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

Diversifying our Camp Library

Thanks to the Runoia Diversity Advisory Committee we are adding more books to our camp free-library that diversify our library by adding different authors and protagonist and subject matter.  Thandie Scott, Runoia alum from New York/Columbia University came up with a great list of books.

And Erin Lasher choose a selection of about 24 books we bought this year.

Books are coming into the office! and we are marking them and adding them to our lending library in the camp lodge.

All are Welcome is a favorite for Harmony Land Camp. The Watson’s go to Birmingham is great for our rising 5th grade group and Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History is a great way to introduce amazing women to any age in a concise one-page presentation.

Campers and staff can borrow books from the library and leave them in the reshelving basket when done.

So, bring your favorite books (paper backs and hard backs as no e-readers at camp) and share what you’re reading with others. We read aloud every night in every cabin which is part of a wonderful Runoia tradition.

Do you have a favorite children’s series or book? Please post your ideas on our Facebook page and we might find them and read them this summer. Perhaps you have ideas for children’s books for certain age groups – please share your expertise! Are you interested in donating new books? Peruse our wish list of books and find one that is not highlighted and send our way – we would love that!

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.

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

 

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.

Inclusivity at Camp Runoia

Camp is inherently an inclusive experience where youth have the chance be a member of a community, part of something bigger than themself and to develop skills at their own pace. They also have a chance to form and express opinions, try new activities without fear of humiliation and unplug, laugh and be silly.

More recently youth across country found themselves exploring more about pronoun usage, gender identity and wondering who they are in society. Camps became safe harbors (across the country) where youth explored pronoun usage and other gender non-conforming concepts – not because camps were promoting exploration but rather because it was a youth-driven experience.

What surprised me most about the summer of 2021 was not another round of Covid challenges (expected), not a staff shortage (expected), not simple joys of face-to-face connections (expected) but finding out from my peers who operate boys camps, girls camps, co-ed camps, day camps, that they too, had an increased amount of youth exploring their identity. One camp said they had a whole bunk of girls show up in skirts and dresses to support a boy who wanted to wear a skirt to dinner. Another director told me most of the boys in camp painted their nails at one point or another and he also had his nails painted. Another camp owner mentioned an increase in girls who returned to camp wanting to use the pronouns he/him/his and be called by a typically boys’ name. All camps I know of just went with the flow and allowed campers to be themselves and just enjoy camp rather than freak out about being accepted.

At camp we introduce ourselves now as I’m so and so and my pronouns are… it feels normal and fluid although it took some getting used to by many older people. Here’s one camp mom’s perspective.

Are you reading this and wondering how we went down this path and why camp is an inclusive experience? Do you feel like you need a few more tools to figure out what we’re talking about?  Or maybe you have more to share with us. Please do!  We turned to NPR for some better understanding ourselves. We don’t pretend to be experts in diversity and inclusion but we are willing to learn and our leadership staff and summer staff at Runoia are 100% behind us.

The bottom line at Camp Runoia is we want all people to feel safe, accepted and part of our community. We continue to be a girls’ camp offering amazing, top notch, premiere camp experiences for youth. This includes age appropriate conversations about who you are, how you feel about yourself and how you want others to include you. We also want to support parents and collaborate with them to provide the best camp experience possible going into 2022.