A Vision Forward

2021 Annual Report

Joe Cavanaugh
Founder and CEO, Youth Frontiers


Last year was one of the toughest our mission has faced in more than 30 years. With schools closed and finances strapped, we were staring down a year of presumed zeros.


Zero programs. Zero revenue. Zero impact.


Yet, our small-but-mighty team beat the odds. After a year of hard work and hard-won hope, out of seemingly nothing, we created something new. We laid a path forward.


We delivered more than 100 programs, all of them freshly invented or dramatically reimagined for the virtual space. In all, we impacted 4,500 students, educators and leaders with our message of character.


Zero of those wins would have happened without you. We depended on our donors like never before, your contributions making up the vast majority of our revenue last year. You gave generously so that we were able to offer many of our new character programs to students and educators for free. In the end, we raised more than $2 million in support for our mission, surpassing our revenue goal in June’s final hours.


Perhaps one of the most surprising things to come out of last year’s chaos and confusion, more important than any stand-alone stat, was a renewed clarity of vision. At Youth Frontiers, we envision a future where our next generation of leaders is grounded in character — for we believe there is no more powerful change agent for making our world a kinder, more civil and respectful place to live.


To that end, we are broadening our work with youth, now meeting them wherever they are: in schools, other nonprofits, youth groups and beyond. This year, we’re fully booked for our classic student retreats, averaging two a day, and our new programs, like Character Academy for Generation Z, are growing. Our programs are gaining momentum again.


As part of our mission’s expanded vision, we are calling adults to character: the teachers, parents and leaders who serve as kids’ role models and who shape our communities. We’re doing this with our Elements of an Engaged Educator series, our Parent Academy, our Geometry of a Leader series … the list goes on.


We’re entering these frontiers, some familiar and some new, with a mission stronger, more impactful and more needed than ever. For when youth and adults alike — all of us — act with kindness and courage and respect, then our community and our nation will become better places for all.


Thank you for taking action. Thank you for supporting us when we needed you most. And thank you for believing in our Vision Forward.

We provide experiences that inspire character, civility and community.
We envision a future where our next generation of leaders is grounded in character.

117 Youth Frontiers retreats, programs and experiences spread character in a year when that number could easily have been zero.

4,464 students, educators and community members across the Midwest and beyond experienced our retreats.

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

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


from the 2020-21 school year

2021 Virtual Annual Event: Back to the YFuture


To save Youth Frontiers’ mission from disappearing during the pandemic, Maddie and Josh must venture where no Youth Fronterian has gone before: the future. From the moment they take off, it’s lights, camera, mission in action! What happens next? There’s only one way to find out …

Go Back to the YFuture

2020 Character Award Winner


Right before the pandemic hit in 2020, Erik Moberg, then a senior at New Richmond High School, received the Youth Frontiers Character Award for his deep empathy and quiet outreach to his classmates. Though we were unable to celebrate Erik at our typical spring leadership luncheon, we shared his story virtually that September.

Watch Erik's story

Character Academy


Youth Frontiers prepares kids to navigate the road of life. Launched in fall 2020, Character Academy (CA) equips Generation Z with the character tools they need to remain strong, responsible and humble — no matter where their paths lead.

Check out CA

Virtual Purpose Retreat


Our Purpose Retreat helps educators turn up their music (their  purpose) and turn down the static everything that gets in the way of living out that purpose. Last year, YF brought that retreat to life online.

See Purpose in action

Geometry of a Leader


We launched our virtual Geometry of a Leader (GOAL) Conference, bringing 100+ character-driven leaders from around the country and beyond to connect and get re-grounded in presence, humility and courage — the values needed to lead well in these times and all times.

Get a glimpse of GOAL

“Last year showed the vision, resolve and grit of this entire organization. Innovation thrived at Youth Frontiers.It took resiliency and determination from every person in the organization to deliver our vibrant programs using new and dynamic mediums. We could not have accomplished any of it without the continued support of our donors for which we are so grateful. Operating with prudent fiscal management ensured that our foundation remained solid, enabling us to continue spreading our message and serving our community. Having triumphed over last year, Youth Frontiers remains well positioned to provide experiences that inspire character, civility and community to a world crying out for it.”


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


Ended June 30, 2021

TOTAL REVENUE – $2,777,319
  • Program Fees: 4%

  • Donations: 72%

  • PPP Loan Forgiveness: 24%

TOTAL EXPENSES – $2,056,391
  • Programs: 55%

  • Fundraising: 27%

  • Administrative: 18%


Fully audited documents are available upon request.


Pre-pandemic, Youth Frontiers fueled our mission through a nearly equal split between school program fees and the generosity of our donors. This model significantly reduced the retreat cost to schools, while keeping them vested in the experience. It kept our mission strong and steady. Last year, with schools in crisis and in-person retreats off the table, we depended on our supporters like never before to sustain our mission. And they showed up. They gave to us, and we gave the year our all. We created new character programs for youth, teachers and leaders — and gave many of those offerings away entirely for free. We are deeply grateful for all who enabled us to keep our mission moving forward.



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

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

John Dulin, Vice President, Corning

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

Dwight Johnson, Retired Chrysler Corporation Executive, Community Leader

Tom Langseth, Community Leader

Jim McCorkell, Founder & CEO, College Possible

Jon Reissner,** President, Activar

Ryan Vandewiele, Vice President, General Counsel, Hubbard Broadcasting

Duke Zurek, Retired, Apple Inc. Global Retail Strategy; Leadership Consultant


*FY21 & FY22 board members

**FY21 & FY22 board chair