AYF volunteers serve humbly at Miniwanca, Merrowvista

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Every year, the American Youth Foundation puts a call out for volunteers to ready its sites for the summer. The turnout, staff will tell you, is nothing short of inspiring.

Nearly 100 people dedicated an entire weekend earlier this year to clean out, fix up, and prepare both Merrowvista and Miniwanca for the foundation’s summer programs. They worked on raised beds for gardens, fixed cabin windows and doors, inspected canoes, and moved mattresses — just a few tasks on long to-do lists.

Director of Development Jessa Glick said these efforts are just one of several vital volunteer opportunities throughout the year that support the AYF mission.

“Part of serving humbly is supporting and ensuring the growth of these spaces, but also maintaining these spectacular facilities that cost a lot of money to run,” Glick said. “And so, to keep camps accessible to kids, we rely on volunteers as well as donors.”

Michael Harter, Miniwanca Director of Conference, Community, and School Programs, said volunteers invigorate the full-time staff.

“It is hard to explain the boost Volunteer Weekend gives the full-time staff after a long winter, as well as the seasonal staff who experience the results of that work as they get ready to embark on spring community and school programs,” Harter said.

As a foundation, Glick said the AYF offsets at least 30% of the true cost of camp for every participant when it sets tuition rates each year. Volunteers are just one of the many ways the AYF relies on its community to support these discounted programs.

“We are relying on the community that came before to help the present community have those same experiences,” Glick said.

The AYF offers a variety of ways for people to roll up their sleeves and get involved each year, including chaperoning camp buses from St. Louis to Michigan, helping with the Donald Danforth Jr. Memorial Golf Tournament, hosting fundraisers, putting on community events, and staffing the National Leadership Conference.

Almost all AYF volunteers return for more than one year of service, and they are often former campers or families of current campers. When volunteers give their time, treasures, and talents to the AYF, Glick said they often experience what she calls a “giver’s glow,” when they feel valued and accomplished.

“They get to re-experience the feelings of growth and self-discovery they had when they were participants or when they saw their family members participate,” she said.

Glick said volunteering for the AYF becomes a way of life for many who recognize the programs’ impact in their own lives. “It’s a way of discovering how to get outside yourself and make meaningful connections with others, in service to others,” she said.

If you’re interested in volunteering with the AYF, email [email protected] for more information about 2024 opportunities.