it for days and weeks on end.

As we get another day closer to camp 2022, I feel so much gratitude for the “just camp things” ahead of us. For all of us currently in the ‘real world’ patiently waiting for our ‘camp world’, the silly novelties of camp life can’t come soon enough. Where else can you rock your tropical shirt Mondays, tie-dye Tuesdays, pigtail Fridays, and footie PJ Sundays with pride?! Nowhere but Runoia!

 

Cultural Exchange: Whatever Way We Can

How lucky Camp Runoia is to host friends from near and far reaches – from the east to west coast of the United States, to England, Ireland, Mexico, France, and more. Our cultural exchange from campers and staff alike is one of the magical pieces of Camp Runoia.

 

At one point, driving 8 hours from Upstate New York felt like quite the trip – but now I’ve moved just shy of 2,000 more miles to the west of camp and suddenly that ‘long’ drive is shortened in my mind. As I was putting together my plans to arrive back in Maine early May, I first felt resolved to drive across the country – it wouldn’t be my first time – but realized that instead, this will probably be my first summer flying to camp, as many of our far-reaching friends do.

The theme of camp in 2020 and 2021 really was “whatever way we can”. Runoia had a deep resolve in the past two years to provide a widely needed experience of unplugged escape for both campers and staff. This meant sacrifices to our normal – including not being able to welcome international friends in 2020. In 2021, with some very creative problem-solving from leaders like Jen Dresdow – and some serious willpower from staff – we began to welcome some international friends once again.

Now, as we gear up for round three of camp affected by Covid, we are thrilled to see plenty of countries represented on both our staff and camper lists. Travel plans are coming together for all of us (hopefully!) and we are gearing up to once again hear different languages at camp, share our beautiful state and waterfront with new-comers, and learn all that we can from a summer-long cultural exchange.

From “how lucky we are to be here” in 2020, to “how lucky we are to have YOU here” in 2022!

 

The Power of Play – for ‘Kids’ of All Ages

It’s the middle of the school year – our teachers and students have made their way out of winter break and back to school – although maybe just virtually – and camp feels both so close and too far away. Most of our campers have a full semester of school left before they make their way through the Runoia gates this summer.

During the school year, I tutor students in math. We learn so much together by practicing our multiplication tables, solving equations, and challenging ourselves – but each week when we’re together, we also play. I’ve seen games and play help anxious students open up, and even the best students to have fun and reinforce their skills. Play is often seen as the reward after the work, but play itself is a valuable tool for learning, de-stressing, and figuring out our world.

The power of play is clear to researchers, teachers, and camp professionals alike. Play is known to bust stress, foster imagination and creativity, increase physical activity, build confidence, resilience, and social skills, and much more.

But the power of play is not reserved for the youngest of our kids – you would have seen play often in my high-school classroom, too. Even my senior students – some as old as 18 – loved the simultaneous respite and excitement of the chance to play. It’s an honor as an adult to provide opportunities of play to the ‘too old’ kids, who may have learned that it’s embarrassing to play at their age. At Runoia, those walls come down and silliness reigns – and the best part is seeing our staff, CITs, and older campers set the example for our younger ones. Even our admin – especially our admin – can be some of the most enthusiastic partakers.

 

When I think of this, my mind goes immediately to some of our silliest EPs – evening programs – like Miss Tacky and Powder Faeries (if you know, you know!) In the case of Miss Tacky – perhaps the EP that our senior end campers get the most excited for – it’s amazing to see the creativity and imagination that our campers bring to the table with a simple prompt and the liberty to create.

 

 

While Runoia’s EP and program offerings provide more structured playtime, our schedule honors the all-important unstructured playtime as well. During sublime time, campers can be seen all over camp playing gaga, doing cartwheels on the grass, or making up games in the water. On trips, we often made up songs to get us through long paddles, played games while a meal was cooking, and built faerie houses.

In our current world – where we may fall in the trap of confusing screen time with playtime – it’s all the more vital to offer our kids, and ourselves, a space to unplug and safely play and explore. Here, I’m counting down the days until I can witness the power of play in our campers and tap into my own silliness and creativity once again.

 

Camp Grows Lifelong Learners

With the first week of January behind us, we are all settling into a new year with ambitions and a peaceful, quiet month to work on them. In my house, we are working on a goal of reading more in 2022. We’ve set up a system to help us reach this goal – using the GoodReads app to track our reading, utilizing our library cards and the Libby app to get access to more books, and checking in with friends with similar goals. It has me thinking about how much I value my identity as a lifelong learner – a quality fostered by camp – someone open to new goals, learning new things, and always working on a growth mindset.

