“Home at Last” – a written piece on ‘why Maine?’ by M.J. Mott-Auns

On the last night of our celebration at this summer’s reunion, as we were hugged on the waterfront by trees and warmed by the campfire, alumna M.J. Mott-Auns (1954-1964, 1984-1995) shared a written piece in response to the ever-asked question: “why did you move to Maine?”

This piece sparked many collective dreamy sighs, laughs, and a few tears amongst the crowd – while you won’t experience the joy of hearing M.J. read it aloud, she has shared it with us to read to ourselves:

 

When we first moved to Maine, the most often asked question was “Why did you move here?” If directed to my husband Vilis, he would simply point to me. I then had to find an answer that made sense and didn’t involve too much explanation. But answering that question never seemed easy to me. My journey to living in Maine began many years ago.

I was an only child raised by a single parent and I was lonely.  My father died when I was four and my mother had to step in and run the family insurance business.  As you might imagine this created some parenting dilemmas as I was way too young to be left to my own devices.  It happened that when I was 7 my mother heard about a wonderful camp in Maine where I would be with children my own age and older and be well cared for. So it was that I found myself, along with my friend Romney driving with our parents into New York city on a June afternoon so that the two of us could be put on the camp train and sent to Maine for two months. I remember feeling scared and nervous, but not wanting to let Romney see that side of me.  She was both more confident and sophisticated than I was.

We arrived in the city and found our way into the Statler Hilton Hotel where we would have dinner before boarding the camp train.  We were dressed in nice dresses and our brand-new camp blazers.  As we were sitting down, my mother said

 “See those girls sitting at that table over there?  I’ll bet they are headed to camp too. Wouldn’t it be fun if they are going to Runoia?”

All during dinner I wondered about those two girls and whether they would be on the same train with Romney and me. I also noticed that one was crying all through the meal. I was happy that although I was sad to be leaving my mom, at least I wasn’t crying like a baby. I ate as slowly as possible to prolong the trip into the station, but eventually it was time.

When we got into Grand Central Station, I looked around and all I could see were signs with different camp names. I couldn’t imagine how we would find the right one, but we did. There were lots of girls waiting already and most of them seemed very excited, a good sign I thought.  Then I saw those two girls from dinner approaching.  Sure enough they were going to my camp too and it was their first year as well.  One was still crying. Little did I know that she would be one of my bridesmaids many years later.

Goodbyes were said and some tears shed, but we got on the train and soon enough were pulling out of the station. The whole train, it turned out, was devoted to transporting children to camp in Maine. Runoia filled up one car. We slept in bunks and spent much of the night peering out of the curtains to see the older girls talking and singing camp songs at the end of our car. Meanwhile I was making friends of my own and comforting the crying girl who would become one of my best friends.

The next morning, we arrived at a little station in Belgrade, Maine and were met by the camp director who was named Johnny, the Arts and Crafts counselor Shelley, and a few other counselors.  We were shown which cars to get in and were driven to camp in Belgrade Lakes. I was in the car driven by Johnny. She was a little scary to me, but I did notice that most of the other girls were laughing and joking with her and I began to relax. When we turned onto Point Road Johnny told us that there were a few steep hills to climb and that the car we were in needed some help to climb them. She told us that we should all raise our feet off the floor of the car when she gave the signal and that would help the car make it up the hill. We did as we were told, and eventually all the new girls realized this was a joke that Johnny always played on new campers. When we arrived, we were told how to find our cabins and off we went.  I remember smelling the pine and the old wood of some of the buildings and thinking it smelled like perfume. There was a lake down a hill, tennis courts, a tree house, and way too much to take in all at once.  I knew I would love this place from that moment on.  I felt as though I had found a second home. Romney and I were both in 4th Shack which made me happy.

I attended Camp Runoia for ten summers as both a camper and a counselor, and those years were formative for me.  I learned about being a child among children which was sometimes difficult for me as an only child.  On the flip side, I learned the joys of sisterhood and embraced those fully. Sports became central to my life and have brought me great joy. Being a counselor gave me skills I used all my working life as a teacher. All of this helped me to become the person I am today. My camp friends and I marvel to this day that we were able to have this incredible experience.  I see several of my camp friends to this day, people I have known and loved for over 60 years. 

