Happiness and Smiles

From my friend Joy, posted on Runoia’s blog with Joy’s permission:

COVID-19 and Happiness- A Strategy For Everyone

Mother Teresa said “peace begins with a smile.” Researchers report the facial muscles used in creating the simple act of smiling triggers special brain neurotransmitters that release endorphins and immune boosting T-cells. In fact, the simple act of smiling lowers our stress hormone called cortisol, and produces hormones that stabilize our blood pressure, improve our respiration, reduce our pain level, relaxes our muscles, speeds up our healing, lowers our chance of depression, and creates a change to stabilize our entire mood.
Did you know that it takes 62 muscles to frown and only 26 muscles to smile… so then why don’t smile more often?
Resilient people know the importance of taking positive actions to enhance their mental status. Would you like to practice a simple goal and watch its powerful effects during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Goal: Commit to 5 smiles a day.

Keep a record of incidents during the day that make you smile. Interestingly, you will notice that the sheer fact of changing your focus and “looking” for things that make you smile, will actually stimulate you to witness increasing items that make you smile. Give it a try !

Copywrite: Joy Miller, PhD, LCPC, MAC

Community and Camp and Connecting

Everything about camp is about building community and becoming part of something bigger than just yourself: practicing empathy, inclusiveness and kindness. Being humble when that “oh no” moment happens. Picking up the pieces, reaching out to those you may have affected and reconnecting. At Runoia we also connect with our local community, our Maine community and stay partnered with parents, families, grown up campers, alumnae and more.

We reach beyond Runoia to our local community and they are changed by who we are, too.   Runoia brings a global presence to our small town in Maine. Typically, we have 7-12 different countries represented at any one time at Runoia and they get to know our local area. Parents shop, eat, stay. Campers get out of camp on trips to the Maine coast and to the mountains. Staff enjoy the local area and Portland as well as the peaks of Maine’s mountains and from its rock bound coast to its lakeside villages. People know of Maine because of camp and often Belgrade Lakes, Maine becomes near and dear to their hearts.

Runoia is known in our community from our youngest campers riding in the July 4th parade, our presence at our local farm CSA, our involvement with organizations like the Great Pond Yacht Club, volunteering for pick up on ocean beaches, the Yarmouth Clam Festival, the Belfast Lobster Fest, the Belgrade Library 5 K or the local Aqua Fest, Eyes on the Water/Invasive Plant Lookout, Loon Count — no matter the occasion, Runoia girls get out and help others.  We collect food for our local food pantry and partner with World of Change to help others.

Our alumnae have started business in Maine, bought businesses in Maine, go to college and work in Maine.  Whether it’s Maine Magazine, the Portland Racket Club, Sherman’s Book Store, Sugarloaf, Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, UMO/UMF, the Botanical Gardens, massage therapy, construction companies, education and STEM, teachers and administrators in public and private schools, State and National Parks, there are Runoia alumnae scattered working all over the state!

Many alumnae have taken residence in the summer on Great Pond and the surrounding lakes and some alumnae have bought property in Maine and relocated here to raise their families. Campers become connected to Maine in some way forever and Maine camps connect the world to Maine.



Choosing Summer Camp – Guest Blog by Alicia DeHart

As a former camper and summer camp counselor I immediately knew that my children would attend summer camp.  As a director at a girls’ summer camp I thought choosing a summer camp for my daughter would be a breeze.  With more than ten years working at a Maine summer camp I had more information about summer camp options than other parents researching summer camps.  I thought this would help me filter through the options to find a final choice rather quickly.  I soon realized that choosing summer camp wasn’t any easier for me than other moms and dads searching for their child’s summer camp.

While I had more information about camps and connections with various people in the camp industry, I was just a mom trying to make the best choice for her daughter.  Choosing summer camp for my daughter was filled with many of the same considerations that families across the country are working through as well.  Our decision process was guided by my purpose of choosing summer camp.  Then the things my daughter and I valued in summer camp.  And finally, our family schedule and other family dynamics.

Why Choose Summer Camp?

