New campers dare to adventure at Miniwanca

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Nearly 20 seventh and eighth graders took bold first steps into a new camp experience at Miniwanca at the inaugural Dare to Adventure program in early August.

These kids were the first to participate in the four-day program designed to introduce youth from the Detroit and East Lansing, Michigan areas to the American Youth Foundation programming.

Ambrean Ford, Director of Community Life, Diversity, and Inclusion, said Dare to Adventure aimed to provide more equitable access to the outdoors and the AYF by offering a low-cost, mini-camp experience. To participate, campers must hold at least one historically marginalized identity (including but not limited to Black/African American, Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander, Latinx, Indigenous, multi-ethnic, or LGBTQAI+) and have never experienced a summer camp before.

Ford worked closely with Teen Hype and Detroit Achievement Academy to spread the word about the new program. During Dare to Adventure, these campers experienced traditional camp activities such as swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, high ropes and rock climbing courses, outdoor cooking and camping skills, and lots of fun, active games. They also enjoyed quieter moments of reflection and discussion about their values and what the outdoors means to them.

“Over the four days of camp, we saw campers who had never slept outside, swam in a lake, or hiked a dune find comfort and joy in their unfamiliar surroundings,” Ford said. “Campers spoke of being less scared of the woods and more open to exploring around camp.”

Dare to Adventure was staffed with volunteers and Mulcahy Fellows, seasonal AYF staff who hold similar backgrounds and identities to the campers. The fellows also helped develop and plan the program starting in early 2023.

“Dare to Adventure really wouldn’t exist without Mulcahy Fellows. They worked in different roles and helped to bring the fun!” Ford said. “It helped the campers transition into the new experience to have staff that visibly represented them and their identities. Many fellows worked the eight previous weeks in our other summer camp programs and then found the energy to make another week happen for the Dare to Adventure campers. It was very inspiring to watch our vision become a real program just one year after thinking it up.”

Ford said her favorite moment of the program came during the final Evening Reflection, when campers were invited to share their individual experiences.

“So many campers stood up and said what being there had meant to them,” she said. “And though they were tired from the walking and annoyed with the bugs, each of them said they wanted to return to this place next year to feel that kind of happiness and community again. It was hard to not tear up over their unscripted reflections and how there was so much positive learning that came from them adventuring daringly.”

Ford sees the potential and promise of Dare to Adventure and hopes to watch it – and these campers – grow each year.

“There are so many future campers out there who would love summer camp and just need that first experience,” she said. “The need and want for the program are out there. The passion to staff the program is growing. I have faith that this camp has the potential to enkindle thousands of spirits and create new AYF communities.”