The Character Movement

Play at Youth Frontiers

Play Works

By Sarah Barchus, Communications Specialist at Youth Frontiers

At Youth Frontiers, we love to embrace our inner child and exercise play, an activity sorely underestimated in our workaholic culture. With “achiever” as one of my top five strengths, I get it; using time, one of our most precious and unrecoverable resources, during the workday to have a chat, joke around, maybe even have a little dance party – a regular occurrence at YF – can seem counterproductive. Happily, research has shown and we have experienced that in fact, the opposite is true.

“Play at work helps reveal our authentic selves in an environment that may otherwise cause us to be guarded,” our Director of Programs and Experiences, Todd Hansen explained.

When we are allowed to be complete humans at work, we form a more creative, connected and balanced team. In this unity, we thrive as employees, as individuals and as a community.


YF went canoeing last year with Wilderness Inquiry

Our philosophy on play originates with our Founder & CEO, Joe Cavanaugh. Joe’s energy pervaded Youth Frontiers from its nascent stages, and just as children do, the organization learned and grew through a combination of hard work and fun. Youth Frontiers has endeavored to maintain that balance so that employees leave work feeling that they’ve not only had a full day, but also a fulfilling one.

The method to what sometimes can look like madness – picture our office staff trying to go-go with Lady Gaga during our occasional Just Dance breaks – is perhaps most easily explained by the well-known fable of the rocks, pebbles and sand. Allow me to explain.

One day, a professor began his class with a demonstration. He set a large beaker stacked to the rim with big rocks in front of his students. “Is the beaker full?” he asked. His class nodded. He then poured pebbles into the beaker until they too reached the rim. “What about now?” His class nodded again. The professor next emptied a bag of sand over the mix, until it brimmed. “And now?” The class, confident the beaker could hold nothing more, nodded adamantly. Finally, the professor cracked open a beer. As the drink frothed at the top of the beaker, the professor winked at his class and said, “There’s always room for a beer.”

The moral of the story is not that beer is better on the rocks, but rather that even when we might be slammed at work, there is still room for play. We haven’t achieved “fullness” or success as an organization until we take time for that happy hour, that goofy dance break, that moment of community in the chaos. This is why we make play part of our culture, from our retreats to our staff fun days.

Several times throughout the year, our staff takes a break from our work for a day to enjoy and reconnect with each other. This year, we kicked off the fall with a backyard party at our Founder & CEO Joe Cavanaugh’s house. Spike ball, volleyball, delicious food and great people made the scene the place to be. (See main photo above.)

Later we flexed our mad croquet, lawn bowling and lawn lounging skills at Centennial Lakes Park.

And most recently we found ourselves with just the right amount of cooks in the kitchen at Kitchen Window.


When you need to reset and reconnect with your full self and with your community, remember, play works. Alright, enough reading for now. It’s your turn – go play!

Fatal error: Uncaught Error: Call to undefined function get_magic_quotes_gpc() in /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-content/themes/stockholm/functions.php:1180 Stack trace: #0 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-content/themes/stockholm/includes/shortcodes/shortcodes.php(3650): qode_addslashes('Play Works') #1 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-includes/shortcodes.php(433): social_share_list(Array, '', 'social_share_li...') #2 [internal function]: do_shortcode_tag(Array) #3 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-includes/shortcodes.php(273): preg_replace_callback('/\\[(\\[?)(social...', 'do_shortcode_ta...', '[social_share_l...') #4 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-content/themes/stockholm/templates/blog/blog_single-loop.php(349): do_shortcode('[social_share_l...') #5 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-includes/template.php(812): require('/home/youthf11/...') #6 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-includes/template.php(745): load_template('/home/youthf11/...', false, Array) #7 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-includes/general-template.php(206): locate_template(Array, true, false, Array) #8 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-content/themes/stockholm/single.php(79): get_template_part('templates/blog/...', 'loop') #9 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-includes/template-loader.php(106): include('/home/youthf11/...') #10 /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-blog-header.php(19): require_once('/home/youthf11/...') #11 /home/youthf11/public_html/index.php(17): require('/home/youthf11/...') #12 {main} thrown in /home/youthf11/public_html/wp-content/themes/stockholm/functions.php on line 1180