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

 

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 

 

Counting down the days and checking the lists

There are only 60 days until the first session of camp opens. It will be Camp Runoia’s 115th season on Great Pond and we are preparing for it to be the best yet. After a year of challenges, isolation and unpredictable schedules we are eagerly anticipating the routine and familiarity of camp life. The days until camp are getting shorter and the to do list are getting longer!

For some of us 60 days seems like an eternity. There is school to finish up and end of the year events to attend. As we get ready to open camp we know that 60 days will fly by as there is much to be done to get the campus and program ready to roll for the summer. 

This week the focus in the office has been on putting the finishing touches to our 9 days of staff training. The time before the campers arrive is packed with getting our seasonal staff up to speed on all things Runoia and also making sure that everything is perfectly ready to start the summer. There are certification trainings, bonding exercises, cleaning and opening of cabins and activity areas along with a whole lot of fun while building our team and getting to know each other. This year we are really working harder to include more education and awareness about diversity, equity and inclusion and have been tweaking our sessions to reflect our commitment to doing a better job. Staff will come together from many different places looking forward to the opportunity to work with Runoia campers and enjoy all that the Maine outdoors has to offer.

We have also been recruiting the last few staff to join the team, filling the final camper spaces and getting the spring new camper penpal mailing ready to go. The work in the camp office is always diverse. It’s been frequently interspersed with webinars and workshops updating us on covid protocols and best practices for the summer. The bonus of us all working remotely is that it is easy to share information and we can hop onto presentations anywhere in the country. The days are already getting exciting as we get to read letters to the directors and start to ‘meet’ the 2021 Runoia girls.

Our inboxes are filling up with questions from new families mostly about packing as campers excitedly start preparing what they will need. There are uniforms being ordered and crazy creek chairs purchased. In many homes camp is now a daily topic of conversation. 

On the campus grounds side of the work, the daffodils are blooming and it’s finally time to get into camp and start the clean up. The winter usually brings downed branches and a lot of acorns so the crew will be in to do a good pick up. It won’t be long before the grass gets its first cut, the water gets turned on and the docks all go in. It will start looking more like the camp our girls are used to once the shutters come down and the cabins are opened up. A few spiders will need to be rehomed into the woods and we will be ready to get year 115 rolling.

We want the next 60 days to be filled with excitement, with preparation and planning. For them to give us enough time to get everything done but also to fly by so that all of our summer family will be ‘home’ soon.

The Work

We started our work this summer with the pressure of COVID and a full-on effort to provide camp with physical and emotional safety for campers and staff being paramount.  The rest of the world was going on outside our bubble including the tragic killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery, Dion Johnson, Travon Martin, and too many others. We were all consumed in our mission about Camp Runoia Harmonyville 2020 and not thinking about the message silence was creating for our organization.

On June 2, I received a wake up email from three of our 15 year old campers. “We are disappointed you have not made a stance on Black Lives Matter. What is your stance?” We were so focused on how we could operate camp during a global pandemic that we had overlooked the importance of sharing our belief that Black Lives Matter and moreover, being a strong female organization where girls specifically need to be lifted up, that Black Women Matter. Thanks to Emily, Keira and Margo for helping us to get to work.

And we went to work. I didn’t even know the expression, The Work, I’d known Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work but not The Work. Hello! I like it. For 30 years we felt we started the work. We had reached families of color to include them to attend camp, we reviewed our hiring practices to try to find more people of color for summer camp jobs in with college students majoring in education, health care and social work. We provided staff training about celebrating differences and inclusivity. I’d been on conference panels about diversity in camp in our very white northeastern privileged resident camps. We were doing work other camps hadn’t even considered. In the late 1990s we added our Community Statement in our Staff Manual – a statement that needs revising and updating:

Camp Runoia has fostered a culture of celebrating diversity and encouraging campers and staff from around the world with a spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds as well as different religious backgrounds.  Each person in the community is treated with respect and acceptance regarding their race, religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, creed, socio-economic standing, gender, disability, and culture.

Our work so far is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to do more. This summer we did a few things immediately to support Black Lives Matter thanks to the prompts of our 15 year old campers. We researched and made a plan. We celebrated Juneteenth with staff (camp was not yet open on June 19), we implemented a three part anti-racism training for staff during our upcoming staff training with anti-racism trainer, Love Foy.  We added books to our library on diversity and inclusion as well as novels with black protagonists. We created a Black Women Matter advisory board to the Runoia administrators with four alumnae who are people of color, plus a representative from the 15 year old group and one Runoia administrator. We removed the old bell post at camp that clearly screamed cultural appropriation that we had never seen before. It had just always been there and was carved by two women back in the 1930s. It seemed innocent although I never liked that there was a man at the top of the bell post at our girls camp. Blinders are hazardous. We took it down to go in our future museum and our 16 year old CITs with no prompting proposed they make a new bell post. they did it! Incredible!

When I read the newsletter, Ideas in Progress, by Crystal Williams, Vice President and Associate Provost for Community and Inclusion at Boston University, I realize we have so much more work to do. Our book club just met to discuss How to be An Antiracist. I purchased it from a black owned bookstore. If you’ve not read the book and want to visit with Brene Brown and Ibram X Kendi, here’s the podcast. Supporting black owned businesses is another way we are doing the work. I need to pace myself because I feel we are so far behind it is overwhelming. After just attending a conference on DEI, in virtual breakout rooms I heard from others that they feel overwhelmed. We can take small steps toward affecting change and success. Here’s one way we can start. Share with your family about 10 phrases that are racists that you may be surprised to learn and practice removing them from your vocabulary. Be kind. Be patient. It takes time to unlearn.

In summary we have a lot to do. Alex and I have been connecting about how to honor the people who lived and walked on the land our camp is on before we arrived. Stay in touch and we’ll have more to share!

Love, Aionur