Vision, Mission, & Values

Inspired people unleashing their best in the world

Our Mission

The American Youth Foundation dares people to discover and celebrate the very best in themselves and others, inspires them to explore diverse perspectives and complex challenges, and emboldens them to live courageously, engaging their full capacity.

Our Values

We believe how we act and interact reflects who we are as a community. In practice, at the AYF we value…

Investing in Youth
Empowering youth is the core of our mission. We aim to offer equitable access to outdoor, experiential adventures. We seek to amplify youth voices as they recognize their own agency, articulate their ideas, and act with bold purpose throughout their lives.

Stewarding the Environment
Our programs foster a sense of respect and reverence for the natural world. We commit to using only what we need in order to minimize our impact on the planet.  We practice environmental stewardship, conserving resources for future generations and offering the experience of connecting deeply with the natural world

Enkindling Inner Sparks
Each person has inherent strengths and passions that, when ignited, form the foundation of best self and a balanced life. We challenge people to be brave, think creatively, develop wholehearted social connections, and explore their values and beliefs.

Belonging in Community
Our communities are joy-filled, optimistic, hopeful places where each person is encouraged to explore through play and express their own authentic spirit. We aspire to create spaces where all people are included and feel a sense of belonging. In these thriving program communities, diverse perspectives provide a foundation to build greater understanding and foster equity.

Growing Together
Teamwork and collaboration provide essential tools for overcoming challenges. We believe powerful growth happens when we live in community, set boundaries, and take healthy risks. To adventure daringly with the support of others is an opportunity to put our best selves into action.

Program Outcomes

Discovering and Developing Your Own Best Self

AYF program days are filled with new experiences designed to encourage participants to develop a deeper understanding of who they are and what they are capable of achieving – their own best self.

They will grow in confidence as they learn to celebrate their unique sense of self, while taking advantage of opportunities to put their best self into action.

Participants will:

  • Value themselves as unique, capable individuals.
  • Grow in self-confidence as they discover more about their capacities.
  • Explore how their values and “Best Self” influence their decision-making.
  • Recognize their agency, articulate their ideas, and act with purpose.
Growing Through the Four Folds

AYF’s Four Folds is a signature framework through which participants assess their strengths and areas of growth through four complimentary facets of life (mental, physical, social, and reverential).

Our program days provide diverse activities in each “fold” creating opportunities for young people to stretch their minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits.

Participants will:

  • Reflect on the mental, social, physical, and reverential different facets of their life, identifying strengths and areas for exploration and growth.
  • Practice developing clearly defined goals and taking healthy risks.
  • Gain resilience as they work through the challenges of trying new things.
  • Identify how each day includes opportunities in all four folds.
Working Together to Build Community

When youth come together to create AYF program communities, they gain a greater understanding of their impact on the people around them. They develop the skills for creating and maintaining healthy friendships and gain a greater understanding of their role and value within a group.

Participants create shared expectations for how they will have fun and work together successfully, with safety and kindness at the core. Programs provide opportunities to strengthen relationships, practice acting with integrity in navigating challenges, and share in the responsibility of caring for a larger community.

Participants will:

  • Develop skills important to creating and maintaining healthy friendships.
  • Practice effectively working within a group to achieve a common goal.
  • Learn positive leadership skills and show support for others.
  • Identify their role in creating a sense of belonging within community.
Making a Positive Difference in the World

In AYF programs, participants are called to reflect on their actions and impact – both positive and negative – gaining a greater understanding of the positive difference they can make for others.

Staff members guide in making connections between program and home, identifying how their actions each day have the power to make a positive difference in their communities and the world around them.

Participants will:

  • Recognize how their actions and interactions impact others.
  • Take responsibility to act for the good of others and for a sustainable environment.
  • Make connections between lessons learned in program and how they apply to home.
  • Develop a greater understanding of how everyday actions have the power to make a positive difference in their communities and the world around them.

Who We Are

What We Do

American Youth Foundation programs welcome people to discover their own best selves, the richness of living a balanced life, and the power of creating inclusive, caring communities. We are a nonprofit youth development organization whose mission has provided the foundation for all that we do since 1925.

Thousands of youth engage in programs year-round at our beautiful properties at Merrowvista in New Hampshire and Miniwanca in Michigan. People from across the country and around the world come to AYF facilities for community and school programs, summer camps, and leadership conferences. Our programs inspire individuals and groups to put their best into action and make a difference in big and small ways each day.

Our Commitment to Equity and Inclusion

The American Youth Foundation invites all people to be their own best selves, and we seek to create communities where no one is intentionally excluded because of who they are. We enthusiastically welcome staff and participants with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and identities. The AYF continually assesses our practices through a broad lens of cultural competency and is committed to taking action and changing for the better of all.

We value each person’s right to fully experience our programs free from prejudice and harassment based on race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or other aspects of their identity. We believe the diversity within our program communities enriches the learning for all, provided everyone feels safe to be their own best self.

All reasonable efforts will be made to accommodate participants with different experiences, conditions, strengths, and abilities. Our goal is to include as many participants as possible; however, we are limited in what we can provide in terms of medical care. We partner with families in a thorough medical review process to determine if we can safely serve their child.

Our Motto

The American Youth Foundation’s motto, “My own self, at my very best, all the time,” is the framework for discovery and growth within our programs. We begin by creating communities at Merrowvista and Miniwanca where young people feel welcome to be their own selves and where they are encouraged to discover who they are and what they are capable of. AYF programs provide opportunities for participants to explore what it means to be at their best— not the best, but their own best selves.

Our program activities are intentionally designed to allow young people to put their best selves into action, challenging them to unlock their highest potential and discover their unique gifts that can positively affect the world around them. Once participants have practiced being their own selves at their very best, they are better prepared to bring that awareness to their actions each day— all the time.

“All the time” does not mean perfection. Instead it invites participants to be mindful that all they do and say affects themselves, the people around them, and the world around them. It is about the best we can bring to any given moment and recognizing when they are not at their best so they can strive to do better next time.

“My own self, at my very best, all the time” invites everyone to celebrate our own selves (our own uniqueness and value), to strive to be at our very best (our own best, guided by our beliefs), all the time (inspiring mindfulness and resilience). Our hope is that every person immersed in the AYF experience will find the motto as a source of inspiration throughout their life.