Like many parents around the world, Jason Embley of Wangs, Switzerland, said he was “initially shocked” with the news of a new program for children and youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A father of five daughters ages 8-15, he and his wife, Judith Embley, had become well-versed in the requirements for the Faith in God award and Young Womanhood Recognition through Personal Progress.
“We loved it. We knew exactly what to do,” said Jason Embley, who is currently serving as president of the Landquart Branch in the St Gallen Switzerland Stake where his family resides.
But the new Children and Youth program doesn’t have a set list of requirements to complete. Instead, children and youth plan and act on individually selected goals. The focus areas of personal development, gospel learning and service and activities are customized to each participant and centered in the home.
At first, the initiative “took a little getting used to,” Jason Embley admitted. Now almost nine months in, he sees how it came “just at the right time” for his family.
Not being able to attend Church or meet for activities due to COVID-19 restrictions meant taking more responsibility for spiritual and personal growth. With the Children and Youth program and “Come, Follow Me” home scripture study, “we’ve been prepared,” Judith Embley said.
Under the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, Judith Embley said she is grateful Children and Youth is easily adaptable to each of her daughters. “You can adjust it to your life and your needs and your talents.”
Choosing goals and tracking progress
At the beginning of this year, Jason and Judith Embley’s daughters — Jaimee, Janessa, Jenna, Joline and Joy — made individual charts to keep track of their goals. The charts are divided into the program’s four areas of growth: spiritual, social, intellectual and physical. The girls write their goals on sticky notes and place them in the corresponding area.
“We try to think of at least one goal in each area, each month,” said Jason Embley, who also made a chart to track his own goals. “Each time we finish a goal, we take a Post-it note off, and we put it in an envelope next to the charts.” At the end of the year, the family will open the envelope and read through their accomplishments.
By setting goals in each of the four areas, they are learning “our life should be in balance,” he said. Whether it’s studying English grammar (his daughters’ first language is German), swimming laps or studying the Book of Mormon, “it’s all important.”
For Janessa, 13, goal-setting has helped her focus on areas that aren’t as strong. “I have a little problem with social (goals) because I love to read a book or something in my bed, and then I’m there for hours,” she said with a chuckle. “So some of my goals are based on that — I try to be more social with my family, like playing games or puzzles.”
Some of 15-year-old Jaimee’s goals have included running or swimming three times a week, reading her patriarchal blessing once a month, and learning people’s names and using them — a goal she altered when pandemic restrictions kept them at home.
In comparison to Personal Progress in which most goals or activities were set for her, “with the new program, you can choose goals based on what you can do,” Jaimee said. “And I learned I can do more than I thought.”
When schools closed due to COVID-19 earlier this year, 12-year-old Jenna’s school challenged students to keep exercising at home. One of Jenna’s ongoing goals is to do her exercise program every night with push-ups, sit-ups and stretching. “I like that I can choose things personally,” she said.
Seeking personal revelation
Before the Children and Youth program, Jason Embley held monthly interviews with each of his daughters — something his father did with him and his wife’s father did with her. Now he uses this time to help the girls set goals, track progress and talk about gospel learning.
After the closing prayer of a recent “daddy-daughter talk,” 8-year-old Joy said, “Daddy, now I know what my goal should be.” She had the idea to make a present for her sister’s upcoming birthday.
“I didn’t tell her that. It wasn’t my idea,” Jason Embley said. “But it came to her during our prayer. … One of the main things about this whole initiative is, as President Russell M. Nelson has said, learning to receive personal revelation.”
Joline, 10, set a goal to be brave enough to get her ears pierced — something she had wanted to do for several weeks. After family prayer one night, she stood up and said, “I know I can do it!”
“It took a lot of courage for her,” Jason Embley said. “But after that prayer she knew she could do it, and she did.”
Jason Embley said he hopes his daughters continue to learn the value of setting short-term goals — a lesson he learned from President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency during the February Face to Face event on Children and Youth.
“We so often make the mistake of setting a very long-range goal,” President Oaks said during the broadcast. The most effective goals for reaching a desired destination are “intermediate” or short-term goals, he taught.
Jaimee, the Embleys’ oldest daughter, said the goal-setting habits she is learning now will benefit her for years to come. “Something that I like about this program is that it doesn’t end,” she said. “This one goes on until you’re 18 or you can even do it after that, and you can do it your whole life.”