Resilience at Camp

Last month, Dr. Tracy Brenner, “The Camp Counselor”, began a series at the Maine Camp Experience to help guide MCE parents through emotionally preparing for camp, starting with the topic of resilience in the face of homesickness and the absence of parental help.

In the vast majority of introductory conversations with parents of new campers, the inevitable topic of homesickness and preparedness for the camp experience comes up: “How do you help campers through homesickness?”, “What happens if she doesn’t adjust immediately?”

Before diving into explaining our in-depth staff training, our strategies for helping individual campers adjust, and how our social, emotional, and behavioral health specialist provides higher-level support, I always begin by first saying that homesickness is perhaps the most ‘normal’ and expected part of camp. Even the ‘campiest’ of kids experience pangs of homesickness and sadness that can make their way into a letter home, and those letters can be devastating for a parent to read.

But here’s a secret: usually by the time that letter has made it to a loved one’s mailbox, the feelings are three-days old, and those three days were full of smiles, laughter, new skills learned, and countless moments of bravery. Experiencing big feelings can be overwhelming at the best of times, and writing can be an exceptional release of those emotions to the people a camper trusts the most. Sometimes it takes time for campers to feel comfortable expressing those feelings to a friend or adult at camp instead, and be able to save the most exciting news for those letters home.

In the meantime, through all the tough moments, what we do know is that camp builds resilience (in my experience, for kids and adults alike!) Imagine a single day at camp and all of the moments a child will experience – some exciting, some disappointing. Each moment is an opportunity for growth in their resilience. From picking their sail back up after dropping it while windsurfing, to committing to fixing a mistake or rolling with it in an art project, to sitting with the disappointment of not getting their dream role in the play and choosing to be happy for their friend. For kids, these are hard things – but hard things that at camp, they are capable of.

And building that resilience can be exhausting and trying – so don’t be surprised if at week three, you find yourself picking up a quiet, tired kid. In a week or so, they might be ready to open upabout all of their amazing experiences – but be patient, they’ve been building resilience at camp for twenty-one days! And one day, that resilience may just develop to carry them up Mt. Katahdin, challenge them to go to JMG test camp, convince them to try the Oak Island swim, or accomplish something like American Archer, Advanced Equestrian, or Advanced Skipper.

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.

Teaching Children – Earning Your Own Dollar

Earning your own dollar makes spending or saving it that much sweeter.

Whether you’ve had your own lemonade stand, done chores in your own home, helped mow a neighbor’s lawn, or shown up with a snow shovel after a storm to offer to remove snow for compensation, you know you learned about the value of money through the experience. For a child, you start to think “I am an entrepreneur!” Some children are naturally inclined to pursue how they can earn money and others may need a little nudge.

A classic read about developing a business thinking mind is Daryl Bernstein Better Than a Lemonade Stand or start young with the Bernstein Bears Trouble with Money

Talking about money is a great way to get started. The strategy of earning three dollars a week and putting one dollar in each jar, Save, Share, Spend develops empathy, the concept of saving for something special and the excitement of having some money to spend along the way.  The share jar is a project unto itself providing the opportunity for children to figure out where to share their money. Perhaps it’s your local church or synagogue or a family shelter or meals for seniors, or one of our favorites: World of Change, Maine Needs, Good Shepard Food Bank.

Opening a bank account, buying stocks, recording and balancing a check book bring up a lot of opportunities for learning and discovery. Forbes writes about five strategies for teaching children about money including talking about why you buy a generic food, or giving them 5 dollars to pick out the fruit at the grocery store:

Children as young as three can learn about money. Having a play store with a cash register at home is a great start.

As we all reel from the economic reprecussions of the pandemic, this topic may be harder to broach than others but starting simple and using the good intent of teachable moments will scare away the financial monsters we are all battling at this time.

Here’s to 2021 to good health and better lives for all.

Love, Aionur

Living Leadership – a unique CIT summer

Providing opportunity for leadership and growth in personal development is a key component of all of Camp Runoia’s programming. Multi age classes and self directed goals allow campers to navigate their own skill development and girls of all ages are given a chance to have their voices heard. Older campers often take on the role of friend and mentor to younger girls and share their skills and love of camp activities with those that are in need of help. Skippers in sailboats, captains of teams, helpers at the barn and other opportunities to be up front all allow campers to gain leadership skills while working on their own goals.

The Counselor in Training program (CIT) is often the capstone of camper years and allows for a very intentional, full summer experience with a leadership focus. In typical summers CIT’s live as a group with their CIT Director and work together in and around camp to build skills. 2020 proved to be a whole lot different. Four amazing young women who were up for a new and evolving challenge joined Harmonyville for a different kind of CIT program. 


