Jessa Glick grew up wandering and wondering through the dunes and forests of Miniwanca each summer. Camp was a family affair. Her father, Jeff, was camp director and her mother, Barb, was the camp nurse. The lessons and values she learned at Miniwanca as a camper and seasonal staff member formed the foundation of a life dedicated to nonprofit and social work. In late 2022, Glick rejoined the American Youth Foundation as the full-time director of development. Here, she share insight into her new role, what she’s looking forward to most during the AYF centennial, and her favorite moments of Miniwanca magic.
How important was camp to your family?
“Camp was a way of life for the entire family. Our first summer at Miniwanca was in 1992. I was a Piper in 10-Bay and refused to brush my teeth for three weeks (my grandma, also at camp, never knew and miraculously, no cavities followed!). Many of my six siblings also went to camp, and I continue to joyfully torment my dear sister, Alyssa, with camp songs at every possible opportunity.”
What were some of your favorite activities as a camper?
“I loved sailing and was part of the first mariner group in Four Trails. The swirling winds on Stony Lake made for some fun adventures trying to get back to the dock! Polar Bear, Nights Doing’s, Evening Reflections – did someone say Capture the Flag? Washing dishes was definitely at the top of the list.”
How did the lessons and values you learned at camp shape who you are today?
“Camp was and is an unconditional and accepting community that continues to impact me today. Creating safe spaces for people to come together and grow individually and collectively is paramount to community building. One of the most important lessons I learned was it’s okay to be goofy, to have serious fun, while working to make our communities stronger.”
What is one of your strongest camp memories or stories?
“If it’s even possible to capture… Surrounded by cabinmates or other leaders on the beach, all sitting in reflection, as we joined voices in song and gratitude amid the ever-changing and always amazing sunsets.
“The camper-leader conversations were always a highlight of my summer. Getting to chat with leaders or directors who took time to invest in each camper was incredible. Another profound experience was receiving my camper letter to self about six months after camp ended. It always reminded me of my goals and what my best self looked like.”
You’ve worked for several nonprofits during your career. What draws you to that work?
“Growing up, our family motto was ‘Live a life of service.’ When people come together for a common goal and mission, the amount of positive difference we can make together is astounding. The creativity and passion in the outdoor education movement fuels the fire and propels the mission forward. It’s FTK – for the kids.”
Why did you decide to return to the AYF last year?
“It was so serendipitous! I came across the job posting by some happy accident. An opportunity to give back to the AYF? There was no way I couldn’t apply. More kids at camp? Check! A culture of caring and communities of practice? Check! The AYF had a role that fits well with the skillsets I have honed through the years.”
What does a director of development do?
“The director of development works to engage funders and donors in sustaining the work of the AYF through donations and diverse revenue streams. These could be focused on camperships, scholarships, facilities, program development and expansion, and so much more. Every donation, no matter the amount, makes a profound difference in the lives of campers for the rest of their lives. My role is to make sure supporters know the impact of their donations, to responsibly steward and honor their gifts, and to collaborate with community members and corporations to establish partnerships that further the reach of the AYF’s programs.”
The AYF is approaching its centennial in 2025. What are you most looking forward to?
“Stories! Group storytelling is the best. I can’t wait to sit down with families and hear what Merrowvista and Miniwanca have meant to them over the last 100 years. I’m also looking forward to solidifying the AYF’s fiscal health for the next century of campers. We must invest in the opportunity to unplug and get outside to give the next generation a chance for its own voyage of self-discovery.”
What value do you think the AYF provides today’s youth?
“The AYF provides a safe space and unfettered access to nature. With strengths-based programming, youth benefit from the AYF’s approach to discovering their best selves, space to figure out what that means, and doing their best with others on the same path. The AYF’s programs promote the discovery and development of youth’s capacity to make a difference in their communities and the wider world.”
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?
“I love to read, play music, spend time with friends, bicycle, hike, swim, and be an auntie to my eight-plus nieces and nephews. I’m also food-oriented, so discovering new culinary delights is always a favorite pastime.”
Is there a song that has changed your perspective or outlook on a situation?
“Former Girls Camp Director Emily Jones Knuth was a fellow camper and then my cabin leader in the ‘90s. She taught us the song “Third Fence Post” one of my last years as a camper. It really struck a chord with me, as I was so sad to leave camp and say goodbye to friends. But this song changed my mind. Yes, I could be sad about not seeing my friends tomorrow or the day after, but heart connections last a lifetime and longer.”