As someone who has spent three-fourths of her life at summer camp attending camp is an obvious choice.  However, many of my friends didn’t grow up attending summer camp.  So, their first question was, why choose summer camp?  While I was answering their questions, I quickly realized why my daughter wouldn’t attend the girls camp where I am a director.  This decision was easy, but it didn’t make the decision-making process any easier.

To me summer camp is an opportunity for campers to gain independence and a greater sense of self.  It’s a time away from parents to learn and explore under the guidance of summer camp counselors.  Summer camp is one of the greatest opportunities we as parents can give our children.  I wanted my daughter to have the true camp experience where she could be just another camper.  I felt she deserved the opportunity to have her own adventures just like I had when I was a young camper.

The Value of Summer Camp

The value of summer camp doesn’t come in its price tag.  The value of summer camp comes in the little details found in its values and philosophy.  I knew that I wanted my daughter to experience a camp similar to the camp where I work.  A camp where simple living, independent choice, and a sense of community guides daily life at camp.  I was surprised when my daughter wanted similar things.  She felt strongly about an all-girls camp.  I am sure this was partially because it’s the primary summer camp experience she’s had.  There’s likely an equal part for her choice of a girls’ camp because it guaranteed her younger brother wouldn’t attend camp with her in the future.  She’s an independent spirit so I fully understand her choice in not wanting to share her camp experience with anyone from home.  Especially not her brother.

When discussing camp with my daughter it was very apparent that she wanted an opportunity for a “trial” experience.  She was excited about the opportunity to have “her own camp.”  But she wasn’t quite ready to fully jump in with both feet.  Runoia’s Harmony Land Camp program was the perfect fit.  This shortened summer camp experience provided her an age-appropriate residential camp experience.  It also solidified her desires for an all-girls program with a strong focus on the outdoors.  And there were enough arts options to ensure her creative spirit was never bored.  After Harmony Land she was all in.  Five summers later and she hasn’t looked back.

Choosing Summer Camp for Your Family

The variety of programs and options can make choosing summer camp a complicated process.  However, choosing summer camp for your family schedule and dynamics can make everything more complicated.  One major consideration for us was camp dates because of the school calendar in the southeast United States.  There are summers that school begins before Maine camps are finished.  Due to this a half-summer session was a must.

An unexpected aspect of being a camp mom is the level of communication and individual attention Runoia families receive. The owner/director, Pam, took the time to speak with me about the Runoia experience and answered all of my questions throughout the enrollment process.  The level of attention we’ve continued to receive as a Runoia family has been amazing.  My daughter’s face lit up when she first received a letter from her camp pen pal and welcome post card from Alex.  Now she has the opportunity to do the same for new younger campers.  And my daughter now anticipates her birthday postcard in October!  The connection to summer camp truly continues year-round.

Choosing Summer Camp as A Camp Director

Sometimes being a summer camp director gets in the way of being a camp mom.  The summer season is crazy for all camp directors- our attention is on the amazing campers who create our camp community.  Due to this I knew I had to fully trust the leadership team for my daughter’s summer camp.  As a camp director who speaks with parents on a regular basis, I think this is the most important aspect of choosing a camp for your child.  As parents we are sending our most prized possession away for an amazing experience.  We must fully trust the people who are going to be responsible for them.

Here is where I have an advantage.  I met Runoia Director and Owner Pam very early in my years as a camp director.  As a young director I admired her for her integrity and commitment to summer camp.  As a mom I knew I could trust everyone at Runoia because I knew Pam was leading them.  2020 will be my daughter’s fifth summer as a Runoia girl. Directors Pam and Alex and the rest of the Runoia team haven’t ever let me down.  And more importantly, they’ve gotten to know and supported my daughter like she’s one of their own.  They’ve given her all I could have ever asked for in a summer camp experience and so much more!


Friday night pizza- we love camp food!.

As the Holidays roll around and our focus becomes not just on family but also a lot on food,  it is a great time to reflect on how camp food plays an important role in the overall experience. Food in general has such significant cultural value, it shapes our days and times with people. At camp we enjoy food together for three meals a day and spend a lot of time talking about our favorite things to eat. Sometimes we may miss things from home and at others we are wondering when some camp favorites are going to be served.

