Embark on a pilgrimage this holiday season

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Anna Kay Vorsteg - President

This Thanksgiving will be unlike any in recent memory. Instead of gathering, we’re asked to stay home for the collective good. Instead of packing the car or boarding our flights, we’re asked to be still. And yet, as we navigate a pandemic, racial injustice, and an environmental crisis, we are called to take a different kind of journey — to embark on a pilgrimage inward to become better versions of ourselves.

During a pilgrimage, we journey to an unknown and often sacred place in order to find an expanded understanding of self, others, nature, or a higher good. Ideally, a pilgrimage leads to personal transformation. 2020 is ripe for personal transformation.

Few take up pilgrimages from a place of calm and comfort – in fact, most take up these journeys in pursuit of this place. Perhaps we can turn this difficult time into a spirit-building pilgrimage in search of solutions to these overwhelmingly complex issues, and in the process, find our better selves and a greater love for one another.

At Miniwanca and Merrowvista, we have always facilitated pilgrimages of sorts, encouraging AYF participants to embark on journeys in search of their true purpose and best selves. We seek physical environments that provide challenge and social exchanges that require courage. We carve out sacred space for prayer and inward reflection, and we encourage all to discover their assets to be used for the good of others.

We aim to inspire personal transformation, not because we are broken but because we understand we are not yet whole. Becoming our full best selves enables us to fix what is broken in our world, which in turn makes us better for doing so. This cycle is the great invitation of the American Youth Foundation, and it is why we do not give in to despair.

This season, we have been kept from our beautiful campuses, but not from our work. In fact, one of the early takeaways from 2020 was how deeply connected and engaged we can be despite distance. In this year’s Founder Fire, you will read about our efforts to connect this year in online spaces. You’ll learn about the good works of others who continue the journey toward best in their home communities.

We will also pause to remember and celebrate those who have completed their journeys, including Dr. William “Bill” Danforth, a man whose life serves as a powerful example of the great pilgrimage toward best. May these pages give you hope and encourage your journey forward in active ways, even though your movements are restricted.

Part of this forward journey includes building equitable community for all. The AYF highlighted the importance of anti-racist action during our virtual programs and will continue to do so. We know that we do not have all the answers and must reckon with our own history, and we are committed to educating ourselves and others and to doing the work of dismantling systems of oppression to create a more just world.

I do not pretend this act of pilgrimage is simple. It is not. For it to happen, one must decide to actively take up the journey. You need not leave your home, but you must be willing to leave the comfort of old behaviors and beliefs as you seek what is most right. You must embrace discomfort and focus on the path and promises ahead.

As you pack and unpack for the journey ahead, I hope you will take with you the belief that every day has good to offer, and such good can come to others through you.

Travel well,

Anna Kay Vorsteg

Join the #GivingTuesday movement Tuesday, Dec. 1 and help a young person experience the life-changing power of an AYF program.