Mission & Philosophy

The American Youth Foundation inspires people to discover and develop their personal best, to seek balance in mental, physical, social and spiritual living, and to make a positive difference in their communities and in the wider world.

Who We Are

Who We Are

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.

Program Philosophy

American Youth Foundation programs bring the mission to life, challenging individuals to act at their best. Programs actively engage participants in creating communities where all feel welcome and respected, In these safe environments, individuals can learn and grow.

Days are filled with activities that are fun, encourage creativity, and allow participants to take on real responsibilities in the care of themselves, one another, and the world we live in. Staff support participants as they problem solve challenges, developing resilience, confidence, and a greater sense of who they are and what they can achieving.

As young people face an increasingly complicated and pressured world, the need for helping youth develop character is more important than ever. We believe participants in AYF programs will:

  • Approach life with clearly defined goals
  • Strive to be their own self, at their very best, all the time
  • Act in ways that are consistent with their values
  • Gain cultural competency by practicing equity and inclusion in a diverse community
  • Discover and develop their capacity to make a difference in their communities and the wider world
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.

Core Values


We seek to build inclusive communities where we awaken, educate and empower our staff and participants to work for equity and social justice.


We commit to creating safe environments in which all people can boldly take emotional and physical risks as a way to discover more about themselves and their capacities.


We seek to engage people from diverse cultures, identities, and perspectives, and to impart respect for others by developing cultural competency.


We strive to instill responsibility to act for the good of others and to develop a greater understanding of the impact of our actions on the world around us.


We recognize the interconnectedness of the world’s communities and will strive to be responsible in our use of environmental and human resources.

Program Outcomes

We seek to create quality experiences that are both fun and lead to intentional learning. We believe that in order to have fun and learn, participants must first be and feel safe. AYF programs are built to achieve the specific programmatic goals of our partners, as well as the following outcomes:

Best Self

AYF programs provide participants with opportunities to discover and develop their best selves. Days at Miniwanca and Merrowvista are filled with new experiences, successes, and moments of challenge. These experiences are designed to encourage participants to stretch as they develop a deeper understanding of who they are and what they are capable of achieving. They will feel valued for their unique gifts, gaining confidence while taking advantage of opportunities to put their best self into action.

Balanced Living

Seeking balance in the mental, physical, social, and religious or spiritual aspects of our lives is a key element of developing best self. These pillars, or four folds, are represented in our logo and serve as another framework for our camp and conference programs as participants are encouraged to stretch their minds, bodies, hearts and spirits. Our days at camp and on-trail are designed to allow young people to practice balance and to gain an understanding of its importance and connectedness to best self.

Inclusive Community

One of the most powerful aspects of AYF programs is the intentional creation of communities in our beautiful locations, set apart from their daily routine. Each participant is encouraged to discover and be their own ‘best self’, and to see and respect the best in others. 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 in newly forming groups. Participants practice acting with integrity as they navigate individual and group challenges, and share in the responsibility of caring for their newly formed community.

The AYF encourages participants to develop skills important to creating and maintaining healthy friendships as they gain a greater understanding of their role and value within a group. When youth live in, and care for, the communities created in AYF programs, they also gain a greater understanding of the impact of their actions on the world around them.

Making a Positive Difference

Participants actively engage in creating and caring for the communities at Miniwanca and Merrowvista. Regular conversations throughout each day invite reflection on what they did, why, and what impact their actions had—both positive and negative. These conversations might range in topic from how a group approached a team challenge to where our food waste goes. This immersion in an intentional community allows participants to gain a greater understanding of the positive difference they can make. Staff members guide participants in making connections between camp and home, developing a greater understanding of how their actions each day have the power to make a positive difference in their communities and the world around them.

Guiding Principles

In recent years, we have found that in order to achieve our mission it is necessary to expand our lens. Mindfulness around how we build community and how we use resources in program, in our communities, and around the world, is central to our fulfillment of our mission.

We believe by providing programs that include AYF’s Sustainability and Food Program Guiding Principles, we can better prepare young people to be their best selves in meeting the increasingly complex problems facing our world.

And in all of our efforts and in all of our relationships we are fully committed to non-discrimination.

Sustainability Guiding Principles

The American Youth Foundation strives to inspire staff and participants to act with intention. The good that comes from these actions should far exceed their cost. We seek to produce more than we consume. We will use renewable resources when we can.

We will not only protect our environment, but ensure that it flourishes. We believe this effort is required to sustain not only the AYF, but all life in the greater world. We acknowledge that our footprint has far-reaching effects, and we intend to set an example for how to live a cleaner, more balanced life.

Food Program Guiding Principles

We strive to:

Inspire respect and reverence for food, understanding the blessing and value of the food that we have and the knowledge that many in our world will go to bed hungry.

Reduce the carbon foot print of our food programs, both in getting food to our tables and reducing our waste. We will be mindful of how far our food travels to reach our table, choosing local options when possible. We will focus on composting and reducing food waste.

Educate and empower participants and staff toward action. Spend time talking about what and why we are eating, why we compost and weigh our ORT. We will be mindful of the link between how we fuel our bodies and the development of our Best Self.

Develop menus that provide a variety of healthy options for our participants and staff. We will seek to offer premium fuel menu options including whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables.


Recognizing the full value of all, the American Youth Foundation affords equal opportunity for employment and program participation to all individuals on the basis of merit and/or eligibility without regard to race, color, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, familial status, religion, national origin, citizenship, disability, age, military status, or any other basis prohibited by law.