I returned to camp when I had children of my own to be an Assistant to Betty Cobb.  My daughter attended and my son went to another camp on the lake. Vilis enjoyed being part of it all, happily grilling at camp cookouts and attending campfires. Even our Yellow Lab Jamie was a part of Runoia although he usually stayed on his own property except when it was cookout night and there were all sorts of treats for him to clean up after the campers left for evening program.

I am still involved with Runoia as a member of the Alumnae Board that exists to raise scholarship money for girls who could otherwise not afford to come to this wonderful place. As I return each summer for our board meeting, I still get butterflies when I drive through the camp gates.

And so, when I am asked “Why Maine?”

I almost always answer,

“Because of camp.”

To Change: The 2022 Log Dedication

If I were to hold a self-authored book in my hand titled ‘lessons learned in recent years,’ the first page would read: “change, while uncomfortable, and at times even scary, is inevitable, necessary, and important.” Just below this line would read a dedication which credits this realization largely in part to my experiences at Runoia and my witnessing its resilience.

I hold immense gratitude for Runoia’s eagerness to change in ways that show care for our community and open our gates to more friends and family each year. Runoia is able to hold fast to its most vital traditions and pieces of history when we are flexible and bold enough to transform around them.

We owe our continuation, and the perpetuation of our traditions and history, to the courage of ourselves and of generations before us to change. It is due to this courage that we may keep what matters most: the same small bell that has called our attention for over eighty years; our voices that carry through Runoia trees with melodies passed through lifetimes; our boathouse which stands with painted names from the 1920’s through 2022; a culture of summer siblings and lifelong family. 

The winds of Camp Runoia have taught me that change is good. The winds play no favorites – filling our sails one moment, then shifting to calm our waters for skiers the next. Among the winds, we honor all of the transformative shifts of Runoia:

 

Everything ‘lost’ each summer which has ever made room for something ‘found’;

The rain which rolls in just as we could use respite from the sun; 

New lyrics which empower us rather than place us in boxes;

New campers and counselors who arrive at our gates; 

 

People coming as strangers and leaving as siblings;

The ‘Bees and Eees’; 

The changes made each summer, 116 times over, which have made Runoia a permanent fixture in our summers and souls.

 

I hereby dedicate the 2022 log to the changes, both monumental and slight, of the past 116 summers of Runoia, and to its agents of change – our campers, staff, and alumni. May we continue to adjust our sails together to point toward the future. Tonight we celebrate changes which have made Runoia what it is, and who it is, and have led to this very moment exactly as it is now – Runoia and I would not have it any other way.

Time flies when you are having a blast!

Oh my goodness it doesn’t seem but just 2 minutes since we were donning red,white and blue for the 4th of July! The week blasted by with every second filled to the brim.  It’s hard to find a starting place and an end! The long summer days and fantastic Maine weather have allowed us to make the most of everything offered to us and have so much fun!

We welcomed our HLC A campers on July 5th. They might be small but they certainly are mighty and leapt into camp life mostly in a bathing suit! Getting them out of the lake is a challenge for sure. They have tried activities, hiked mountains, been to the beach and did we mention showed up at every rec swim possible?  Harmony Land Camp is a great way to have a short ‘try it’ experience and we know that this crowd is definitely ready for main camp next summer.

Pretty much everyone has been out to the Maine coast, Popham Beach for seniors and Pemaquid for juniors. It’s great to get out of camp and enjoy a picnic and a fun day doing something different. A long standing Runoia tradition that everyone really looks forward to.

Our Ocho Katahdin hikers had the best trip ever and apparently beat all times for getting up and down the mountain in a little over 7 hours!  The full season girls are begging to go again next session. Providing challenging experiences with supportive adults to guide you is what camp is all about. The SV girls are out now and hoping to make it to the summit tomorrow, weather permitting. Having older campers as role models and seeing the accomplishments of others makes our summer family feel like a place you can safely call home.

Although it has been a bit of a windy week sailors have been out on ‘the blue waves’, campers are passing levels in waterski and windsurfing and our JMG candidates were honing their canoe skills. We are lucky to have Runoia alums Ginny Geyer and Meg (Tabell) Kasprak coming in a couple of days a week helping them.

