Wayfinders help Merrowvista grow

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When people think of summer camps, they don’t normally think of hard hats and power tools. However, the Wayfinder program at Merrowvista provides campers with the opportunity to put on these hard hats and think critically at camp.

Wayfinders are campers entering grade 11 who spend three weeks completing a service-learning project. These projects are no small feat – previous years’ Wayfinders deconstructed and rebuilt the Ledge Shelter (now called the North Star Shelter), built a new shelter for the camp bell, and rebuilt a log cabin on the A-field.

The 2023 project is a complete rebuilding and renovation of the garden behind the Eating Lodge. Fourteen Wayfinders started from the ground up to build a greenhouse that will benefit the Merrowvista community environmentally, ethically, and socially.

Dayna Vuksinick, Director of Community and School Programs and Wayfinder group leader, said this Wayfinder group consisted of all returning campers who were particularly passionate about this project.

“This project allows Merrowvista veterans to appreciate the community they grew up in,” Vuksinick said. “This is a way for them to learn and respect and appreciate how far they’ve come since being young campers and be able to give to the future community that will come through here. I hope they take away a sense of pride from everything they have done and worked on.

Prior to this project, the side yard adjacent to the Eating Lodge housed a small garden consisting of a few raised beds that campers and staff occasionally used. Wayfinders breathed new life into this space to make it a fully functioning garden.

They started by removing the raised beds and all the grass and leveled the space with gravel. They also poured concrete for the foundation of the base of the poles for the greenhouse. Once they had a sturdy base, they constructed the actual greenhouse, which will house raised beds to extend the New England growing season. Additional raised beds and picnic tables were added to provide a more welcoming feel to the space.

Merrowvista will use it to grow food for the kitchen, as an interest group activity for future summer camps, and for programming during school and community programs.

Wayfinder camper Robin Murphy said the greenhouse taught him a lot about confidence and leadership in group projects. “It has taught me where I can be helpful and make decisions,” he said. “It has also taught me that chipping in looks different for every person.”

Learning these skills promotes healthy habits and relationships for campers when they head home and enter back into their daily life.

Murphy also said this project helps support the Wayfinder program for years to come. He said the project is visible. Younger campers and staff members can see the progress that has taken place.

Camper Maddy Wetlaufer said this project taught her about the power of coming together and everybody’s strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, it allowed Wayfinders to give back to their community.

“This project is just a little repayment to the Merrowvista community for what they have done for us over the years,” she said.