Camp Runoia’s 116th season get’s going!

The best day of the year so far was June 24th. Opening day of Camp Runoia’s 116th season. It was a fine Maine day and the energy that poured into camp was absolutely amazing. From airports to highways, our campers navigated to camp filled with enthusiasm, excitement and for a few a little trepidation. Cabins quickly filled up, bags were unpacked and name games started. 

Old friends shared hugs and new friends were quickly made. By supper time the volume was high, the laughs were many and everyone was excited to see what the next few days would bring.

The first full day of camp always starts with a morning of orientation to get everyone up to speed with all of the guidelines and systems. Staff shared information about activities and campers practiced safety protocols and took swim tests.  The afternoon we were quickly into activities with shack groups and every area of camp was filled with fun. Volleyball is once again super popular with large groups of all ages and abilities playing together on the court.

We started strong with covid protocols in attempts to reduce risk and disruption for the community. We are doing some masking when we are mixing indoors and have been tagged up with our shack group for the first block. Everyone is engaged and busy all day long and we are finding that it is already much quieter earlier at night especially in Junior end. Long days outdoors being active and without tech feels so good. 

It is impressive how quickly everyone had adapted to the camp routine, understands the schedule and is ready to spend their day adventuring all over camp. The bell gets us up in the morning and keeps us rolling on time all day long. From the lake to the barn there is action and learning going on everywhere. It is impossible to count the number of friendship bracelets already made and the books being read. Unstructured free time often sees the gaga pit, courts and fields full of happy campers hanging out and playing together. Counselors are keeping a close eye on things and supporting those that need a little extra to navigate their way around. 

The kitchen crew has been cooking up a storm and we are being kept very well fed. Three meals and three snacks a day keeps us energized. So far there have been great options including produce from our own camp garden. The farm class harvested kale and cooked up some kale chips to try. We have sheep at camp for the first time this year. They are providing plenty of entertainment as are the chickens. We are trying hard to reduce food waste and compost what we can.

Our night time evening programs(EP’s) have been a blast, we started with an old camp favorite, ‘capture the flag’ did some sporty rotations and had our first campfire of the season last night. It was so great to all be together at the lake sharing about our ‘Cultural Diversity’, singing songs and enjoying the loons and the sunset.

 

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

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

Connections Build Community

As we gear up for our 116th consecutive camp season connections in our community are paramount – more than ever.

I recently reviewed our staff/counselor list of names and my excitement for camp grew. In just over one month, young leaders from all over the United States and from around the world will gather with us to connect, learn from each other, define core values, practice teaching skills, and most of all build a healthy community welcoming children to join in and stretch and grow through the camp experience.

One name on the list jumped out at me. Liz and I met because she thanked me for supporting her college. As a student working with Sterling College advancement, she reached out with a personalized thank you note to me. She told me about a field study trip she was taking with her class to the SW of the United States. She is from Brooklyn, NY and was excited and a little nervous for her adventure – completely normal. I looked her up and reached out to her. Someone with her courage and determination was someone I was interested in finding out more about!  Fast forward through the connection, she applied to camp and Alex Jackson, our co-director interviewed and hired her as a counselor who will help lead trips, work on our ropes course and connect with youth in an outdoor, unplugged setting.

Camp is all about connections. Our alumnae come back to camp to work and send their children to camp. Our staff reach out to friends to have them work at camp. Our families, alumnae and staff meet people who seem like a great fit and invite them to come to camp to work. Our assistant directors, Jen and Colleen, reconnect with camp friends and reach out to college friends and people in specific jobs, be it nursing or crafts, riding or rowing, and help them find their way to our community. Together we join at camp to build our summer community of leaders. We are all very excited and maybe a little nervous – completely normal.

Jen recently added a fun pre-camp idea for our counselors. Alex has our returning campers write a new camper before camp starts. Sometimes they become pen pals and it’s a lovely, old-fashioned way to make a connection before you come to camp.  Jen extended this same idea to counselors. This year, she has connected returning counselors with new counselors by letter writing.  At Camp Runoia, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether we are campers or counselors, it’s the connections that make the difference.

Sometimes it all starts with a simple and personalized thank you letter or a new pen pal connection.

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!

 

Approaching the summer a little tentatively

As we approach the summer Camp Runoia season, the ‘experts,’ and media tell us that covid has generated more anxiety than is typical and that our kids may be feeling it the most. According to the CDC, “Children’s mental health during public health emergencies can have both short and long term consequences to their overall health and well-being.”  It makes sense that children who have spent intensive amounts of time as part of the family unit may be reluctant to leave that safe bubble and head off into an unknown new experience no matter how fun it sounds. It’s not just new campers who may be feeling a little more anxious, parents are often surprised when longer term campers  express fears or reluctance about returning to camp. While we want camp to feel like ‘home away from home’ it may take some campers a few days to get to that feeling.

There are only 85 days until we open Camp Runoia for the summer and it is typical at this time of year to hear from a few families that their camper may be having second thoughts or is more worried than they expected about coming to camp. Some anxiety about a new experience is to be expected but debilitating concerns or persistent worry is something that should be delved into a little more deeply.

Preparation for the adventure and discussion about what to expect can be great ways to reduce anxiety, answer questions and solve perceived problems that may be more hypothetical than real.

