UNITY — The smell of chocolate-covered coconut candy and the giggles of girls drifted through the student center at Unity College. Budding dancers practiced ballet in a classroom transformed into a studio by a mat and mirrors on wheels. Outside, on a lawn underneath shade trees, an instructor and campers assumed yoga poses.

Another Monday morning at Maine Arts Camp was under way at Unity College on Quaker Hill Road.

The 80-plus girls and 20-plus boys were learning about and participating in hip-hop, archery, robotics and pottery, as well as digital yearbook, painting, acting and kayaking.

The arts camp, which debuted in 2005 at Gould Academy in Bethel, is the brainchild of Rick Mades, who attended, then worked at Maine summer camps for years.

In 1994, Mades created CampFinders.com, which helped parents locate camps that matched the interests of their children.

As Mades visited 170 summer camps for his online service, he encountered a variety of philosophies and schedules.

And in 2005, armed with knowledge about what makes a high-quality, fun camp, and with the encouragement and assistance of Candy Cohn, he started Maine Arts Camp.

Competitive team sports are intentionally not part of the package; creative and technological activities and individual sports are.

“It’s a safe place,” Mades said. “Our campers feel comfortable being who they are, and they are accepted for who they are.”

This is the second summer that the arts camp has been based at Unity College.

“We like that it’s an environmental college and it has a nice campy feel,” Cohn said. “(Since being here) we’ve added environmental education and gardening and hiking.”

The camp has two two-week sessions for youth from 8 to 15 years old as well as a specialty week for 11- to 15-year-old boys and girls looking to delve deeper into a couple of offerings.

At the end of the sessions, students give performances, set up galleries and projects and prepare food for a final showcase.

“It’s amazing what they can do after two weeks,” Cohn said, “although, that’s not the focus. It’s more about the process than the final product.”

The chocolate-covered coconut candy produced Monday morning drew rave reviews from the young bakers, including Ellie Lobrano, 14, of Connecticut, who has attended camp for five summers.

Chef Charles Limoggio, who teaches at Westbrook Regional Vocational Center, opted for varied, fun and delicious goods to bake during class.

This summer, purple marshmallows, corn bread, whoopie pies and crumb cake were among the choices.

The recipes are posted on the camp website, maineartscamp.com so that industrious campers and parents can whip up their favorite creations when they are at home.

Several other staffers were plucked from the central Maine talent pool, including Messalonskee High School teacher Jamee Luce, who shares her love and knowledge of robotics.

Artist, educator and tai chi instructor Dave Hurley of Belfast is an art specialist at camp; musician Jeff Densmore, who teaches at Waterfall Arts in Belfast, works with guitar players and drummers; Robinson Ballet instructor Stevie Dunham of Dedham teaches ballet; and Monmouth art teacher Laura Damon assists youth with stained glass creations and pottery.

Traditional summer camp activities, including campfires and sing-alongs, are interwoven with the 10 activities that attendees choose per session.

In 2011, it cost $2,775 per child per two-week session and $4,900 to attend for four weeks. The specialty week price tag was $1,250.

Campers rise for breakfast at 7:45 a.m. and lights are out by 10 p.m. In between, they have five class periods, lunch, dinner and a snack plus an evening activity. Workshops and two off-campus trips, perhaps to Peaks-Kenny State Park or Lake St. George, are part of each two-week session.

The last campfire of this summer has yet to be extinguished, but Mades and Cohn are simultaneously prepping for next season.

Running a five-week summer camp, they said, is a year-round, time-consuming commitment.

Camper recruitment for next year, Cohn said, has already begun.

Mades said people often ask him what he does for “the rest of the year.”

He laughs when he said that his typical response — that he recovers from the summer — is a joke. Kind of.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

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