Miniwanca was a transformative force in Sandra George’s life. She returned to camp summer after summer, first as a camper and National Leadership Conference participant, then as a seasonal staff member, and later, a volunteer. After a 20-year career as a community mental health professional in Cincinnati, she’ll return to the dunes once again this summer, this time as the AYF Director of Special Projects. Here, Sandra shares why Miniwanca is so special to her and her family and her fondest camp memory.
When did you attend camp for the first time?
“I was 13 years old when I first attended Miniwanca. As a middle school “tweenager,” I was eager to find a new adventure and travel farther than the Girl Scout and church camps I had previously attended near my hometown of St. Louis. I vividly remember my first moments at Miniwanca – the kindest, most welcoming staff who genuinely communicated their excitement through their smiles and one-on-one attention.
“Now over 30 years later, I can still recall walking with my leader along the wooded trail from 50-Bay to Downtown Miniwanca for the first time as she shared the history of the AYF property and why the organization was established. From that first introduction, I understood that I was an important and valued part of a much larger community.”
Why did you return to camp year after year?
“I returned to Miniwanca as a camper and NLC participant because I wanted to spend my time surrounded by other people who were joy-filled and excited about being part of a positive community. I returned to summer staff as a college student because I wanted to stay connected with the community and ensure the good work continued.
“In later years, I kept showing up at Miniwanca every summer with my young family because I wanted to purposefully spend my time and energy on behalf of others, contributing to a space where everyone feels welcome and valued.”
Why did you decide to join the AYF full-time?
“This opportunity emerged soon after I paused my career as a therapist and behavioral healthcare administrator. I have witnessed the powerful, life-saving impact that integrated, high-quality treatment and recovery supports have on an individual, their family, and the larger community. I also know the critical importance of supporting upstream prevention efforts to promote healthy youth development. I am thrilled to support the AYF as an organization that intentionally provides space and opportunity to enhance the social, emotional, and physical well-being of youth.”
What do you do as Director of Special Projects?
“With a title like Special Projects, I have the opportunity to contribute across the organization. I will be onsite at Miniwanca this summer, assisting our Camp Directors with program and our Community Care Teams with supporting the mental, social, and emotional health of campers and staff. Recently, I have been able to attend many of our Miniwanca open houses in various cities, which has been a wonderful way to meet new campers and their families, as well as connect with alumni and other AYF supporters.
“I am coming to the AYF at a very exciting time in the organization as we approach our centennial in 2025. My experience with organizational management and collaboration across multidisciplinary teams will be used to implement our AYF goals and objectives. I am excited to also work closely with the Advancement Team to identify and develop new partnerships across the country to advance our mission.”
What are you most looking forward to this summer?
“I am looking forward to living in optimistic and hopeful community! At Miniwanca, every moment is intentionally filled with purpose. I am excited for the sunsets over Lake Michigan while campers share their thoughts and perspectives in Evening Reflection. I am also really excited about the talents of our Food Program staff. I gladly welcome others to take on the task of meal planning and food preparation for me this summer!”
Outside of work, what are some of your favorite activities to do enjoy or take part in?
“I spend much of my time on the sidelines and in the audience, supporting my children with their extracurricular activities: soccer, swimming, track, tennis, orchestra, and theater. I enjoy traveling with my family and adventuring to new places. This past year, we were able to visit Hawaii, California, and Mexico!”
What is one of your fondest Miniwanca memories?
“My favorite moments at Miniwanca are when we spend time writing a letter addressed to ourselves. Across camp, as each person finds their own space to sit and reflect. The only sounds we hear are the birds and squirrels, wind and waves. We are alone with our thoughts and feelings, yet fully embraced with the physical beauty of Miniwanca and surrounded by others just a few feet away.
“This special time gives us opportunity to reflect on our most recent camp experiences and then envision how we will integrate what we have learned into our days back home. And then one winter day, the letter shows up in our mailboxes, and we are instantly reminded of our time at Miniwanca!”
What’s one of the best pieces of advice you ever received?
“Assume the best.”