Staff Spotlight: Miniwanca’s Tiwi Freeman

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Director, Tiwi, Boys Camp, Miniwanca, Stony Lake

Tiwi Freeman can never stay away from the American Youth Foundation too long. He first connected with the AYF in 2010 through Merrowvista, where he worked in a variety of seasonal staff roles. He holds a technology degree from the University of Southern Maine and combined that skill with his passion for youth development at an after-school enrichment company that created STEM-based curriculum.

In spring 2018, Freeman returned to the AYF as a Community and School Programs Facilitator at Miniwanca, then joined the full-time team as Boys Camp Program Coordinator and then Boys Camp Director in 2019. Now he’s returned once again to lead Boys Camp this summer, and he’s so excited to be back on the dunes. Get to know Tiwi Freeman!

This is your second time as Boys Camp Director. What did you learn the first time that will inform how you approach the job this time?

“One of the biggest things I learned is how to be flexible with a schedule. We put so much time and energy into planning for the summer during the offseason. It’s very easy to get so excited about all the activities, and if plans need to change, it can be disappointing. One of favorite co-workers, Chelsea, once shared with me: ‘Don’t get comfortable!’ It’s so important to be flexible and shape the summer based on what the community needs.”

Why did you want to return to the Boys Camp Director role?

“If I’ve learned anything in my time working for the AYF, it’s that I love to serve. I knew that I still had unused capacities to serve the youth in AYF programs and that I needed to act on them. I love that this role offers so many different opportunities to help support the development of youth and young adults to be their very best.”

What are you most looking forward to in summer 2024?

“I’m looking forward to the camp atmosphere of growth and community. I can’t wait for a fire circle and seeing what wild, fun skit ideas our campers have come up with to perform for the rest of camp. I also can’t wait to sit on the porch of Stony Lodge on Bryant Field and hear the joy and laughter of camp echo through the dunes.”

Miniwanca has lots of big and small traditions. What are some of your favorite ones at Boys Camp?

“I love how the staff and youth come together at the Fifth Year Banquet to celebrate participants who have been at camp for five years or more. We have our own way of bringing fanciness to camp, and I love all the fun attention to detail that everyone brings to the night. I also really enjoy the Evening Reflections we have at the top of Baldy. I love looking over the huge dune to see the sun setting over Lake Michigan. It’s one of my favorite places to reflect at camp.”

If you could be a Miniwanca camper for one day, what activities would you make sure to try?

“Oh, I’ve dreamed about that exact idea a few times actually! My perfect Interest Group rotation would be Reading with a View before lunch and then maybe Woodshop in the afternoon. My dream Night’s Doings – well, I really need to get a chance to run in Wanca Kart! I think I would be really good at it.”

You’ve spent time at both Merrowvista and Miniwanca during your career with the AYF. How do they compare to one another? What unites them both as AYF?  

“I think Miniwanca and Merrowvista have a lot more in common with each other than people give them credit for. The camp communities are so welcoming and caring! Although some of the big games and activities are different, the core of the fun is in connecting through play. The biggest difference is geologically. The Canaan Valley is abundant with peace and beauty, nestled up in the White Mountains. And when I first came to Miniwanca, I was blown away by the dunes. They are incredibly unique, and it’s so special that we get to walk and play on them at camp.”

What were some of your most important experiences of your internship at Merrowvista?

“I think one of the most important experiences I had during my internship was being able to coordinate with a school group coming for one of our community and school programs. It was invaluable practice in how to support a group of youth and chaperones coming to camp. It was the first time I had a taste of what working for the AYF full-time could look like, and it thrilled and intrigued me. I don’t think I would be here today without that experience.

“The other huge piece of growth and understanding I made was learning how to work well in a team. I was only one member of a large team that all needed to work and grow together to accomplish the incredibly high standards that we had. I learned about my own leadership and communications style, and how to work best with others and their own styles. I have so much love and respect for the rest of that I-45 class.”

Did you attend any summer camp or have any other formative outdoor education experiences as a kid?

“Growing up in Maine, I spent my summers outside a lot. In middle school, my mom frequently had to come track me down in the woods behind our house to get me to come in for dinner. I would blaze trails and built many tree houses.”

What is your advice to a camper who may be coming to Miniwanca by themselves for the first time?

“My advice to those campers would be to check out our Miniwanca video to get an idea of at what camp looks and sounds like. I know when I am going to a new place, I am always a little bit nervous because I don’t know everything to expect. That video does a great job of showing you places around camp and the types of people you will meet at camp. And that video isn’t just for show, those people that look they are having so much fun? They really are!”

Outside of camp, what are some of your favorite things to do in your downtime?

“I am a board game nerd. I’m not a huge fan of classic board games, but I really enjoy more modern games from the past 20 years or so. I also really love to play Magic the Gathering and the Pokemon trading card game. If I’m not playing something like those with my friends, I’m out on an adventure exploring the area around my new home in West Michigan or snuggling with my two cats on the couch.” 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“There was a seasonal staff member at Merrowvista  who taught me a lot about gratitude. It wasn’t direct advice; it was just my own observations about how he conducted his life. He approached every situation as an opportunity to observe and understand new things and share his thanks for whatever that was. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone say thank you as much as he did. He was genuine and earnest every time.

“I don’t think I am as overly positive and grateful as he was, but I make it a point to share my gratitude whenever possible. So many people in this world do things that help others, and it costs very little to acknowledge that and share some joy and kindness with the world around you.”