With the creation of ‘households’ and restricted interactions of groups it meant that in order for the CIT’s to get the best experience of actually working with campers they spent much of their summer living in cabins.  The CIT’s also joined us for staff training and were able to live together during that time and get some very intensive skill coaching before their move to live with campers. It was a very different approach yet worked incredibly well under the unusual circumstances. This group of young women were able to navigate not only the transition from being campers to taking on a more comprehensive leadership role but also having to be separated from their peers and fellow CIT’s. They truly were living their leadership development as they actively engaged with all aspects of daily life in camp.

This fabulous four accomplished so much over their unique CIT summer. Even with a reduced amount of time at camp and additional responsibilities they passed archery instructor training, managed to navigate a socially distanced lifeguard class, made connections with their campers, took classes in child development, homesickness and a multitude of other camp related situations and did it all while maintaining and building their personal friendships. Their growth was amazing and they worked through the hard parts and saw the benefits of being at camp even when it wasn’t what they had originally imagined. They built life skills that will serve them well as they head out into their junior years and begin to navigate what life after high school may look like.


We hope that this tenacious group will be back for more Runoia summers. Our counselor staff group will benefit from their skills, capable competence and true Runoia spirit.

The Value of Camp by Jen Dresdow

After nine summers as a full season camper it was an easy decision for my daughter, Natalie, to apply for the CIT program for more value at Camp Runoia. She was excited to not only spend one more summer with her friends, but also participate in a leadership program that would add value and skills to her resume. As a camper, Natalie earned the highest awards in both riding and windsurfing and she looked forward to sharing her passion with younger campers and developing her teaching skills in those areas.

The first challenge CITs face is planning and executing the 4th of July festivities at camp. Though this process Natalie learned some valuable lessons about teamwork, trial and error, and communication. After the 4th, CITs focus on either lifeguard training (LGT) or Junior Maine Guide(JMG). Natalie choose to work towards her lifeguard certification as she hoped to work as a windsurfing counselor in the future. Natalie found the lifeguard training challenging, but with the support of Ally, the head of swimming, she was able to meet all the goals.

During the second part of the summer, the CITs honed their teaching skills. All of the CITs worked with Eliza to complete their level 1 Archery Instructor certification. Natalie spent the majority of her teaching time at the waterfront or at the barn. She further supported the riding program by traveling to shows with the girls and helping them prepare to go in the ring. Additionally, the CITs participated in various community service events.

Like many sixteen year olds, Natalie wanted to get a job to earn money of her own. Before she got home from camp, she was offered a job on Monday evenings at the barn she rides at here in Kansas. Her official title is “gopher”, which entails helping young riders get prepared for their lesson, teaching them to groom and tack, and doing evening chores such as watering and turning out horses. Through this job Natalie is able to continue to gain experience working with children and share her love of horses.

Natalie also applied for a lifeguard position at Jewish Community Center here in Overland Park. She was hired on the spot for the job and works twice a week after school. Lifeguarding is a great job for high school as the shifts are short due to the attention demands and the pay is above average for most jobs available to sixteen year olds. Natalie not only uses her lifeguarding skills at this job, but also sharpens her customer service skills and leadership skills as she navigates the demands of pool goers both young and old.

This fall, Natalie applied and interviewed for a Junior Counselor position at Camp Runoia. She is excited to return for her eleventh summer at camp and work in both the windsurfing and

riding programs. Through these camp experiences, she’s been able to successfully navigate application and interview processes, gain leadership skills, live in a community, and develop her talents. All things that will certainly benefit her as she begins the college application process next fall. Camp has been an integral part of Natalie formative years and invaluable in helping her prepare for college and beyond.

Ready, set, go: It’s camp time!

Camp is already humming with activity as we prepare for the arrival of our campers in just two weeks.  Staff have started to arrive, the horses have arrived back from their winter homes, the grass seems to need cutting on a daily basis and buildings are shedding their winter dust.  Even with a lengthy to do list every day, the excitement is palpable as each day brings us closer to our Camp Runoia girls arriving.   We are sure that everything will be ready by opening day.

Many of our campers are finishing off their final days of school, saying goodbye to friends for the summer and starting to pack their camp trunks.  Our inboxes are filled with questions from new parents and forms and information as families tie up all the paperwork loose ends before sending their daughter off to Great Pond.

The horses made fast work of the grass in the pasture.

The barn has been bustling with activity getting all of the horses settled in and used to the camp routines.  Many of our horses spend their winters working in college programs so they are fit and ready for their camper riders.  Our bunny King Louis is already in residence and the chickens just joined the barn yard fun.


The waterfront is ready to roll with a new addition to the dock system, boats are sitting on their moorings waiting to be sailed and the floats are ready for the first enthusiastic jumpers and divers.  A few more ‘fine Maine days’ and the water will be warmed right up.

