A Vehicle for Change

2020 Annual Report

Our Founder and CEO, Joe Cavanaugh, facilitating our Geometry of a Leader.


Sitting down at this time of the year to write this address to you always provides a moment of personal and professional reflection for me as the leader of this great organization. In the following paragraphs, I’ll share with you the challenges we faced this past year and also the ways in which we are currently adapting to meet our community’s needs, demonstrating the resilience of our mission and the power of hope in action.


The year 2020 — where to begin? Last school year, Youth Frontiers was on track to serve more than 130,000 students, educators and community leaders. We were looking at another record-breaking year for mission impact in numbers and then …


The pandemic hit.

Economic upheaval impacted millions.

Racial tensions erupted.

The floodgates straining to hold back our nation’s partisan vitriol were thrown wide open as our election cycle rushed to its contentious conclusion.


We sat with our community in shock and pain and fear and confusion at the state of our nation, our world. We shut our office doors and put our retreat vans in park. We sat … and then we made the decision to stand.


With in-person programming unavailable, we moved our message online. We called students, educators and community members alike to character. We tried something new with a virtual annual event and brought together our largest audience ever — with the aim to spread hope as much as to raise support for our mission. And we got to work on new and innovative programming to meet the unique and urgent needs of the moment.


2020 will soon be in the rear-view mirror. There are so many lessons to be learned. What can hindsight teach us about the way forward? For Youth Frontiers, this tumultuous year has re-grounded and renewed us in our core mission and purpose — to impact the lives of students, educators and leaders with character and community. Out of chaos has come new opportunities.


I’ve said before that our character-based retreats prepare young people for the bumpy road of life. Youth Frontiers is also prepared to travel the uncertain road that lies before us — regardless of the ruts, fractures and Midwest-sized potholes that might hinder our journey.


As it did for so many other nonprofits, 2020 let some air out of our tires. But we know our programs are vehicles for positive change, and that knowledge is driving us to fulfill our mission and serve our community in three new ways this school year:


Our new Character Academy is preparing young adults for the road ahead. We just “graduated” our first cohort, and here’s what one participant, Stephanie, said she’ll take away from her experience: “Now that I’m armed with who I am and what I have to offer, I want to challenge myself to not only go for what I thought was possible but kind of go to the next step. Make those educated risks. Make those brave choices that I may not have made prior to being armed with this intelligence, this self-awareness.”


Our Engagement Series is supporting teachers in a difficult and stressful year. According to a recent survey by the National Education Association, 28 percent of educators said the coronavirus has made them more likely to leave teaching. We are working to disrupt that trend by helping educators practice perspective, curiosity and self-compassion.


Our Leadership Academy for 11th graders and Geometry of a Leader for adults are grounding leaders in character. By the end of 2020, we will have launched Leadership Academy and completed six Geometry of a Leader series. One participant said, “I recommend the Geometry of a Leader. The principles presented and explored can be applied in the life of any leader, in any context. Youth Frontiers leads the way in values-based leadership inquiry, and Geometry of a Leader is a continuation of their legacy of excellence.” Indeed, when asked, 100 percent of our fall participants agreed that the program helped them to become better leaders.


Not only does this new work allow us to serve our community in innovative ways this year, but it will also broaden and deepen our impact on the lives of students, educators and community leaders alike in the years to come.


With eyes trained on the future, Youth Frontiers is committed to keeping the lessons of 2020 close. Thank you for believing in our mission and helping us see our vision through. Together, we can ensure our next generation of leaders is grounded in character.


748 Youth Frontiers retreats, programs and experiences spread character.

107,658 students, educators and community members experienced our retreats.

754 schools partnered with us to inspire character and build community.

Infinite possibilities — that’s what we’re embracing with our new programming.


Dani Putra


Dani, of Orono High School, received our Chuck Denny Legacy Character Award. A former English Language Learner, Dani has tirelessly worked to ensure everyone has the chance to be heard, and in doing so, found his own voice.

Hear from Dani

Kindness Boomerang Challenge


In a spring of social distancing, Youth Frontiers challenged young people to build community by doing small, yet significant acts of kindness for those around them.

Catch some kindness

Rose E. Purpero Spang


Rose received our Wisconsin Leader of Character Award. An institution in Milwaukee and a former teacher, she dedicates much of her time and resources to supporting character development in students.

Watch her story

Our Mission in Nebraska


Youth Frontiers talked to our partners in Nebraska about our mission’s impact in their community.

See the impact

“All of the surprises and changes in the past year have shown Youth Frontiers that its mission remains relevant and needed. We have adapted, overcome challenges, and maintained our fiscal discipline so that we may continue to pursue our mission for the sake of those we serve.”


— Jon Reissner, President, Activar, Inc.; Board Chair, Youth Frontiers


Ended June 30, 2020

TOTAL REVENUE – $4,694,306
  • Program Fees: 45%

  • Donations: 54%

  • Other: 1%

TOTAL EXPENSES – $4,852,468
  • Programs: 74%

  • Fundraising: 17%

  • Administrative: 9%


Fully audited documents are available upon request.


As it did for so many other nonprofits, businesses and households, COVID-19 created unexpected financial hurdles for our organization. However, in spite of these challenges, we were still able to impact more than 107,600 people through nearly 750 retreats and experiences in the fiscal year 2020. We could not have done this without the generous supporters who are committed to our mission, committed to community and committed to character. We are deeply grateful.



Special thanks to the members of our board who worked tirelessly to support Youth Frontiers in a year full of challenge, change and innovation.

Kenneth M. Bird, Ed.D., President/CEO, Avenue Scholars Foundation

Joe Cavanaugh*, Founder & CEO, Youth Frontiers, Inc.

John Dulin, Vice President, Corning

John Forliti, Retired Chaplain; Community Leader

Karen Hohertz-Jacobs, Senior Director, Procurement Operations and Cost Transformation, Best Buy

Dr. Bruce H. Jackson, Executive Director, The C. Charles Jackson Foundation; CEO, The Institute of Applied Human Excellence

Dwight Johnson, Retired Chrysler Corporation Executive, Community Leader

Tom Langseth, Community Leader

Jim McCorkell, Founder & CEO, College Possible

Ann Miller, Workplace Effectiveness Business Partner, Liberty Diversified International

Jon Reissner,** President, Activar

Heather Teskey,* Chief Marketing Officer, Financial Services, Deluxe

Ryan Vandewiele, Vice President, General Counsel, Hubbard Broadcasting

Prince Wallace, CEO, West Central Environmental Consultants, Inc.

David Walsh, Co-Founder & CEO, Spark & Stitch Institute

Duke Zurek, Director of Retail Stores, Apple, Inc

*FY20 board chair

**Current board chair