Staff Spotlight: Miniwanca’s Emily Knuth

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One of Emily Jones Knuth’s fondest camp memories is serving as Quad Leader in eighth grade and again as a high school senior. She relished the chance to add the spirit and enthusiasm of camp through cheers, skits, and friendly competition. Emily has spent more than 30 summers on the dunes as a camper, leader, volunteer, camper parent, and now, the Girls Camp Director. Here’s how she is sharing the spirit of Miniwanca with campers once again.

You became Girls Camp Director in summer 2021. Why did you want to take on this role?
“For me this job is a calling – I literally received a call from [AYF Vice President] Liz Marshall asking me to take on the role. Miniwanca shaped who I am today, and I want to give that same life-shaping experience to today’s youth. As a camper, we always joked that one day I would be the director, so when it became my turn to lead Girls Camp through this era, it wasn’t a question of if, but how.”

What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from your first summer as Girls Camp Director that you’ll apply to 2022?
“This year, I want to get out and spent more time with campers. I couldn’t do that as much in 2021, so I wasn’t able to see the excitement and joy as campers created in the Craft House or played on the waterfront. Witnessing those experiences feeds my soul on a personal level.”

You are also the Associate Director of the Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University. What does the Prindle Institute do?
“Prindle’s mission is to create excellent ethics education experiences for all ages. In particular, our kindergarten through 12 ethics education gives young people the tools to think through complicated, complex moral issues and to consider multiple perspectives.”

The AYF and Prindle have forged a unique partnership in recent years. Can you explain how the two organizations work together?
“The camp environment allows youth to practice ethical reasoning in a safe, judgement-free space. Prindle enriches AYF’s core curriculum by teaching children philosophy through storytelling, then giving them space to practice those ideas through fun games and activities. These experiences help them understand moral complexities and how to make the best possible decisions in complicated situations.”

What is the value of ethics education for children? How does this tie in with the larger mission of the AYF?
“Ethics education teaches kids to ask normative questions at an early age – asking what ought to happen or what should happen, instead of just blindly following the rules. It’s getting them to think critically at a younger and introduce complex concepts in an approachable way. This aligns with the larger AYF mission of identifying their personal values and striving toward their own best selves.”

What unique challenges do campers face today that a summer at Miniwanca can better prepare them for?
“Campers today live in such a digital world. Camp allows to them to step away from screens and communication through apps. Campers need in-person connection more than ever, to remember how to communicate in person and live in community with others.”

What are you most looking forward to this summer?
“I love the lip sync Nights Doings. Each song starts with just one cabin performing, but by the second verse, the whole community is on their feet and singing along. There’s an unbridled joy that comes from performing in front of your peers like that.”

You are also a camper parent. How has Miniwanca affected your children?
“Miniwanca has introduced them to individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. We live in a pretty rural, homogeneous area of Indiana. Camp opens my kids’ minds and eyes to other cultures and ways of life thanks to the intentionally inclusive communities we create each summer.”

What book has changed how you think or look at the world?
“Good to Great by Jim Collins is a great book that helps managers determine their teams’ skill sets and passion, then put them in the best position to tap those skills and succeed. As the director, I take a lot of ownership in staff recruitment and development – getting the staff to work at its highest and best capacity and abilities. The quality and the enthusiasm of our staff shape our campers’ experiences.”

What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever received?
“[AYF President] Anna Kay Vorsteg told me to take time to rest during the summer. It’s hard to remember to take breaks in the middle of a session, but taking a rest allows me to better serve youth and work toward my best.”