In an effort to strengthen Latter-day Saint young women and give them leadership opportunities, the Church has announced changes to the Young Women camp program — including a emphasis on youth leaders, the elimination of certification, the charge to simplify, and a focus on safety.
A new Young Women Camp Guide, which will be available this spring, is based on leadership principles.
“What we hope will be one of the major changes with using the Young Women Camp Guide is the involvement of the youth camp leaders," Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, told the Church News. "We want to see them take a major role in both determining what needs to happen at camp and in leading camp activities.”
Olyvia Harter, 16, called as a Youth Camp Leader in the Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake, is ready to take on the increased responsibilities.
A member of the Wakefield Branch, Olyvia attended Young Women camp as a Beehive with another ward, as she was the only camper from her branch.
“I used to get really bad homesickness and anxiety,” she said. “I was quite exited and nervous about my first year for camp.”
When she arrived at camp that anxiety increased until a youth camp leader talked her through her worries.
Now a fifth-year camper and in a second year as a youth camp leader, Olyvia will focus on helping younger campers — just as another youth leader once reached out to her.
Stepping back from all of the planning and letting the youth play a bigger role will take “a lot of faith and humility on our leaders' parts,” Sister Oscarson said. She also encouraged young women to make camp a priority amid their busy schedules.
The camp experience will look different for young women who live across the globe.
Sister Oscarson recalled that while visiting cities around the globe that “go on for miles and miles with no parks or green spaces,” she has often asked herself the question, “Where are [young women] going to find a place set apart from the world?”
"The whole idea of camp is to provide a fun experience that is different from their everyday lives, ideally out in nature,” Sister Oscarson said. “That is a traditional camp experience, but not all parts of the world have places like that available.”
For some, it may be in the mountains or on a beach, for others it may be held in the cultural hall of their Church building, while others may hold camp in the backyard of a Church member or leader. Wherever the locale of camp, the new resource will be applicable to all circumstances.
Olyvia says the key to camp is finding a way for young women to disconnect from the world and connect with one another. “I feel like I can grow closer to others being away from many worldly things,” she said. “With the feeling of peace also comes the feeling of the spirit.”
The new small camp booklet — that is approximately 40 pages and is only 5-by-7 inches in size and is will also be available online— includes scriptures, outlines the principles of camp leadership, offers help in planning camp, encourages evaluation and lists suggestions for camp activities that are linked to online resources. Eventually the guide will be available in 23 languages.
“It is based on the leadership principles from Handbook 2, which are: prepare spiritually, participate in councils, minister to others, and teach the gospel,” said Sister Carol F. McConkie, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency.
“I think this is a fresh new look at camp,” said Sister Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency. “We are also extending the invitation through this guide to consider traditions that have been long-held in camps, especially those that may not help accomplish the goals of camp or that may involve pranking or unkindness and don’t engender a spirit of truth and love at camp.”
Some of the biggest changes, the leaders said, are that the new guide — developed with the input of the international Young Women general board who reported a need for local leaders to seek and receive inspiration for what is most needed in their area — does not include certification and will not be given to every young woman. Only leaders and youth leaders will have a copy of the guide.
“The requirement to complete certification by learning specifically assigned skills has gone away, but we hope that as adult and youth camp leaders look at needs and seek inspiration they will recognize that these skills are still important for young women to learn," Sister Oscarson said. "Camp is a great opportunity to develop skills in outdoor survival, self-reliance, emergency preparedness, first aid, and environmental protection and care. We hope those skills will still be a part of camp.”
Rather than a checklist of topics to cover, the new guide offers suggestions of activities — including many of the activities from the former guide — that focus on spiritual, social, physical and intellectual activities. Youth leaders should be involved in all aspects of camp, working with their adult leaders to decide what is important for their group.
Sister McConkie explained that the new guide emphasizes safety. “Safety in every aspect — spiritually, morally, emotionally, and physically safe. We want all young women to feel safe and secure wherever their camp setting might be.”
Important to planning camp "is taking into consideration the needs of the girls that will be attending," she said. "We can make accommodations for girls with disabilities, allergies or special circumstances so all can feel included.”
Lexi Olsen, 17, a youth camp leader in the Lone Tree Ward, Castle Rock Colorado Stake, has already taken an active role in planning her stake’s camp. She attended meetings, planned a camp kick off and participated in a “what are you worried about” skit.
Her stake attends camp on Church-owned property in Colorado, where young women can go to “drop electronics and forget makeup.”
Lexi says the “silly skits” and activities at camp are fun, but that the most memorable experiences for her have been the simple, spiritual moments such as testimony meetings and being in nature.
“Just stepping foot on the land you feel of our Savior’s love,” she said. “It is a sacred place. It is beautiful.”
The presidency encouraged leaders to shy away from experiences that rely on emotion or that try to force a spiritual experience through drama.
“Sometimes young women — especially those who are just learning to respond to the Spirit — might think, ‘everybody else is crying, why am I not crying? I must not be feeling the Spirit,’” Sister Oscarson said. “People can feel the Spirit working in their lives and everybody reacts differently to it. Stick with the scriptures, the basic doctrines of Christ and of the gospel, and choose appropriate activities that invite the Spirit, but which don’t try to manipulate emotions.”Comment on this story
Sister Marriott said members of the Young Women presidency want leaders to understand that the new guide is not a manual. “There is no list of specifics that must happen to create a perfect camp, this new guide emphasizes the youth camp leader. They are not just involved, they are actually leading and planning.”
Although the new guide gives suggestions, they are just that — guidelines.
“After the experience is over, we want these young women to leave camp having had a joyous experience and with a deeper testimony and greater faith in the Savior and their Heavenly Father. We hope they will leave with an increased understanding of who they are and how they connect to this beautiful earth created for them. We want it to be something that truly elevates them.”