At Thanksgiving dinner you probably ate food that has meaning in your family; grandma’s pumpkin pie made from an age old recipe or that sweet potato bake you have every year without fail. Food not only fills us and gives us a reason to come together with loved ones but its sentimental meaning also truly warms our hearts.

Days at camp are often a blur with not as much definition as you may find in your regular week. It’s often hard to figure out what day of the week it is unless it’s Thursday trip day or a sleepy Sunday.  More often than not the days are measured by the food being served. Friday night is always homemade pizza night! Chef and the kitchen crew cook up the usual cheese and pepperoni favorites but there are always also a couple of surprises that you don’t know about until they are served! On Fridays there is always a buzzing excitement around super time for pizza night.

Sunday morning donuts and cinnamon rolls are a staple. Even though it is still sleepy come in your pajamas breakfast there is often a line after the first bell at 8am as campers are keen to dig into the sweet treats.

You may remember the’ green table’ and grill for Saturday night cookout with hotdogs and burgers. The location has changed to be closer the kitchen but there is still the same fare.

Alums will likely remember ‘Sunday Sundaes’ served on the last Sunday at the end of the session, it’s a tradition that is much anticipated and has been around for many years. Congo bars are perhaps the truest Runoia favorite and have been enjoyed throughout the generations.  Do any Alums may remember bishops bread?

Our Camp Runoia food is healthy and wholesome and fills not just our bellies but also our hearts. It leaves us with tasty memories of our long summer days

You’ve got ‘real’ mail!

Over the past couple of weeks our new Camp Runoia campers should have found a letter or two in their mailbox from a camp ‘penpal’.  The tradition of welcoming new girls to camp and being available to answer any questions has been going on for many, many years.  It  encourages campers to make connections even before their arrivals to camp in June or July.  Returning campers may be writing to a new girl in their cabin group or older girls may be reaching out to a younger ‘little sister.’  Girls look forward to writing notes and often seek out their new camp friend once they arrive at camp.  For new campers we hope that it helps them to feel like a part of the community and to get excited about the new adventure that they are taking.

Handwritten notes from a new camp friend are a long standing Runoia tradition.

In our techno world of texting and social media interactions it seems rare to actually receive a paper letter or card in the actual mail.  Often the mailbox is just full of solicitations and advertising along with some online shopping packages!  What a treat to find a handwritten envelope addressed to you personally.  This short video is a great introduction to letter writing to help kids for whom it may be a new skill.

At camp a campers only option of communicating with the outside world is through regular mail.  While parents can send one way emails, ‘real’ letters are still the most valued and appreciated.  Campers often show up with stationary boxes, a supply of stamps and some cool pens for their letter writing times. Rest hour and before bed are common times that girls will be found writing to family and friends. Campers and staff look forward to rest hour when mail is given out and often share news from home with their bunk mates or pin the notes that they receive to the wall by their beds.

Handwritten letters carry a charm and thoughtfulness that seems so radically different than an email or text message.  The fact that someone took the time to write to you and that it is an unedited conscious stream of thought makes it super special.  Parents often tell of the stacks of camp letters tucked away in memory boxes as treasures from their daughter’s time away at camp.

Send us some ‘real’ mail this summer it will be so greatly appreciated, we love when the PO Box is bursting at the seams.

Be the change you want to see in the world

Our camp Runoia community attempts to create change through simple acts of kindness and caring, hoping  to make the world that we live in a better place.  We believe that we can engage campers and staff to be the change that they want to see in our local communities and in the greater world around us.

In our Giving Tuesday blog back in November we shared about a new community service initiative that we were excited to be getting involved with.   We are moving forward with this partnership and continuing our monetary giving into the summer season.

‘World of Change’ is a philanthropic organization with a home base right here in Maine.   It  encourages youth to participate in collections of loose change that can then be used to create ‘change’ in their local communities.  We are excited to be one of the startup camps that are joining the drive and will be collecting change this summer.  We are hopeful that this will create enthusiasm among our campers for continuing this support in upcoming seasons.

