Paul Kerchberger joined the American Youth Foundation in 2021, but he’s no stranger to summer camp life. He spent his youth soaring among the trees on the high ropes course and zip line at Owasippe Scout Reservation before teaching others to do the same as a seasonal staff member. He thought his summer camp days were over after college graduation until he found the Miniwanca Recruitment and Retention Manager role online. Starting this fall, he returned to his programming roots as Boys Camp Director. Learn more about Paul’s plans for summer 2023.
Last year was your first with the AYF as a Recruitment and Retention Manager. What was the biggest lesson you learned last summer?
The biggest lesson I learned from summer 2022 was how deeply invested the Miniwanca staff is to facilitating the mission of the organization. Coming from a Scouting camp, I had little insight on what to expect from Miniwanca culture and tradition. To my delight, I was quickly surrounded by joyful individuals who share my mindset: mission over everything. The Miniwanca staff are individually excellent at providing an exceptional program to youth and simply need guidance from leadership to be successful.
This year, you moved into the Boys Camp Director role. Why does that role appeal to you?
The Boys Camp Director is the role where I can have the most impact on programming and participation. I spent most of my time at my previous camp in a leadership position. I have seen nearly every situation imaginable in a summer camping setting, and my fondest memories are working toward achieving our mission goals with both staff and campers.
What are you most looking forward to this summer?
I am absolutely thrilled to be reentering the world of program this summer. Last summer, I found it challenging to interact with the campers and contribute to their experience while also completing my duties. I could not be more enthusiastic about being involved in all programs this summer and assist my staff in providing the Miniwanca experience to all campers.
Is there anything new we can expect for Boys Camp 2023?
While I don’t wish to give away too many surprises for 2023, I intend to take a critical look at the Boys Camp schedule to ensure it contains as many well-prepared experiences as possible. Boys Camp participants should anticipate Interest Groups led by subject matter experts and grandiose camp-wide events that thrill and amaze. One could say that my excitement for the potential of our 2023 programming is inflating by the day.
What is one of your favorite summer camp memories?
My favorite summer camp memory came when I was 19, and I was the director of my camp’s first-year program for campers 10 to 11 years old. One week, I had the opportunity to work with 20 foreign exchange Scouts from Beijing. They joined my existing class of 20 American Scouts and changed my perspective of the world. Even though instruction was a challenge, as we needed a translator for all communication, they approached each new experience with excitement and without hesitation. I would wager that I learned much more from them that week than they did from me!
What is one of the biggest challenges facing youth today and how does summer camp help them face it?
I believe the largest challenge youth face today is the unrealistic expectations of success and conformity that social media places upon them. This nearly constant pressure makes finding their own unique qualities and abilities exceedingly difficult. The AYF directly combats this challenge by removing the external pressure and promoting individuality. In my opinion, the mission of our camps and programs is one of the best steps youth can take toward becoming the best version of themselves.
What do you enjoy doing outside of the AYF?
When I am not having fun at the AYF, I still enjoy spending my time outside! Whether it is canoeing, golfing, or just sitting around the fire with friends and family, I always do my best to remain connected to the wilderness and those that matter the most to me.
What book has changed how you think or look at the world?
A book I read recently that made the largest impact on my worldview was Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, the memoir of Gary Noesner, one of the pioneers of crisis negotiation. He explains that whether the situation is mundane or an actual crisis, the best negotiation tactic is understanding the other party’s situation, beliefs, or intent. His memoir helped me understand that real leadership – and real humanity – is learning about other’s experiences and meeting them where they are to come to an equal solution.
What is one of the greatest pieces of advice you’ve ever received?
It’s actually a quote from Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” This quote reminds me that each of us is personally responsible for our own fate and destiny. We will get out of life what we put into it, and I intend to live each day with this in mind.
If you could be a Miniwanca camper today, what Interest Group would you absolutely sign up for?
Without a doubt, I would choose the high ropes challenge course. I will never turn down an opportunity to get back on a ropes course and relive the thrill I felt when I was starting my summer camp staff career!
As Miniwanca and the AYF look toward the next 100 years, where do you hope our organization is headed?
In the next 100 years I sincerely hope the AYF continues to grow and provide as many developmental experiences to youth as possible. The work we do here makes substantial impacts on the lives of children, and the more children we can reach, the more confident and empowered adults the future will hold!