More than 50 enkindled spirits gathered for an evening of celebration and connection during Be the Spark!, the American Youth Foundation’s first virtual fundraiser on Sunday, Oct. 25. The event replaced the Donald Danforth Jr. Memorial Golf tournament, which was canceled in May due to the coronavirus.
“Those who attended our Founder Sparks event were truly the enkindled spirits tending the fires of the AYF,” said President Anna Kay Vorsteg. “The climb has been steep, and the company good. I am thankful for those generous sparks who lit the way forward.”
During the event, the AYF took the group on virtual tours of Miniwanca and Merrowvista, showcasing changes to both sites like new windows at the Miniwanca Eating Lodge, an updated Merrowvista waterfront, and robust green grass after campuses were spared a summer of trampling feet.
One highlight of Be the Spark! was the chance to hear from Founder Friends from across the country. People submitted videos sharing stories of how the AYF has affected their lives and how the lessons learned at Merrowvista and Miniwanca have helped them through a difficult 2020.
Alumni like Linda Zehring Butler, 81, shared how her father, daughter, and grandchildren all attended Merrowvista, while children just starting their AYF journeys like Connor, Taylor, and Pippa Smith said camp gave them a safe space to be themselves.
Teens and young adults like Marisol Perez, Lela Matthews, and Kate Hampson shared how their experiences growing up in the AYF formed lasting bonds with friends and challenged them mentally and physically.
“I’d never ever done a biking trip — even though I didn’t get to do Voyageur this year — I don’t think I ever did something harder than that,” Perez said in her video. “I didn’t think I would be able to, but I really did. It just makes me look back [and realize] I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”
Vorsteg ended the evening charging attendees to bring their best selves to their home communities and to tend to the Four Folds of their lives. In doing so, she said, we will enkindle others’ spirits worldwide.
AYF archivist Jan Strube said she was grateful for the opportunity to connect with the AYF community during Be the Spark! “Every chance I have to connect with others who have the common experience of AYF programs is an opportunity to feed my soul. It is a compass that redirects my focus and path in life,” she said.
In addition to connecting with the Founder Family, Be the Spark! reached its fundraising goal of $50,000 thanks to the generous support of Nestle Purina PetCare, Deb Seidel, Katie and Christophe Lemaire and many others.
Vorsteg said these contributions have made a critical different to the AYF. “This has been a very hard fiscal year, and it has been a record-setting year in terms of the support we have received,” she said. “When we look back on 2020, I will forever remember this as a year when our families, friends, alumni, and board of directors, stepped up to secure AYF in the face of a pandemic.”
If you weren’t able to make it to Be the Spark!, you can view the entire event below. Learn more about making a donation online, or text AYF2020 to 44321.