Activity time has been super busy with lots of projects being turned out in the arts department. We have been trialing a new leather craft program which has been a big hit. Baskets, batik, photos, lino prints and a million more bracelets will be heading home if we can pack them! Not forgetting target sports, horse back riding, play practice and all of the things in between, we are exhausted when we fall into bed at night.

EP’s have varied a lot this week, from a chill all-camp movie night watching and singing along to Encanto, the much anticipated Variety Show, birthday tables and the laundry bag game. We fit in a Sunday campfire which was a bit of a rush as we were all enjoying our Sunday sundaes on the kickball field. Our oldest Senior campers celebrated their years at Runoia with their graduation dinner in a fancied up boathouse. They are busy painting their plaques that will be put up before they depart and be a lasting memory of their time on Great Pond.

Still more….

We played our first big round of games and picked team captains for the Bees and Elephants this past Sunday. This group of campers have taken on the transition of team names and colors with gusto! Team captains are Sayles, Vee, Sofi and Clare! There are amazing new cheers, and they have used the old ones with some rewriting. Bs and Es or Ellies were running wild on the fields and courts for kickball, softball, soccer, volleyball and tennis. Swim races and the horse show are coming up later in the week. The Es are poised to make a monumental comeback after a few years of losses.

As we head into our last tag up block we are making the most of all of the opportunities that camp has given us and will be sad to be packing trunks and duffels on Friday. How has it gone by so fast? how many days until next summer?

See you soon,

Aionur

Bee’s and E’s – week two @camprunoia

Week two of Camp Runoia’s 116th season, has been packed full of adventures, new skills, friend making and about a 1000 friendship bracelets being produced. The Fine Maine Days have been filled with laughter and singing as we sink into the camp experience.

From weather forecasters and TV appearances to July 4th celebrations our days are packed from the minute we wake up until we fall into bed at night. Loons on the lake at night lull us to sleep and we wake to the crows and sheep ready to start new days filled with fun. 

Our campers have settled in, made new friends and are enjoying the fabulous Maine weather and lake life. With a covid free camp it has been a mix and match program week spending time with friends throughout camp. There have been lots of fun activities to tag up for, art projects to get started, rec swims, gaga games and wacky evening programs. The food has been amazing and we often joke that we have to fit camp in between meals and snacks! We are grateful to the positive energy that radiates from the kitchen and the hard work of the staff to keep us all fed with healthy, nutritious and delicious food.

We have been able to get back to more trips this summer and are enjoying getting out and about seeing the best of Maine. It’s the perfect place to be in the summer with so many natural resources and bright sunny days for visiting the mountains and the ocean. Day trips and camping trips get us out of camp and out into nature.

It was a ‘Wild Wednesday’ with some campers doing activities in camp, whilst the other half ventured out on trips. The Juniors went to Camden Hills State Park for a hiking day trip. The keen hikers went for a two hour, woodland hike and enjoyed their packed lunch with the beautiful scenery at the top of Mount Battie. Other hikers even complimented the girls singing as they climbed the mountain, showing off their Runoia spirit. Older girls had a prep hike at Tumbledown, they will be hiking Mount Katahdin later in the session and stretched their legs and enjoyed the lake at the top. Surrounded by nature on yet another Fine Maine day, campers took on the tough hike with determination and excitement. At the end of the four mile hike, campers were rewarded with the stunning views of Tumbledown’s surrounding mountains.

For our Harmony Land Mini campers, they had a fun day trip on Thursday to Pemaquid Beach. Campers were able to cool off while having fun on a hot, fine Maine day. They enjoyed splashing around in the waves, making sandcastles, and seeing the beautiful, coastal landscape that Maine has to offer. We were sad to see them leave at the end of their session and will welcome HLC A on the 5th. Seeing our youngest friends grow and learn during their stay at camp was very rewarding and we know that they will all be back to join main camp next year

The longest trip of the week consisted of a three day overnight camping trip to Acadia National Park. Here our campers went to the beach, climbed over rocks, explored nature and learned camping skills for outdoor living. The favorite thing about the whole trip was watching the sunrise over the harbor from Cadillac mountain.

