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John Power
At this summer's Time to Blossom conference, young women participated in a service project to decorate and fill 150 "Birthday Boxes" for children at the Child Crisis Center.

MESA, Ariz. — With an added dose of service projects and testimony building workshops, the second annual Time to Blossom conference was a time of growth and transformation for the nearly 500 young women who participated this year.

While most 11-to-16-year-olds were filling their summer with frills and fluff, those at the two five-day conference sessions held in Mesa, Ariz., were learning how to serve and support others, while gaining self-confidence.

During this year’s Time to Blossom conference, participants from Arizona, Utah, California and other states, were entertained by top artists, including Alex Boye and American Idol’s Brooke White. They heard messages from popular motivational speakers, including John Bytheway and Brad Wilcox, etiquette specialist Vivian Cline and body image specialists April Price and Rachel Stewart.

“It was such a wonderful experience being at Time to Blossom. It was like being in an explosion of happiness," conference presenter, Nanci Wudel said. "The participants were so fun, so kind to one another, and so respectful and appreciative of the speakers and leaders. These young women were amazing.

“From scrapbooking, to service projects, to speakers, to spiritual presentations, it was a total package of everything that’s positive and uplifting," Wudel added.

Interactive experiences, time for introspection and a successful service project helped the girls put what they were learning into practice, making it a truly life-altering event.

The service project was planned and orchestrated by Francine Waring, Sherry Pierce and Carrie Mannec, who say they were pleased with the results. The girls brought with them new toys, art supplies and small gifts, which were sorted into age-appropriate groups.

“They were extremely generous and thoughtful with the items they brought,” Waring said.

The girls wrapped the gifts and decorated and filled more than 150 “Birthday Boxes,” complete with a personal note inside. The finished boxes were donated to the local Child Crisis Center, where they will be given to children on their birthdays.

“The girls really seemed understand that this box may be all these kids get for their birthdays. This is it," Mannec said. "The project helped the girls see how fortunate they are, but also brought a real sense of service to them."

The Time to Blossom conferences were started by Debbie Forrest and Carla Jorgensen, both from Mesa.

"This year’s event was even more exciting and successful than our first conference last year," said Forrest, who as a Brigham Young University student, was co-founder of the BYU Women’s Conference.

Jorgensen, a certified life coach, said it's the organizers' desire is to strengthen every girl who attends and help them be better prepared to face today’s challenges.

“The main goal of the conference is that when these girls leave, that they will truly know their worth and truly know that each of them is a special daughter of our Father in Heaven and that they would see themselves the way our Father in Heaven and the Savior see them — and that they would see others in that same way," Jorgensen said.

“We want the girls to make happiness a lifelong habit,” Forrest said.

At the beginning of the conference, girls received paper blossoms and were told to write down character traits they noticed in each other.

“From the minute they arrived they were focused on positive traits about themselves and others around them,” Forrest said.

In addition, each of the girls received a Time to Blossom book.

“Each night they filled their books out, reflecting on what was powerful or meaningful from each speaker,” Forrest said. “They used their books to evaluate the day, what they learned and how they were going to apply that to their future self.”

The organizers say the Time to Blossom conferences have exceeded expectations in the way they have touched and changed girls’ lives.

Perhaps it was best said by John Bytheway’s wife, Kimberly, when she was speaking to the girls on one of the last days of the second session and referred to the progress she had seen during the week: “You even look different than you did a few days ago,” she said.

Additional Time to Blossom sessions are planned for next summer in Mesa and Time to Blossom will be introduced into neighboring states as well.

For details and updates, visit www.timetoblossom.com.

Cecily Markland is a freelance writer, book editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book, "If I Made a Bug." She owns Inglestone Publishing and produces a calendar of LDS events in Arizona at www.cecilymarkland.com.