Our hard working team of pre-camp workers have been making sure the grounds are in tip top shape, grass mowed, porches painted, paths mulched, gardens trimmed, flower boxes planted, there may even be a surprise or two in store.

Kate the great!

We truly are counting down the minutes until the rest of the staff arrive for training this weekend and then it will be time to open the gates to our campers.

Bring on the Camp Runoia 113th season; we are so ready so let’s go!

Developing leadership skills at camp

Residential camp provides a unique opportunity to allow young people to develop their leadership skills.  When girls attend Camp Runoia they have an opportunity to not only develop hard skills in activity areas and interpersonal skills but also to begin developing strong leadership skills.  Leadership starts at an early age at camp as adults often allow girls room to try out their skills and begin to develop their own sense of autonomy.  As their time at camp extends into their teen years older girls become mentors to younger campers, leaders of teams, assistant coaches in activity areas and communicators in their shack groups.  Some of this leadership development is organic while some is intentional youth development through our Camp Runoia programming.

The Counselor In Training(CIT)  and subsequent Junior Counselor (JC) programs at Camp Runoia help High School aged campers focus on their own leadership development within the safe and supportive community in which they have often spent many summers.  Feeling comfortable and confident in a place that you know well is a perfect environment for challenging yourself.

Intentional leadership training provides opportunities for girls to build on their current skill set and also challenge themselves to go out of their comfort zone and try new skills too.  It includes formal training certification programs like archery instructor, lifeguard, first aid, CPR courses and the Junior Maine Guide programs.   Event planning and implementation for large groups is a big component for the CIT group- they manage the entire 4th of July festivities for the whole camp.  Helping out in shacks with younger campers, assisting in lessons and learning to manage a group, teach skills and keep track of performance are all just examples of putting leadership into action.  More informal opportunities exist when hanging out with younger girls and being a positive role model.

Within the CIT group leadership often comes in the form of collaborative decision making and group process.  It may be about finding your voice or learning when to be quiet to let someone else speak up.

Both the CIT and JC programs are designed to be a full summer experience so that young women can practice their new skills over time and grow into great camp leaders.  They take back home with them not only a stack of certificates and accomplishments but a greater sense of self, more confidence and skills that will be transferable into other aspects of their lives.



Second Session is Rolling Ahead – Meal Time Tradition

Hello to all of our Second Session families and friends. We are already rolling along into 2nd Session having already completed our first Block of the session – time certainly does fly by!!  Campers are settling in nicely and getting to know all of their new cabin friends and counselors while meeting and getting to know our 130 Second Session campers. It has been a real smooth start despite some up and down weather conditions.

As you know, this is my first summer here at Runoia. One of my favorite traditions that I have learned here at Camp Runoia is during meal time. Each week our campers are randomly assigned to a specific table (rotated weekly) and sit together with 3-4 staff members mixed in to the tables as well.  This is instead of the more traditional cabin table approach during meal time.  For our campers, young and old, it is really nice that the girls get a chance to meet a wide variety of campers and on a very personal level this way. Especially for the younger campers, it is a great opportunity for them to meet older campers who show them the ropes and tell them all sorts of stories about camp and their activities. It is a great way to pass along traditions and make younger campers excited about growing up at Runoia. Even for the older girls, it is a great real life experience of being a role model and starting to develop true leadership skills. Undoubtedly, it is the start of a great relationship for many of our campers, that very likely would not have otherwise have formed if we did not sit in our tables in this fashion.

Camp Kindness table

Meal time is just one example of the purposeful and fun way that Camp Runoia helps campers and staff alike to develop meaningful relationships and learn some terrific life skills.  It is why I am a true believer in the Camp Runoia spirit.


Sunday was camper arrival under rainy conditions. With a few delayed arrivals, we are off and running with 2nd Session. Campers play Scategories and new additions to Runoia – Human Fusbol and Noodle Hockey for Evening Programming.

Monday – Orientation Day – all new campers get a full day of learning the ropes, tagging up for Blocks and get to try their first Runoia activities. Swimming in the afternoon for all!!

Tuesday – First day of Blocks – sailing, skiing, ropes, tennis, mountain biking, pottery making and all the arts & crafts you could ever want are rolled out all day for the campers. Staff is excited and gets campers juiced up for a full day of action.  5th Shack departs on a great 3 day hiking trip. At night, a newer EP called “Country Creation” is enjoyed. By Shack, campers created their very own country with mottos, official birds/animals and tourist attractions, and then promote then try to “sell” their country as the best to a panel of judges.

Wed – Blocks continue. Campers are having fun despite overcast conditions. No rain!! Horseback riding, soccer, windsurfing and target sports… campers work on their skills and try to progress with their ability. Lots of swimming today as it is pretty humid. At night, campers enjoy a Scavenger Hunt as they work together to locate some 40 specific items.  Winning tables managed 37 of the items. Great day!

