Changes to the Church's Young Women camp program, included in a new camp guide to be released this spring, include eliminating certification and emphasizing youth leaders.
Meant to be “globally applicable” for young women living in all different areas of the world, the new Young Women Camp Guide will soon be available as a resource for Young Women presidencies, camp specialists and youth camp leaders.
Young Women general board members from around the world provided input for the new guide. It replaces the former camp manual which has been "a valued and treasured resource" for many years, but is not as applicable to today’s worldwide Church, said members of the Young Women general presidency.
“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.”
Although a specific release date has not been set, the new guide will eventually be available through Church distribution and digitally online 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.
The objective of the new guide, the leaders said, is to help local leaders seek and receive inspiration for what is most needed in their area.
“You will see on the first page under the introduction that one of the purposes of camp is that young women need a place they can ‘gather together, separate from worldly influences, feel the Spirit of the Lord, grow in unity and love and strengthen their faith and testimonies of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ,’” said Sister Oscarson.
Sister Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, added, “Because the new guide is principle based, it allows the youth camp leaders space to receive personal revelation for their own camp. They aren’t just told what to do. They are practicing the leadership principle of counseling together and learning to seek direction from the Spirit to meet their needs. These skills will bless the young women, their families, and the Church for years to come.”
Sister Oscarson spoke of how, 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 they 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.
The small booklet — that is approximately 40 pages and is only 5-by-7 inches in size — 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.
“I think this is a fresh new look at camp,” Sister Marriott said. “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 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.
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.”
Sister McConkie added 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.”
Most important, the presidency said, is for leaders to “keep it simple” and let the young women help plan and execute the details. They encourage leaders to “reduce and simplify” activities, decorations and even food.
“Youth camp leaders should have the primary responsibility for planning, directing and evaluating camp,” the guide says. “They counsel with the Young Women presidency, ward and stake camp leaders, and priesthood leaders.”
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.
Sister Marriott added, “We want to make it understood that this is not a manual, it is a guide. 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.”
More information will be available on the Young Women website www.youngwomen.lds.org as well as in the Gospel Library in the upcoming weeks.