Campers can help to get ready for camp by:

  • Looking at the website and thinking about which activities they can’t wait to try.
  • Printing the packing list and choosing uniform and finding supplies.
  • Writing down their questions and emailing the directors.
  • Figuring out on the camp map where important places are.
  • Talking through some ‘what if’s’ and how camp handles them.
  • Connecting with returning campers and pen pals to get the inside scoop
  • Practicing skills that they will need at camp – bed making, laundry sorting, hair and teeth brushing, showering.
  • Trying to use a flashlight for reading at night.
  • Practice writing letters! It’s a great way for all the family to share news.
  • Start a mindfulness skills list and have campers think about what helps them if they are worried or need a minute to regroup.

At camp kids get constant human interaction in all aspects of their daily life. They can reconnect with nature and literally live in the out of doors away from technology. They build resilience and grit as they challenge themselves in a supportive environment, can explore problem solving, and also are encouraged to have a ‘can do’ or ‘I’m not good at it yet’ attitude. For most campers anxieties about the experience typically evaporate once they are busy and engaged with camp life. There may be a few that need a little more help and our skilled team of experienced, senior staff along with our support specialist work closely to help campers reduce anxiety and have a great time. 

In this article the American Camp Association suggests that camp is a great antidote to the Covid pandemic. Camp offers kids the unique opportunity to step back into a simpler time, with no internet connection. A place where a small community can join together and support one another without judgment, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Campers benefit from being out of their homes, playing with other kids, being challenged and nurtured as they adventure into a new experience. 

It’s not only three weeks away from home, it’s only three weeks at Runoia!

We wish summer lasted so much longer.

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 greening of Camp Runoia

Green and Sustainable Practices at Camp Runoia

Thanks to Mark Heuberger for the material for this weeks blog. Mark is dedicated to safe lakefront practice and stewardship. Mark is an awesome advocate for lake protection and preservation and passes his knowledge and enthusiasm along to campers and staff.

This is Camp Runoia’s statement and goals for best environmental practices. We believe that it is our duty to do our best to protect and preserve the land that Camp Runoia sits on and to teach the next generations the importance of walking gently on the earth. We acknowledge that we live on the lands of the Wabanaki people who nurtured the land before us and were dedicated to living in harmony with nature.

Camp Runoia is continually striving to increase the sustainability of our activities and decrease our impact on the environment through green and responsible land use practices. We are proud of what we have accomplished.

Recycling, Composting, and Waste Reduction

· Recycling is and has been a way of life at Runoia for over three decades: paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, plastic, metal, newspapers, and magazines are separated and taken to our town transfer station for recycling. Campers, counselors and staff are involved in the daily process of separating waste and recycling everything we can.

· Composting – separating biodegradable waste from our food scraps has helped to reduce our food waste and resulting in nutrient-rich “black gold” soil for our landscaping and gardens through the composting process.

· Spreading manure to fertilize our pastures rather than accumulating piles of manure has proved efficient for our barn management, reducing consolidated waste and reducing potential impacts to the watershed from runoff.

Education and Awareness

· Appreciation for nature and nature conservation are key parts of living at camp surrounded by the natural beauty of woods, lakes, and mountains with people who care. Being located in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed, a watershed area of 180 square miles, 7 major water bodies, and over 9400 acres of conservation land heightens our awareness of human impact on the natural environment

· We identify species of native trees, wildflowers and fungi, take hikes through conservation land, and learn about the natural animal, bird, fish, and inspect species.

· We discuss with staff and campers best practices to minimize our impacts on the lake water quality and natural habitats.

· We teach and implement Leave No Trace practices in our Campcraft and trip programs.

· We often invite local experts on invasive plant species identification and awareness to come to camp to present. The speakers help our campers and counselors to know they can play a part in preserving our watershed area through species identification and reporting suspected invasive plants growing or floating in our lake.

· Campers may choose to participate in programs such as Farm and Garden, where they learn about raising organic vegetables and local food sources or Campcraft, where they learn about living in nature and sustainable camping practices.

Energy and Water Use

· Awareness of water usage and water conservation is discussed and conservation is practiced in everyday living at camp.

· 80% of camp light bulbs are now high-efficiency bulbs used in our living areas.

· We have a greenhouse and garden beds where campers can do gardening and grow and pick vegetables. Irrigation water is supplemented by rainwater collected in rain barrels, and soil is supplemented with compost from food waste and fallen tree leaves.

· More than 50% of our cleaning products are natural or “green” awarded products.

· We are moving toward greener construction in new buildings and use of natural light and natural products.

· We buy local food to supplement our camp food; participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with our local farmers. Campers participate in collecting our farm shares.

Lake and Watershed Protection and Land Conservation

· Camp Runoia is situated where thousands of acres of land have been held aside in conservation through the efforts of local organizations and individuals. We support the 7 Lakes Alliance who play a key role in land conservation, preserving areas for

hiking trails and restricting development of areas where development would most impact the watershed.

· Camp Runoia also supports The Belgrade Lakes Association, with a mission to protect and preserve Great and Long Ponds, a formidable association in our area – bringing awareness and education to the lake protection.

· We were awarded a Maine DEP Lake Smart Award for the highest rankings in all four categories of the award for good practices to reduce impacts to the lake. We proudly display our award at the Lodge and at the waterfront.

· Erosion control practices on our paths, roads, and drip lines of buildings are managed in our site and facilities plan.

· Natural landscaping and maintaining natural vegetative

buffer zones between our living areas and the lake’s shore line helps reduce run off and phosphorus contribution to our lakes. We have also eliminated phosphorus fertilizers in our lawn care.

· We have a documented schedule to maintain and pump out our septic systems to minimize the impact on water quality.

· Over 80 acres of Camp Runoia property have been set aside as Conservation Land and/or Tree Growth Land and we maintain and follow a Tree Growth Plan.

We are committed to protecting and preserving Camp Runoia for future generations and educating those that will continue the work long into the future.