Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE

Girls’ Camp has long been a Latter-day fixture around the world. This multiple-day-long retreat has been known as a wonderful testimony builder, a way to make friends, a great opportunity for girls to learn skills, and yes, a fertile ground for drama. Get a group of young women together for a few days—Latter-day Saints or not—and not always, but sometimes, you will have meltdowns, tears, quarrels, and homesickness. University campuses abound with it, and we can hardly expect younger teenagers to be more mature than college coeds.

But, amazingly, there was a group of thirty 17-year olds in my stake who managed to avert even a whiff of it this summer. And there was huge diversity among them; not all of them were cut from the same fabric. Some of them were not even close friends. So how did they do it? Granted, there are no guarantees, but I spoke to a friend of mine who was the Y-17 leader and got her 5-step formula:

  1. Define the focus. Long before camp even begins, have a talk with the girls about forgetting their own worries and focusing on others to help them have a great experience. “Not me, but thee.” In my ward, three younger girls spoke about how much it meant to them that the Y-17s arrived the day before, and were in position to greet them the morning of their arrival. The older girls were excited, positive, and projected that enthusiasm. Two Beehive girls, who had been nervous about this new experience and were worried about homesickness, now found they could relax and have fun. It changed their week. They hadn’t even had an opening prayer yet, and things were off to a great start.
  2. Seek out the one. Each of the Y-17s decided to take on responsibilities in ministering face-to face, one-on-one. Every day they did something extra that made a personal connection. One day they sat by someone they didn’t know. Another day was High Five Day, when they made a point of high-fiving the other girls. Another was Give a Hug Day.
  3. Teach. These older girls also helped instruct during the humanitarian activity, so it wasn’t just run by adults. Their whole mindset was about serving others, and their commitment was contagious.
  4. Gather. They constructed a pop-up tent near the lunch pavilion, and called it Pearls for Girls. It was a gathering spot where they could make cards, braid hair, do their nails, make bracelets, and so on. Most of all, it was a spot where they could relax and connect with one another. Many grade schools have a “friendship bench” where a child can sit if they don’t have anyone to play with. Then someone else can come and sit by you. First graders have no problem plunking themselves down on that bench, and then waiting until someone comes over to sit by them and be their buddy. But that’s harder for teens. So the pop-up tent was similar, but more accessible for older girls. You don’t always know who’s feeling lonely, but you can meet up in the tent to support each other. This eliminated self-focus, and emphasized helping others. Even away from the tent, girls were seeing a need and meeting it—a huge step in maturity.
  5. Scripture study. The Y-17s were in charge, knew they were leading the discussion, and eagerly shared experiences and asked thought-provoking questions. They even had to work with wards that had no Y-17s, so they jumped in and worked with girls they didn’t even know. They suggested scriptures they liked, so those unfamiliar with them could look up something guaranteed to be special and to provoke thought. Then they discussed impressions, feelings about their Savior, sparks of inspiration. “It was as if camp had become a ministering leadership symposium,” the leader said.

Like family life, school, or really anything else, Girls’ Camp needs to have breathing room. When we book ourselves with back-to-back rushing it introduces tension and anxiety. We need to consciously step away from the race sometimes, and allow for spiritual discussions and meaningful moments.

The leader also told me that even in the car, missionary work was happening. A nonmember girl spotted a copy of The Book of Mormon in the seat pocket, and pulled it out. She expressed difficulty knowing how best to read and study it, and asked the other girls which scriptures were their favorites. This became another chance to share. My friend’s daughter felt prompted to suggest a joint effort—she and the girl would read one chapter a day, then talk it over. Later, she texted a dozen of her Latter-day Saint friends, and the excitement built all evening as she got responses. “Awesome! I’m in!” “Yes—let’s do this!” Every single girl wanted to become part of the discussion group.

This rising generation seems to understand what it takes to hasten the work. I was blown away by the extra effort they all made to forget themselves and follow the Savior’s admonition to truly love one another.

Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.