One of my favorite books, Mindset by Carol Dweck, delves deep into fixed vs. growth mindsets. A fixed mindset makes us believe that our talents and abilities are “carved in stone” – we only have a certain amount of intelligence, ability, a certain personality. But the growth mindset tells us that our efforts, passions, and help from others overtake our natural abilities. Dr. Dweck’s research shows us that while we can always retrain ourselves, our mindset is often formed very early in our lives. The people, the ideas, and the opportunities we surround ourselves with can make or break this mindset.

This is where camp comes in! Camp provides the opportunity to continually challenge ourselves – campers and staff alike – to try new things, build our skills, and learn from new perspectives. Our campers understand the value and thrill (and, in all honesty, nervousness) of trying something brand new, and the bravery of attempting the next level. Many of our activities at Runoia feature levels that encourage our campers to build skills and aspire to the highest achievement – maybe American archer, windsurfing queen, or advanced equestrian. Campers who return year after year often spend each summer building toward these goals with the help of a growth mindset, some serious tenacity, and an awesome support system.

Camp challenges our staff members – from first-year counselors to admin who have been here for decades – to grow, as well. What a challenge it was for me to show up to camp in June of 2018 not knowing a soul – and for our international counselors, add on the bravery of navigating a new country!

Our campers and staff benefit from this mindset even after passing through Runoia’s gates – back to the ‘real world’ – at summer’s end. One of our stellar staff members, Mackenzie, talked to me about learning to ski as an adult – something I’ve also been tackling in the past year. So excited to learn, she started slow “with pizza skis and falls every few hundred feet.” But a growth mindset tells Mackenzie that even after hard falls, she has the ability to learn and grow: “After big wipeouts that knocked the wind out of me I’d sit and catch my breath wishing I learned at the age of 3 like it seemed everyone else on the mountain had. After studying the way others moved, advice from friends who ski, and a beginners lesson, I learned new skills one at a time.” Mackenzie closed out our conversation with some serious growth-mindset attitude: “I continue to learn one step at a time and remind myself of the privilege it is to ski regardless of starting age. Now I know that there is truly no ‘mastering’ a skill because it can always get better from there.”

Here’s to new things, more books, and growth in 2022.

‘Filling Your Cup’ at Camp as an Introvert

January is a quiet time – an introvert’s dream – a time for ‘filling your cup’ to store up energy for the summer.  Here in the mountains of Colorado, it means soft, plush snow and a trail so quiet, you can hear the trees creaking in the wind. As a high-energy assistant camp director and tutor, I think people often assume that I am an extrovert. How could you possibly do all of that and not be? I love being around and working with people, sure, but oftentimes it is draining. I recharge as an introvert does – alone, often outside on a trail, or maybe inside with a cup of tea and a good book or craft.

So then, why camp? Or rather, how camp, as an introvert? Is camp really a space where an introverted camper or staff member can happily thrive in such a busy environment? Yes – with a little something we call “filling your cup” here at Runoia.

We know that our staff and our campers cannot ‘pour from an empty cup’, and introverts can find that cup drawing dangerously low after a busy day full of social time. Filling your cup means something different to each person; it is whatever we like to do that recharges our battery when we sense it getting low. Some may find a solo, early morning run before breakfast fills their cup; others may be seen reading a book during rest hour to recharge.

Luckily, Runoia is built for our extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts alike. Our schedule is built intentionally to include quiet, reflective times like rest hour and bed time routines, as well as times of choice – unstructured free time when campers can recharge however they need each day. Even our 30+ activity areas offer campers the chance to slow down, focus on a project, or spend more time in nature.

Our campers may slow down and recharge with a bracelet-making session on their shack porch, a walk down the nature path, or perhaps a book enjoyed in a Crazy Creek on the lawn. Staff may be seen watching a sunset on the docks, taking an early morning walk or run, or enjoying a yoga session with Kara.

Camp’s reputation as a space for everyone is not for nothing. We see a beautiful spectrum of personalities in our campers and our staff each summer, and it is what makes our community whole, and so strong. Introverts and extroverts alike – here we are, settling into winter,  dreaming of summer.