AYF facilities teams focus on solid foundations

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As youth returned to Merrowvista and Miniwanca in 2021 and 2022, the facilities teams focused on how the sites could best serve participants in the future while bringing much needed updates to aging structures.

The American Youth Foundation strives to preserve, restore, and renovate existing buildings, but Senior Director of Infrastructure Andy Mulcahy said Miniwanca’s shifting sand dunes made the Fellowship Building and Assembly unsafe to use. After much deliberation, the AYF made the difficult decision to take down both structures.

Built in 1951, the Fellowship Building was perched on a steep hillside and once served as a central meeting spot for leaders. “Before the building’s decommission, the Facilities Team saw an opportunity to preserve its legacy by carefully removing the building’s fireplace stones, which came from each of the 50 states,” Mulcahy said. “We have securely stored them for future use elsewhere at Miniwanca.”

The spirit of fellowship lives on at that site. The facilities team replaced the structure with a large open deck overlooking Stony Creek, allowing campers to experience quiet moments of small group connection and conversation.

Mulcahy said significant structural issues over time caused the nearly 100-year-old Assembly building to lean precariously. Miniwanca took down the structure in spring 2022 but preserved the Assembly fireplace and mill stone.

“We know how important these historic structures are to our Miniwanca Founder Family,” Mulcahy said. “We hope to honor their legacies by repurposing key parts of the original buildings to create new spaces for youth to explore and enjoy for decades to come.”

At Merrowvista, the facilities team renovated existing structures to make them more welcoming to youth. They renovated a Super BIFF (Bathroom in the Friendly Forest) that includes showers and restrooms for use by all participants, as well as single-stall, gender-neutral spaces for transgender and gender-expansive participants.

They also made living spaces more comfortable for onsite staff. They added a lower-level egress to the apartment below the Health Center and completed a gut rehab of the Treehouse, which includes a staff apartment above the camp pottery studio and commercial laundry space. Even the youngest community members saw improvements this year, as the Scout Village classroom was refreshed to create a more child-friendly space for staff children.

Work at Merrowvista continued during the summer as older Wayfinder campers embraced new challenges through service-learning projects under the supervision of Facilities Infrastructure Manager Adam “Boots” Smetana.

Session A Wayfinders carefully took down the aging structure that housed the camp bell, whose clangs signal the day’s activities. They constructed a sturdy platform as the base for the new bell tower, then followed Smetana into the woods, where they felled trees to support a new metal roof.

Session B Wayfinders donned their hardhats and got to work on a log cabin on the A-field that interns built in the 1990s. Campers took it down to the studs and rebuilt the structure from the foundation up, adding and staining logs, creating and installing floors, and adding a new roof.

Smetana said these campers left Merrowvista with so much more than practical skills. “The Wayfinder program gives campers the chance to truly be of service to the Merrowvista community and to contribute to the future camp experiences of others,” he said.