Regan Gibson Wiesler first encountered the American Youth Foundation when she attended National Leadership Conference in 2012, an experience that created lasting bonds with her class and the AYF. Since then, she has served as an NLC leader, a Miniwanca Girls Camp seasonal staff member and volunteer, and now as Assistant Girls Camp Director. Learn how Regan’s AYF experience shaped who she is today and why she’s so excited to return as a full-time staffer.
What drew you to the AYF in 2012?
Older participants had explained NLC and the mission of the AYF to me. I was a high schooler at the time, and the mission of finding my “best self” really resonated with me as an amazing opportunity to learn more about myself as a leader and as a human.
What was the most meaningful part of your NLC experience?
NLC creates so many intentional relationships between participants and with participants and staff. So many people I first met in 2012 are still people that I know I can lean on in the harder times. There are amazing volunteers at every age and from all over the country and world, so you can make cross-generational and cross-country friendships.
Why did you decide to join the Girls Camp seasonal staff?
After an amazing four years with NLC, I really wanted to dig deeper into the AYF and use what the program taught me in a constructive way, and Girls Camp was the perfect opportunity. The summer camp programs were a completely new, but complemented my NLC experience in a beautiful way. I got to work with our Senior Avail campers on service projects throughout camp and be their leader as they completed their capstone experience of Girls Camp after I had just completed my NLC capstone experience.
You were also a Four Trails leader. What is one of your favorite on-trail or camping moments?
One of my favorite Four Trails experiences was when our Miniwanca Odyssey trip rode into Merrowvista. Merrowvista staff and campers celebrated us and our journey and welcomed us with open arms. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know us or have the same trips – they welcomed us home as one big AYF family. They introduced us into some of their traditions (jumping into Dan Hole Pond) and folded us into their community. It was a beautiful moment of togetherness between our two camps.
What do you do in your role as Assistant Director for Girls Camp?
I get to work as a team with the Girls Camp Director Emily Knuth to help shape our summer community. We get to build our team of leaders, specialists, and coordinators, talk with families and campers throughout the year, and really design how we want summer 2022 to be. The best part is once we move onsite for the summer. We get to live in community with the campers and staff at Miniwanca as we all explore best self and balanced living and how we can apply that to life in camp and out of camp.
What part of the AYF philosophy resonates with you most today?
I think balanced living is what resonates with me most right now. COVID was a chance to reexamine my priorities and how I was living my life, and now I’m trying to find a balance for the ways life has changed over the past two years.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of the AYF?
I love to bake – especially chocolate chip cookies. I spend a lot of time reading, cycling, cooking, and trying all the local food options around Indianapolis.
What is a little-known fact about yourself?
I work with students at a performing arts center, helping to teach them about technical theater, specifically lighting design. I’ve been the lighting designer for over 10 musicals and favorites include Newsies and Into the Woods.
The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. How have you coped with the challenges and changes COVID-19 caused?
Working in EMS/health care during the pandemic definitely gave a larger sense of purpose, but was exhausting and it was very easy to fall out of balance. To regain balance, I would return to the things that brought me joy – cycling, walking outside, reading, and baking. I also wanted to learn a new skill, so I committed to trying a garden and had a lovely harvest throughout the summer and fall that gave me a connection back to nature.
What are you most excited for in summer 2022?
I’m excited to be back on site for a full summer with campers and staff! You don’t get to meet as many people or create as deep of relationships when you are volunteering for a week, and I can’t wait to be with old friends and make new ones.
What camp tradition are you looking forward to next year?
Singing on the beach during Evening Reflection. There is something so special about singing with a group of people that connects you to one another, and the landscape of the sun setting over Lake Michigan could not be more beautiful.