Thursday – Morning activities get in even after some overnight rain.  But in the afternoon RAIN, RAIN, RAIN!  But does that stop us??? NO WAY!! Camp Kindness afternoon as campers make numerous art projects but for another camper in camp. It was really great and the girls worked hard to give away a nice project to one of their fellow campers.  Campers also created 60 cards for “Cradles to Crayons” charitable program. What a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. In the evening, it is time to “Get to Know Your Counselor.” Campers spent 20 min grilling one of their counselors with all sorts of questions and then have to be able to recite answers as part of a game show. Great time had by all.

Today is a nice warm and “fine Maine day.”  We are back on schedule with Block 2. Looking forward to seeing many of our Alumni up at camp for the weekend during then annual CRAO meeting. Have a great weekend!!!

More to come…

Building life skills through horseback riding

This week’s guest blogger is Jen Dresdow, Camp Runoia’s Equestrian Director.  Horseback riding is a huge part of Jen’s life.   When she is not managing Camp Runoia’s riding program she is a team coach for IEA.

Jen Dresdow coaching one of her students.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

Runoia riders after a show

This past weekend I both coached my team at and organized the Zone 5 Region 7 Finals for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA). IEA is a program for 6-12 grade students that allows them to compete in the equestrian sport without owning a horse. Riders draw horses provided by the hosting barn and are judged on their riding skills, called equitation, alone. This is my fifth year coaching a team and my daughter, Natalie, is in her fourth year of showing IEA.

Regional Finals is a show for the riders who earned 18 points or more during the regular season. The top riders and team from regionals will compete at Zone Finals in three weeks for a shot at making it to the National Finals in April.

Choosing to compete in any sport takes courage and hard work. Dr. Brené Brown describes vulnerability as the willingness to be “all in” even when you know it can mean failing and hurting.  Being judged on your equitation, which while there are standards, is subjective to the judge’s personal taste. While ribbons and trophies are fun, and riders learn the value of working hard towards a goal, I feel the most important lessons learned in the IEA ring are that it’s okay to take chances and learning how to process both success and failure.

We participate in horse shows at camp, both our own Blue/White show, and at other camps. Our campers set a personal goal before a show. Maybe it’s getting their diagonals, picking up the correct leads, or finding all the right distances to the jumps. We don’t dwell on how they placed in the class, but did they work on achieving their goal. We also celebrate their courage in trying.

My IEA team riders transform when they put on their show clothes. They go from silly teenagers to poised young adult. They climb aboard a 1200 pound animal with a mind of its’ own and pilot it over jumps, all while maintaining the correct body position knowing a person they’ve never met is judging their every move. I am always in awe of their audacity and I’m reminded of Dr. Brown’s saying, “Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” I am incredibly lucky to be surrounding by young women both in the IEA and at camp who “dare greatly”.

Camp Runoia – finding your tribe

Have you found your tribe?

At our workshop last week we were invited to find a group with only random volunteers standing up as the group leaders.  The task was to be accomplished without speaking and with no other direction other than ‘find your tribe.’  There was no knowledge of what we were to accomplish in the found group or how long we were committing ourselves to those that we chose.  Reluctantly people moved to join a group, glancing around to see where others were going and apprehensively acknowledging those that came to join them.  It felt strange to make a choice with little information and based mostly on an impression of the volunteer group leader.

Finding your tribe has become a buzz of the current blog and social media world, sometimes is happens organically and sometimes you have to put effort into finding your people.

Our first task in our new group was sharing why we had chosen to belong there.  Answers ranged from the simple and thoughtless ‘it was near to my seat’ to more complex stories about previous connections, commonalities and a feeling that it would be a good place which had swayed their decision making.

In our lives we have many groups that we belong to, some through choice others through situation.  We all seek a place to belong, for like-minded people who we can share experiences with and who we can feel our best selves among.  Being a member of a group of people in which we feel like our true selves and are loved and accepted as we are is a comforting place where we can relax and engage without hesitation. We naturally have a desire for unity in the communities in which we live, work and play.

Runoia girls have a ready made tribe.
We are glad that these women found their tribe back in 1907 and founded Camp Runoia.

Camp Runoia provides campers and staff with the opportunity to have a ready-made tribe of people who come from a variety of places to be the Runoia summer family. The  group forms and reforms with new members joining and old ones moving on.  We remain connected by our commonalities and often bound by our differences.  We enjoy the belonging for the moment of time that is the summer season and sometimes keep the bonds through the years.  We regroup again the next summer.  Having a place and a group of people to be a part of is empowering and reassuring.

We can’t wait to be back on the shores of Great Pond with our Runoia 2018 tribe!  If your daughter is still looking for a place to belong this summer you can sign up here.