There is a special breed of woman out there who thrives on sleepless nights, mosquitoes, highly emotional teenage girls, and tying knots. We call these women, “Girls Camp Leaders.” They sacrifice their time, energy, and patience all for the wild, crazy, energetic, dramatic, and emotional beings we call, “girls campers.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary of girls camp in the Church. Sister Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women general president, and her counselors, Mary N. Cook and Ann M. Dibb, say 100 years after the first Young Women camp, the activity is more essential than it has ever been.
"Camp is an integral part of Young Women, because it is at camp that youth get to learn and apply the things they are taught by their leaders," Sister Dalton said. "It is at camp that young women really get to practice provident living. And it is also at camp where young women get to establish a mini home. By a mini home, I mean that a young woman can take her tent and pitch it and, in essence, set up a place that can be her shelter, her home for three or four days. She can establish a home that is a house of order, a house of prayer, a house of God, a house of learning (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119). Right there in that little tent she can create a space where she can feel the Spirit."
And the same goes for the leaders as well. We go to camp not just to test our strength, but to create a space where we can feel the Spirit, and where we can create spaces for our girls to feel the Spirit.
If there is anything I have learned as a Girls Camp Leader (GCL), it is that it is just as important for the leaders to be mentally and temporally prepared, as it is for the young women. The spiritual preparedness is just as important as packing the bug spray.
Girls Camp is where I learned that I CAN DO HARD THINGS! I learned it as a girl, and I have learned it again as a leader. Along with my sister leaders around the world, I have been forced to dig down deep, and find a level of patience for the silliness and shenanigans of teenage girls I didn't know I possessed. I have been confronted with my worst fears (snakes) in situations where I had no choice but to be the brave leader. GCL's learn how to operate with absolutely no sleep, in hot tents, sub-par food, hot temperatures, and still get up and smile and love with all their hearts in the morning. We learn how to do hard things we never knew existed before. And we know we do not do it alone- without the companionship of the Holy Ghost we would never make it out alive (and likely nor would our girls).
We put ourselves through this annual test of strength because we know it makes a difference to the girls. We know that they look forward to this week all year long. (And we know how many of them dread it as well- and we try extra hard for them.) We know that our preparation- spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, and temporal- makes all the difference.
We do it for the payoff at the end of the week that comes in tears and testimonies (and some very stinky hugs).
So GCL's, join with me in preparing yourselves in every possible way for camp this year. Please send in your camping tips, and tried and true tricks of the trade.
Here is some inspiration from some fellow camp leaders to help get you ready--
As a leader I got to carry a girl piggy back who was having an asthma attack partially from fear as we could see the sky lighted at night from the forest fire some barely safe distance away - that almost got our camp canceled mid week. Another memory is of being the YW president with everyone pushing on me to turn in at least one name for our wards girls camp leader. My challenge was that I had experienced success when I got the Lords guidance in submitting names for callings and also failure when I used my own judgment. : / I KNEW that none of the sisters I personally thought would be great, was who the Lord wanted, but we were totally running out of time!! When the Bishop asked AGAIN for a name, I heard myself answer " She isn't here!" I didn't know what to do and all were losing patience with me. That very Sunday the college kids returned and as one girl bore her testimony - I KNEW she was the right one! She accepted ( she was also the Bishops daughter ) --- after camp she bore her testimony again and I was surprised to hear she had gone "emotionally kicking and screaming" but that it had turned out a real blessing for her and the girls ! :) Whew !
I think you and I would be good camping buddies! I love girls camp and have done it for many years in the cool, dry mountains of Arizona and the hot, humid plains of Kansas in July. No matter the location the spirit is the same. One of my favorite experiences recently has been walking around the campsite by moonlight singing a song written by one of our leaders as the girls are in their tents talking while they prepare for the night. Eventually they quiet and drift off to sleep (if we are lucky). After a long day of work, fun and sharing experiences with the girls it is a blessing to share a peaceful moment with my friends who have the same love of camping and working with young women in the outdoors.
After going to Young Women's camp for 26 years, I can truly say, I love YW camp. I have served as a ward leader, assistant to the cook, assistant Camp Director, Camp Director and finally Stake YW president. I have watched these girls go from 12 to moms with children. I love those youth leaders and all the ward leaders through-out all the years. They are some fantastic sisters. Many of the ward leaders also went year after year. Some of my greatest "church memories" are of YW camp. It is a great program for the young women. I wish I could go forever! But, not....now I am in a RS presidency, not nearly as fun but a different good thing. So, have fun at YW camp this summer everyone!! And remember that sweating cleans out your pores!!
Girls Camp Leaders unite!
Erin Ann McBride is a writer, dreamer, and amateur hiker. Equal parts Mary Poppins, Carrie Bradshaw, and Mother Theresa, she goes where the wind blows, writes about relationships and dating, and is devoted to serving others. You can get more of her at the Story of a Nice Mormon Girl.