Kris Light has a 20-year history with the American Youth Foundation. His foundation with the AYF began as a seasonal Four Trails leader, camp coordinator, and Community and Schools Program team member. He continued to work seasonally with the AYF, until he began his full-time career with the AYF in 2008 as Director of Camp Programs at Merrowvista.
In 2019, he left the organization to work Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire as Director of Integrated Outreach. He recently returned to the AYF in a new role – Director of Strategic Program Initiatives – and he’s excited to jump back into the mission of the AYF again.
You were Director of Camp Programs from 2009 to 2018 at Merrowvista. How did Merrowvista camp programs evolve and change over that time?
“The program grew in so many ways. Every season brings new staff and participants with different perspectives and ideas that leave their mark and move us forward. New songs, new activities, new questions about why we do things the way we do, and new awareness around how we create a space where everyone feels safe and able to grow toward their best. It’s a living thing, shaped by the people who gather to support it.”
How did working in an academic environment compare to your outdoor education experience?
“Much of what I did at Brewster was centered on outreach and working current and former parents, alumni, donors, thought partners, etc. In my role, I helped shape the story the school told about the great things taking place on campus and created connection for those who wanted to become more involved. It was a significant shift from my work with AYF, which was so centered on the participants, staff, and delivering program.”
How did your work at Merrowvista inform your work at a school?
“The missions of the two organizations were surprisingly complimentary. That was a key reason that I felt I was able to transition to Brewster. The mission of Brewster is to prepare diverse thinkers for lives of purpose. In this I saw a commitment to creating an intentional inclusive community, as well as inspiring students to discover their best selves in preparation for a world that badly needed their contributions.
“Every day I thought about my experience telling the AYF story and conveying its importance. It kept me inspired and helped me better understand the school’s vision for its work with students. Like the AYF, it was more about what participants would do after they left the program than about what happened on campus.”
How will your work in an academic setting inform your new role as Director of Strategic Program Initiatives?
“I think the biggest thing I gained is better understanding of how a larger community of diverse and caring constituencies can positively impact and support the work taking place on a relatively small campus. Maintaining those relationships helps us discover how our work on these sites is known by the broader community and generates data that can inform intentional changes to the program and outreach efforts. If our goal is to grow our impact, we need to better understand how what we do meets the communities our participants will grow and work in.”
What are you most looking forward to in this new role?
“More than anything, I’m excited to be back on these sites, talking with participants and staff and seeing the full scope and impact of our programs. It’s truly special and rare. Youth are invited to think deeply about how their actions and interactions define their communities. They engage in meaningful conversations and have their voices elevated and heard. Hearing their observations and insights about the impact they hope to have on the world is powerful, and I feel fortunate to be a part of their vision for the future.”
Can you elaborate on some program goals the AYF hopes to achieve in the next few years?
“I think our primary goal is to ensure we are serving as many young people as possible. We want to remove the obstacles to our programs, while also amplifying our message and mission so more people know about the special opportunities we provide. As we return to full capacity, we also work to ensure our participants have what they need to apply these transformational experiences to their lives outside of programs.”
Why did you want to return to work full-time with the AYF?
“The AYF had an immense impact on who I am, and my outlook on who we are as a people. Most of my professional life was tied to this organization, and when I left, I did so because I felt I needed a different perspective on working with youth, as well as some new organizational leadership skills. I got that in the four years away.
“With this new opportunity, I get the chance to learn about and influence programs across the AYF. I get excited by the prospect of creating connections throughout the organization and with outside partners. I want to ensure we share the very best of what we do in our diverse programs across sites for the benefit of all our participants.”
When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy doing?
“I can’t think of anything I love more than spending time with my family: my wife, Veronica, and my two daughters, Aurora and Romea. We love to be outside swimming, walking in the woods, growing our gardens, and using our imaginations. I love to bake and cook, and it’s been exciting to share that love with the girls, who are running ahead of me with their skills.
“I’ve always loved traveling, and we are looking forward to more opportunities to do that together, as well. Going to Miniwanca as a family and sharing the shoreline of Lake Michigan with them for the first time was a highlight of this summer – another reason I feel very lucky to be back at the AYF.”
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
“‘Never deny in the darkness that which you have known to be true in the light.’ I heard that in high school, and it hit me like a lightning bolt. I think about it during darker days when the negative messages outweigh and obscure the positive. It’s a constant reminder to do my part to bring a little more light to the good things and truths that may be harder to see when times are hard.”