Evening Programs or EP’s at camp are a great way to end our long days being altogether and having fun. From running games like Capture the Flag, Run Sheepy Run and a Scavenger Hunt to a Pairs Party and Lyp Synch contest we have used teamwork, creativity and athletic ability to have a blast. We always end the day with milk and crackers served by our fabulous CIT’s

The World of Change Truck rolled in yesterday and we chose how we would like all of our loose change to be spent helping kids in our community. Some campers felt very inspired to take the message home to their hometowns and get the program going there too. Encouraging kids to make a difference however small and truly be ‘the change’ in their world builds life skills that are of great importance.

New campers picked their teams or followed their alumnae family members onto a team. Campers have embraced the new team names and colors and are busy updating and rewriting cheers and creating new team spirit! Bees and Elephants or Ellie’s or E’s are ready to hit the fields and courts next week and earn points for their teams. Martina was able to articulate well the importance of this change and how it is our responsibility so show up in positive and affirming ways for all members of our community. Integrating and explaining out DEI work is an important part of being a progressive camp that works for continual improvement and is willing to say just because it’s been that way or is a tradition doesn’t make it right!

We will be slipping and sliding through today for the 4th of July celebrations with crazy fun stations and our traditional all camp relay later in the day. Ending with a campfire and sparklers at the lake these are the days that make our camp memories strong.

Sending much love home from the shores of Great Pond!

Preparing for Opening

We are busy all year but the merry month of May is a particularly busy time. With camp booked full very early this year, we have been able to focus on making connections with family and campers, prepare the physical camp and work well as a team.

Our summer leadership group has been meeting mostly since the fall, working on our commitment to support each other and in turn support campers to have the best summer ever. We have gotten to know each other better, working on Brene Brown’s Braving Inventory and Radical Candor. Our team of year round directors have done our own community contract, which is something we will do with our leadership team and our staff group. Counselors also do this with campers. It’s about caring and empathy, including things that are important to everyone in the group with a consensus to follow the contract together. Everyone signs the contract and it is posted in a common area. The community contract can be used when there are issues that surface or when someone needs to talk about a situation that arises.

Meanwhile at camp, we are physically busy. The lawn is growing as everyone in New England knows! And boats are going in the water, we are practicing our driving skills, our camp docks are in, the boat house is opened up and ready for camp. This weekend we have a few families coming to visit to see camp – because of Covid, they haven’t been able to come into camp so this weekend they can visit when camp isn’t completely open.  So, on we go…cabins are being cleaned, equipment and other supplies are being delivered. The last touches to staff training and Covid protocols and we are still chasing down families for Forms! Forms! Forms!  Did we mention we already have 10 horses here? Riding staff have worked hard getting ponies and horses back in shape for the summer season.

So, we send our positive thoughts to everyone as you wrap up the school year to stay safe, try to do outdoor low-Covid-risk things and reach out with any questions about packing, uniform, transportation and more.

All our best,

Aionur

What are you reading Camp Runoia?

Reading is an integral part of our Runoia summers. A tech free environment means that campers and staff have ample opportunity to grab a good book and delve into the pages. Whether it is at rest hour or before bedtime, a book is a great way to settle and relax on your bunk. We encourage campers to bring their books from home and also have a large library in the Lodge with reading material to suit everyone. It is an established tradition that in all cabin groups staff read to campers at night from a shack book. We also try to keep track of how many books collectively get read throughout camp over the summer.

While often an independent activity, reading can also be a great connector. We sometimes run a ‘book club’ at camp so that campers of all ages can engage together about a particularly enjoyable novel. Our Runoia staff share their reading favorites on our group facebook page and it often results in some cross cultural exchange with our friends across the pond.  Maine camp directors use books to come together for professional development and meet every few months to share thoughts about an inspiring text that helps with camp management. Talking about what you are reading can not only be enjoyable but can be the start of great friendships.

Women’s History month is the perfect time to take on some thoughtful reading and explore more about how women have shaped our society and cultures. We continue to build our already well stocked Runoia library to include more diversity and love to offer books by great women authors. Suggestions of any favorites that you feel are a ‘must’ read for our camper population are very welcome.

