AYF takes action steps toward DEI goals

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The American Youth Foundation is committed to building equitable program communities and empowering youth to create equity in their own communities. Director of Community Life, Diversity, and Inclusion Ambrean Ford said the AYF will take several steps toward those goals in 2022.

“It’s so important to support our words with real, measurable action,” Ford said. “The most important step the AYF is taking right now is leaning into those difficult yet rewarding conversations. We are creating committees and attending trainings. I like to call this our forming year, and this first half is everyone getting on the same page.”

One key element of this work is the creation of the AYF’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, which had its inaugural meeting in February. Ford said this year, the 16-member committee will assess the AYF’s larger mission, goals, and values through a DEI lens and develop a strategic plan that will serve as a roadmap of actionable steps that will further the AYF’s DEI goals.

Ford and Vice President Liz Marshall conducted a thorough search for committee members who could add to the diversity of voices in the discussion.

“It is important the committee represent different demographics, identities, and experiences within the AYF, including the amount time spent with the organization,” Ford said. “The committee includes people who have experienced programs at Miniwanca, Merrowvista, and National Leadership Conference.”

The DEI committee also represents a mix of ages and personal affiliations with the AYF, including current and former AYF full-time and seasonal staff, camp and NLC alumni, and current members of the AYF Board of Directors.

“We need to have as many voices at the table as possible, so they can advocate for those who aren’t present,” Ford said.

The DEI committee and the Board of Directors will work closely with Strength Perspective founders Jen (Dusty) Clitheroe and Polly Williams, to help the organization pursue its DEI goals. Clitheroe recently met with the Board at its March meeting in St. Louis, where they discussed how to make the AYF a more inclusive community accessible to all.

“It was powerful to see the Board engaging in this work and truly assessing equity and inclusion in our organization,” said Marshall. “The Board is looking closely at the program communities and asking how we can be more aware, welcoming, and inclusive as we seek to inspire youth to live at their best.”

Another key element of the AYF’s DEI work is the Mulcahy Fellowship. This initiative intentionally honors, supports, and uplifts seasonal staff who identify as historically underrepresented members in AYF program communities. The goal is to address the lack of diversity in leadership positions within our programs and recognize that individuals with these identities provide more emotional labor than other camp staff.

The AYF will host a retreat for current Mulcahy Fellows at Miniwanca in early June. Ford, who is also a member of the 2019 class, said the retreat will allow the 17 members to reconnect after nearly three years apart.

“Because of the pandemic, we haven’t seen each other since 2019,” she said. “Some of the fellows have never actually met in person! This retreat will give us a chance to bond and to discuss what it means to be part of this group and the future of this fellowship in our lives and in within the AYF.”

The AYF is currently accepting applications for the 2022 Mulcahy Fellowship. Details are available online.

Finally, the AYF full-time team recently completed an online webinar hosted by Let’s Empower, Advocate, and Do (LEAD). The webinar, Black Lives (Still) Matter: Using Microinterventions to Interrupt Race-Based Microaggressions at Camp, taught participants how to recognize and disarm race-based microaggressions during program.

“It’s important that everyone on our team knows how to be effective allies for our BIPOC participants and staff,” Ford said. “All these actions – those we’ve started and those still to come – are important as we continue to educate ourselves and put action behind our words.”