The statistics of how much money is just sitting around in our homes, cars, and workplaces is just staggering.

How much loose change do you have lying around?

Camp Runoia families are always incredibly generous and our ‘cans from campers’ food drives have been very successful.  Through support of our local food pantry, we have had the opportunity to be a positive presence in Runoia’s small, home town .  We will continue collecting food on opening days this summer and hope  that gathering change throughout the school year to bring to camp will catch on too.

We know that a lot of people giving a little can really create positive change for those in need.  All of the money that World of Change generates goes directly to the nonprofits working in communities identified as having needs.  The six focus areas ensure that all children get strong foundations to grow on.

Promoting kindness at camp and at home.

We hope that our Camp Runoia campers will engage with the World of Change philosophy and strive to make a difference in their home communities.  Where will you start? How can you be the change in your community? It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking spending an hour picking up trash or helping an elderly neighbor with yard work can be a great place to start.

Together we truly can be the change we want to see in the world.

The power of camp friendships

Throughout the school year we often get photos from camp families of our Runoia girls getting together outside of camp.  The power of camp friendships is very strong and often travels great distances for a hug and to reconnect.  Family vacations might be planned around the location of a camp friends home and as girls get older they may head off alone on an adventure to see their camp people.


I recently had a weekend, whirlwind trip to NYC with my 13 year old daughter.  We had been planning it for over a year as a camp friend was celebrating her Bat Mitzvah.  The girls have been full season campers together since they were small and have a strong bond. Even though they may not typically see each other through the school year their friendship reignites once camp rolls around.  It was with much excitement that we planned the journey from Maine, fancy outfits and dress shoes packed as we travelled in snow boots and parkas!

Camp friends made up a large chunk of the kids present at the party.  It was amazing to see that our  Runoia parents recognized the value of these summer relationships and the importance of sharing non camp special events together.  They had made a huge effort to get their girls to NYC.  For some it included traveling long distances  some of it through a snow storm and also other camp families hosting sleepovers and helping with transportation.  The love and joy in the room was palpable, the hugs and bright smiles just continued all afternoon.  New memories were made in a radically different venue with heads bent close together in deep conversation, wild dancing on the dance floor and of course sad goodbyes at the end.   I often tell prospective parents to make their choice wisely and try and help them to understand that their commitment is not just to the next 5- 8 summers but also to all of the in between times.

Runoia girls love to hit the slopes and often spend time together at Sugarloaf. Maine mountains are as great as Maine camps.
Horse friends end up showing together in the Mid West










Personally it was such a treat to spend non camp, social time with our girls , an added bonus was seeing the younger and older sisters of those invited and of course our awesome camp parents.  The Runoia community is truly a large family, we show up for each other and celebrate all that we individually are.

Our Camp Runoia alumnae  also love getting together and have spring  gatherings coming up.   March 31st in Boston and April 7th in DC.  It is a great opportunity to share camp stories and fellowship.  It really doesn’t matter what years you were at camp or if you even know the other women attending.  The spirit of Camp Runoia transcends the generations and the connections, traditions,  songs and stories are common to all.

PA gathering with “Runoia Gals”

Camp is not only about having amazing summers together on Great Pond, we truly hope that our girls will remain friends long into adulthood and will share many other lifetime experiences and memory making opportunities together. As the Runoia song says ‘camp friends for long days old friends for always.’

Transferable Skills – Why Camp Matters

“It is at camp I found a purpose. It is at camp I felt I belonged. It is at camp I had a passion for learning.” – shared thoughts from an anonymous campers’ campfire talk

As we have learned from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in A Theory of Human Motivation once basic needs are met, people can develop a higher level of functioning. The self-actualization that is allowed at camp after basic needs are met can be astounding. Leadership opportunities abound, recognition for accomplishment, motivation to set higher goals in activities and leadership roles all continue to develop and grow as campers grow with our camp.


The skills gained at camp, ultimately are transferable to other aspects of life including school, work, career, family, exploration, continual learning and more. It’s the perseverance, the patience, the process, the people and the collaboration that adds to the 21stcentury skills. It’s the trying and failing and trying again until you get it or get better that correlates with Dweck’s Growth Mindset.

