In case we have never met, you have never seen the tattoo on my forehead that reads, “Please, make me your ward girls camp leader!” From what I have witnessed, it is in invisible ink only readable by Bishops. Or at least, this is what I assume is tattooed up there, because I am about to go to camp for the... 10th? 13Th? 15th time? I'm not sure. I've lost count.
I have been to girls camp with approximately five stakes, and eight different wards over the years. (Pretty impressive considering I was in a singles ward for ten years!) I have learned many things about camp, some good, some forgettable, some I wish I could forget (like the smell of a thirteen year old girl who hasn't bathed in five days after a big hike). I have learned that there are stakes that do all of the certifications at the ward level before arriving at camp, so that the full week can be spent on crafts. I went to one stake that dedicated an hour each day to scripture study. I have attended camps that prefer a more wilderness survival approach. And yes, I really and truly went to one camp where a few of the stake leaders snuck off each night to sleep at a Holiday Inn.
I like to think I'm not that many years removed from my own girls camp experiences. I was a teenager just a few weeks ago, right? I'm pretty sure I was. From the day I turned twelve, my life became about waiting all year long for that magical week of girls camp. Some of my favorite memories of my teen years are from camp. We stayed in cabins a few times and tents a few times. Some years we ate cafeteria style, some we cooked all of it on our own. Some years it rained, and some it did not. Some years it was hot and humid, and some years it was even hotter and more humid. (I attended camp in Virginia. It was always hot and humid.) Some years we were next to a Marine base, and our entire existence (as stinky as we may be) was to not only catch a glimpse of the Marines, but to make sure they saw us too. And some years we were in the middle of nowhere, wondering what we had ever done to deserve those latrines.
It was at girls camp that I learned the first aid and knot tying skills that I would go on to use in fire fighter and emergency medical technician school. I was shocked that other people did not already know how to tie a bowline knot, or how to apply a tourniquet (a skill I have yet to actually get to apply in real life- but I'm ready if the opportunity arises). They were surprised that a girl even knew what a “clove hitch” meant. It was also at camp that I discovered that scrambled eggs made in a cast iron skillet over a fire can turn a greenish color. (I went hungry that day.)
It was also at girls camp that I learned how to push myself just a little bit further physically. I had never been athletically inclined, and my family wasn't the great outdoors type of people. But at camp I discovered that I love to hike. You can keep your marathons, daily jogs, and bike riding. I'll take the hiking. If it hadn't been for the leader that pushed me to keep going until I reached the highest peak in Virginia where I saw the most beautiful view in the world, I never would have discovered the joys of mountain hiking.
Girls Camp was a life-changing experience for me as a girl, and continues to be one for me each year as an adult.
Our favorite stake “song”
Tips, Tricks, Traditions, and Priorities
But now that the tables have turned and I am the leader, and not just a girl with fifty braids in her hair, I have learned so much more goes into preparing for camp than I ever imagined as a kid. And whether or not the girls ever know it (especially the slightly more know-it-all YCL's), a good experience for all of the campers depends on how how well prepared the leaders are. So let's all help each other out and share some tips, tricks, traditions, and priorities. Each year I think I have mastered the art of preparing for camp, just to discover “this stake does it different.” Every stake has different songs, different traditions, and different priorities. And I want to hear yours!
How much leadership and control do you give your YC's and YCL's?
Are you a “mostly crafts” stake? Mostly “spiritual stuff” stake? Mostly wilderness survival stake? Or do you go for a mix?
Cabins or tents?
Do you sleep/camp with your wards or year levels?
What is the one item you (as a leader) can't live without at camp that isn't on the official packing list?
How do you handle cell phones when that is the only camera most girls have?
What is your on-going camp tradition? (We do reward beads.)
What is your favorite menu item? Campfire cooking? Large group cooking?
What tips can you share with other leaders and campers?
And more than anything tell us your “whys.” Why do you do it the way you do? Why do you prefer tents with wards? Why do you cook as a stake? Why do you prefer crafts over wilderness? Why, why, why?
My Personal Tips
In my current stake the girls have all figured out how to use giant Rubbermaid bins, rather than backpacks, for their gear. The bins are much easier to pack in a leader's car for transportation. They hold more stuff, which always helps. And the best part? They can be left outside of the tents at night, leaving the girls more space in their tents. (And you better believe I do a food check on those bins to make sure we don't have a bear, raccoon, or other nocturnal animal problem.) Tents and cabins are much cleaner with the bins.
Whether I am a ward level leader, or the stake medical person, I freeze several bottles of Gatorade and lemonade before going to camp. I keep them in my own special cooler, away from the kitchen and food supplies. At the first signs of heat exhaustion I pull one out and use it both as an ice pack, and for re-hydration.
I believe it is a second year certification requirement that they must identify certain types of leaves and vegetation in the local area.