It is often hard to pin down what to read next – there are so many books and so little time! Check out the list here for reading material for kids of all ages, A Mighty Girl is a great place to get other ideas and resources too.

For the more mature reader this proved to be a great list and many of our staff were reading titles from this collection.

If you don’t have time to grab a book there are plenty of TED talks that may be equally inspiring and focus on women’s issues.

As our thoughts start turning towards the summer, having a summer reading list is an exciting part of the planning process. Certainly some campers have school books that need to be read before school is back in session but there are endless hours of time to grab a great book and sink into the joy of turning the pages. There are so many great spots around camp to be in harmony with nature and just jump into a book, we can’t wait to be back on Great Pond.

The Silver LIning of Covid

I never thought I’d be writing “silver lining” and Covid in the same title. Nearly two years since we learned the name of the virus, we are leaning into our third summer of operating with Covid (endemic rather than pandemic, we hope). Where is the silver lining, you ask?

Okay, here it is. As a seasonal business that really functions and works all year long (10 for 2!), we are MORE connected because of the tools Covid forced us to find using technology. Scoff at the word Zoom or Meet and simultaneously say, “Necessity is the mother of invention”.

My week is like a connect the dots painting (remember those?!) with Zooms and Meets. And, I love it.

Weekly I get the chance to connect with the most amazing people:

  • Monday morning brings our team kick off meeting with our year-round admin team
  • Monday Mark meets with Tim – together they are working on site and facilities
  • Tuesday I Zoom individually with two of our administrative leaders and separately our social media consultant
  • Wednesday we meet with an outside consultant and most industry-wide educational events seem to be scheduled on very large Zooms
  • Thursday I catch up on all the new plans we’ve schemed up and meet with parents
  • Friday we meet with, Nina, our Director of Residential Life

Monthly and Random

  • We meet with 14 Runoia seasonal leaders,
  • I Zoom with the Diversity Advisory Committee
  • The Camp Runoia Alumnae Organization meets every few months
  • The Belgrade business group, the Maine Camp Experience Group and the Maine Summer Camp group all throw in their board meetings, membership meetings and more.
  • Conferences from San Diego to Denver to New England have allowed us to Zoom in and meet
  • And how about those “stay connected to family and friends” Zooms
  • Oh and the weekly 8 am dance party?
  • And reading Harry Potter with a granddaughter (book four since the pandemic started)

And most importantly of all, I have the amazing opportunity to Zoom with families across the globe about camp and meet their daughters and connect about the Runoia experience.

So, yes, Covid has crushed us all in many ways. And interestingly enough, because there usually is a silver lining to every dark cloud, Covid has connected us more through Zoom, Google Meet and technology and an urgency to make connections. See you on a Zoom soon and counting the days to see you in person at Camp!

Love,

Aionur

 

The Essay that Got Me Into College!


My College Essay – Guest Blog from Dallas White (camper from 2013-2019)

In a quiet place tucked in the wilderness of Belgrade Lakes, Maine lies a sleepaway camp, where every summer 150 girls attend and get to do things they never dreamed about. I was fortunate enough to be one of those girls for 8 summers. As a city girl, I particularly valued this getaway for its peace and serenity. Waking up to the sound of loons instead of an ambulance’s siren was a dream from which I never wanted to wake up. Meeting girls from all over the world, exposed me to many different cultures and experiences

As I was immersed into the camp’s warm community, I began to internalize the camp’s values and how
I now honor them in my own life. The first one being tradition. I never had any big family traditions growing up, so during the summer at camp I looked forward to the traditions of having campfires and singing the songs that correspond, every weekend. I looked forward to having braiding circles every night before going to sleep. Most of all, I looked forward to our annual competitive team games. Sailing regattas, swim races, soccer and softball games, oh my! It was truly always an exciting thing to see. Camp also boosted my confidence by giving me many opportunities to explore and get in touch with my leadership skills from a young age into my high school career.