Campers who experience a spectrum of activities and start to gain skills in a few focused ones (sailing, riding, archery, tennis, art, swimming and also social skills, peer recognition) have the opportunity to continue growth, development, gain recognition, set goals, meet and exceed goals through the hands on experience at camp, the coaching and encouragement and the adults who will help you realize your potential. Campers help other campers gain skills and realize their potential motivates some campers as well – being the teacher to a younger camper can be inspirational. The process itself is inspirational.

Knowing not everything comes easily but try and try again with the support and encouragement of others will build skills campers will carry with them for a lifetime. And, camp is fun in
the process. Yes! Some campers miss home and experience homesick feelings.  Discover how time away from home and from parents can help a child to grow to allay your worries with Michael Thompson’s book Homesick and Happy

What a better way to build your child’s growth experience.  Check out summer at Camp Runoia and give your daughter the gift that keeps on giving – for a lifetime.

Mixing it Up at Runoia

Each week campers and counselors spend on average 25 hours of their week in “regular program”. The schedule is 5 classes a day and rotate in blocks of 2 day schedules and 3 day schedules. The rest of our day is filled with cabin clean up, recreational swims in Great Pond (a lake 8000 acres in size!) a unique Evening Program, meals, snacks and Rest Hour. Let’s not forget about our wilderness trip program where each shack group is out for 2 -3 days in the beautiful state of Maine.


Two and one half weeks into the session, we mixed it up with a Fun Day Sunday. In 2018 it started with a pirate attack at Assembly:

Followed by loads of fun at different stations from photo booth to Captain’s Coming, tattoo station and Find Your Pirate Name (for instance Iron Claw Captain) lots of competition between the Black Team and the White Team.


Snacks of pirate cookies and popcorn and Pirate Booty were in store for campers and counselors alike.

The evening finale of watching an outoor movie on Mahadin with glow stick necklaces was a hit and a great way to chill out after a long day.

Mixing up our program at camp keeps camp fun and energizing and throws an element of surprise. With Harry Potter Day last year, Summer Olympics, County Fair, and Take me out to the Ball Game in previous years, we can only wonder, what surprise will be discovered in 2019?

With Love from Belgrade Lakes,


‘No More Mean Girls’

Monday night, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a lecture by psychotherapist and author Katie Hurley.  Her latest book ‘No More Mean Girls – the secret to raising strong, confident and compassionate girls ’ delves into the realms of relational aggression and how it is starting among girls at a younger age than ever before.  In her research and collaboration with experts from around the world it is clear that young women are facing greater challenges in their social interactions which is having a negative impact on mental and emotional health.

Hurley’s latest book is an excellent read for parents and educators.

The increased use of technology and the ease with which cyber bullying can occur are prevalent factors in the social interactions that most girls experience today.   A rumor or photo once shared with a quick click can become instant public humiliation and a destroyer of lifelong friendships. Exclusion from the social group is one of the biggest and most damaging forms of social aggression that our girls are facing.  Girls are often left to flounder alone in an environment that can instantly become dangerous and emotionally damaging.

Adults need to teach, model and help girls to navigate the relational world that they live in.  Helping girls to understand the concepts of empathy and kindness and how they can be incorporated into their social interactions both in person and online are crucial to the development of healthy relationships.  Educating girls about what mean behavior looks like, how they can not be part of the problem and helping them understand steps to being a solution will help strengthen their connections.

Hurley claims that girls can be the change in their own social worlds by:

  • Being the ‘upstander’
  • Refuting the rumors
  • Meeting negative comments with positive ones
  • Saying something nice to the victim
  • Involving adults

Fortunately overnight camp provides girls with the opportunity to develop face to face relationships, to be tech free for a few weeks, to work through hard social situations with the support of caring adults and to continue to grow their self-esteem and self-worth.  We must commit to helping girls navigate the complex social world that they live in, help them to not be the ‘mean girl,’ recognize when relational aggression is happening and stand up when they can.

For more from Katie Hurley and a ton more great articles check out her website