Staff Spotlight: Merrowvista’s Mads “Earl” Chomentowski

Posted on

The Four Trails program at Miniwanca first sparked Mads Chomentowski’s love for outdoor adventure when they were a teen. Now, Mads (better known as “Earl” to the Miniwanca community) will help inspire the next generation of AYF campers to explore the wilderness as the new Merrowvista Four Trails Manager. Here, they share why they wanted to join the full-time AYF team, how Miniwanca compares to Merrowvista, and why Four Trails is so much more than just a backpacking or canoeing trip.

You attended camp and worked seasonally at Miniwanca for years. Why did you decide to take a full-time job at Merrowvista?
“I have been working in the outdoor education industry as a field instructor since I graduated in 2020, and as I gained more experience, I started to keep the AYF in the back of my mind and look out for full-time positions. I loved my time as a seasonal staff member at Miniwanca and had been thinking about what it would be like to be full-time for a while.

“The job at Merrowvista came at a really good time for me and was a next step that made a lot of sense personally and professionally. I am really inspired by the work that we do at the AYF, and whether I am at Merrowvista or Miniwanca, I will always feel excited about what we do at this organization!”

What’s one of your favorite Four Trails moments?
“Toward the end of my Odyssey trip, all three trip groups were staying at the same campsite, and the boys’ group led an Evening Reflection. We tried to sing some songs, which sounded pretty bad since no one was singing very boldly and there was a lot of giggling, but I remember feeling so connected to everyone in our little circle, even though each group had had mostly separate journeys.

“One of the leaders shared some words about the trip along the lines of ‘Days are long, but Odyssey is short,’ which inspired me then and sticks with me to this day as a reminder to remember to have perspective and enjoy the long days because years can somehow happen suddenly.”

Where did the nickname Earl come from?
“During rest hour my first year as a camper, we were chatting (not good rest hour behavior!) and talking about what our parents would have named us if we were boys. I said my parents would have named me Earl. Everyone thought that was very funny, and it stuck for a decade.”

What were your first impressions of Merrowvista? How does it compare to Miniwanca?
“I have loved getting to know Merrowvista! It has been so lovely to spend some time in the valley and see another side of the AYF. So far, it is much less sandy and quite a bit steeper overall than Miniwanca.”

What drew you to working full-time for the AYF?
“I was thinking about transitioning from working in the field for a while and wanted to find a job that was more sustainable for me but felt equally fulfilling, and I think I have found that with the AYF. There are so many things that resonate with me about the work, but I think it comes down to our participants. For a lot of young people, there’s a lack of intentional community and structures for deep connection, and I think the AYF does a really good job of providing that.

“The world often feels grim, and for me, the way I can have hope for the future is to work with young people and help them be their best selves. I feel so grateful for the way that the community and connections I made at Miniwanca shaped me as a young person, and I think the more people that can have an experience like that, through the AYF or another avenue, the better for them and for our collective future.”

As the new Four Trails Manager, what are you most looking forward to this summer?
“Right now, I am really looking forward to staff training. I am so excited to meet our seasonal staff, build relationships, and share some of my knowledge with them. I am hoping to be a strong support for our Four Trails leaders this summer and help them create the Merrowvista magic.”

How do Four Trails programs challenge campers beyond the physical element? How do these programs change campers?
“A sentiment echoed at each outdoor education company I have worked at is that play is practice for real life. These trips teach our campers so many valuable life skills, some of which they might not realize for years to come. When I think about what has informed my values and how I move through the world, important parts of it started at Miniwanca.

“Our campers learn to be resilient at the end of long, wet days. They learn to be independent by setting up their shelters and cooking their meals. They learn how to be present by disconnecting from technology.

“Most importantly, they learn how to be in community. They learn what it is like to be part of a group where everyone contributes and where conflict is not avoided but worked through and healed. They learn how to get along with someone they might not if they had the choice. They learn to have empathy and grace for that person and understand why they might see the world differently. Our youth are capable of so much and being on these trips helps them realize their gifts and how to use them to lift up themselves and those around them.”

What advice do you have for a camper embarking on their first Four Trails experience?
“My advice is to lean in! This trip is what you make it. We are all here for each other at Merrowvista and on trail, you get to re-create that community in new places with your group.

If you could go on a Merrowvista Four Trails trip this year, is there one you’d really like to try?
“I would love to go on Odyssey. I have done lots of hiking on the Appalachian Trail but never in Maine, and it seems so beautiful and challenging.”

What are some of your favorite things to outside of work?
“I love to do small crafts! I have recently been excited about crocheting little baskets, carving little spoons, and making little leather notebooks.”

What piece of media changed the way you thought about something and why?
“One of my co-leaders shared the short essay ‘Joyas Voladores’ by Brian Doyle with me and our group one evening on a trip several years ago, and it has become one that I love to share with groups at the end of trips. I think everyone should read it, so I won’t spoil it, but it is about being a person with a heart and that that is a hard thing, but it is also a very joyful thing. It helped me realize that it is a gift to have a heart that can feel everything from pain and sorrow to joy and love. It is a gift to be able to share your heart.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Merrowvista or larger AYF community?
“I am so happy to be back at the AYF and that I welcome connection in any form. Please feel free to reach out about the program or just to chat, even if we don’t know each other!”