Being a leader has always been natural to me as I am a very outgoing, outspoken person. At camp, there was never a time I did not want to volunteer to participate in something or be elected to be captain. As team captain, I would organize plays for sports and come up with new events for both teams. I also led my team to three victorious summers in a row, might I add. Though those were low-stakes things, they inspired me to get more active during the year with other leadership positions in my national organization and school. Pre-Covid, I held positions such as Nominating Chair and Recording secretary for my organization Jack and Jill Of America Inc., Very different from each other, as I can say there was no cheering or chanting but required the integrity and proactive skills I once learned at camp. Moving up the ladder, I held the position of Vice President and, in the same year, as President of my school’s Black Student Union, which, although virtual, was nothing short but exciting.

As with being Student Body President for my school and Chapter President for my organization, I have
all these tools in one box that I can take with me wherever I go, with the first stop being: college. I’m ecstatic just thinking about the bigger opportunities to be in leadership roles that I’ll get to experience
these next four years and beyond. The skills that I’ll continue to learn and challenges I’ll experience at university make it all worthwhile. And to think, this all started with a quiet place tucked away in the wilderness of Belgrade Lakes, Maine.

Editors note: Dallas, as you go forth into the world, we hope you’ll return with your many leadership skills to the shores of Great Pond to impress upon others all that you love about camp!

Love, Aionur

 

Is It Runoia? The Olympics? A Top Sporting Goods Company?

Words like driven, persistent, visionary, powerful – we design for you, fight for you, connect with you, reflect on you and step up our game for you. “We are the change in sports to get more women to the top of their game. “

They sound like a commercial for Camp Runoia! But it is not actually Runoia.  If you’re familiar with this powerful campaign from Dick’s Sporting Goods, it is a media campaign designed by the strong women team created by Lauren Hobart. “Inside Moves” supports girls and women as leaders and competitors. Check out the campaign for some inspiration!

As we kick off the Winter Olympics in Beijing, seven new sports have been created for winter sports – most of them mixed gender. And yet one sport has been added just for women: the Monobob. Why? Men’s already has two and four-person bobsled and women’s’ just has two person – the addition of the Monobob levels the playing field. The idea? One person runs the icy track and tries to get the top speed without crashing. Pretty gutsy.

This reminds us of our own Runoia heroes who had the guts to start a girls’ camp on a lake in Maine, to run a girls camp for near 50 years.

Might we borrow the campaign and shout “Runoia is the change in camps to get more campers to the top of their game. “? We think so!

Love, Aionur

Hear the Buzz! Feel the Stampede!

We are a buzzing and a stamping here at Camp Runoia. Camp just celebrated its 115th anniversary; a tribute to its enduring values, amazing staff, campers, families and alumnae. Adapting to the world we live in and forging the tools to help our campers grow; this is what has made Camp Runoia a camp leader developing skills in young people to become positive citizens of the world. With 116 spirited years on our banners, we have decided to loop-the-loop on our camp team names and colors and transition to more inclusive names and colors.

For nearly 100 summers, Runoia has been flying the team colors of Blue and White but, let it be known that before 1923, each summer brought with it new team names:  The Hooks and Eyes, The Crickets and Grasshoppers.

Moving forward AND keeping with our traditions of inclusivity and open-minded thinking, the Bees and the Elephants will prevail as new team names with the colors of Indigo and Gray. Yes, we will rewrite old camp songs and we also get to create new ones! The time is now for a change from Go Whites! Go Blues! to the new team names and colors. Existing Blues will be Bees and campers on the White Team will be Elephants.

We, the Year Round administrative team at Runoia, are very excited about this change. With the support of a focus group of trustees from Camp Runoia Alumnae Organization and the support of the Diversity Advisory Committee of the CRAO, we move into 2022 with our new teams.

This change of team names ushers in a new era that we are proud of and believe in – even though it is a change, it feels positive and growth-minded. We have been committed to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work for summer staff, as well as year round staff with DEI trainings, educational opportunities, conference  sessions and workshops. We have dropped some camp songs, changed some lyrics and written policies and updated our website to be more inclusive. So, new in 2022: Hear the buzz! Feel the stampede!

Bo-bo-ski-waten-dotten to another 115 years of the best summer camp experience… for ALL campers! Go Elephants! Go Bees!

Love, Aionur

With a lot of help from our wonderful President Elect of the CRAO and Canadian Delegate to New England, Great Pond Resident, Runoia Alumnae and all around amazing woman, Marie-Claude Francoeur