A Pleasant Grove ward gathers together on a beautiful Thursday morning to pray. They arrived at Tifie Scout Camp on Monday with 59 youth and over a dozen adult leaders.
As they stand, the young woman praying asks specifically that they will not be “too hurt or too tired.” They have had many memorable (and apparently some painful and tiring experiences) over the course of the week, but they are anxious to start this new day at Scout camp with their stake.
First thing on the schedule: shooting and archery. That’s where I meet up with these amazing youth and leaders, as well as camp staff. The ward will be split into three rotations: one group will be at the shooting range, another will be at archery, and another will be doing the “lesson.” I’m excited to see how it all works.
Before the youth arrive, I ask Brian, who helps at the shooting range, how the girls do with shooting. I mean, the boys are used to scout camp and gun ranges, but I was curious how the girls handle it.
With a laugh and a smile, Brian tells me that the girls typically do better at shooting than the boys because they ask for help. They are more willing to get advice. True to his word, as I watch the first group of youth sit down and receive the signal that they can start shooting, five or six hands shoot up, all of them young women asking for tips and help.
I hear several girls saying, “I’ve never shot a gun before. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
In about a minute or two, the young men finish their rounds of ammo and are stepping back waiting for the girls to finish. It will be another five minutes or so before everyone else finishes their rounds. The youth go to collect their targets to see how they did. Prior to shooting, one particular young woman had never shot a gun. She was one who raised her hand and got lots of tips and advice. Not only did all 10 of her bullets hit the target, but they were incredible shots. She grins and can’t wait for the next round, so she can keep practicing what she is learning.
I take a break from the shooting range and walk over to archery. I overhear one young woman comment: “This is awesome! I like these arm guards a lot better than the ones we have at girls camp!” I watch all the young men and young women shooting their arrows with big grins on their faces, enjoying this activity side by side. There is some competitiveness among the young men and young women, but also lots of support, smiles, and laughter as they encourage each other.
During another rotation, I want to see what the “lesson” is all about. I walk past a small group of youth and overhear part of their lesson. A young man is saying “I know that’s happened to me lots of times and I can testify…” I am impressed by the sincerity of his testimony.
I sit down with my husband under a tent with a group of eight youth and one leader in the back. A 17-year-old young man is at the front of the group. He explains that he will be teaching today’s lesson.
My husband and I wait while the youth just hang out and chat for about 15 minutes. I wonder if we should encourage them to start since the leader in the back isn’t doing anything. We decide to wait and watch what happens.
Eventually, they decide to start, and the young man calls on someone to give an opening prayer, then begins teaching the youth about how to solve problems. He asks them about their life experiences, and everyone gets a chance to share.
Some of the insights are profoundly spiritual, and others seem quite random, but they all get a chance to share. This discussion lasts for 45 minutes! I notice that the leader sitting in the back just observes quietly, allowing this to be a discussion entirely among the youth.
What an amazing experience to watch this camp running.
First, I’m so impressed with the young men and the young women experiencing this together. When I was growing up, I always waved goodbye to my Scoutmaster father and younger brother as they headed off to a week at Scout Camp. They came back with all these stories of the fun activities they did, and I was always a bit jealous. This camp gives the young men and the young women the incredible experiences found at Scout camps from climbing and rappelling to shooting and everything in between.
The second thing that I notice about this camp is how amazing it is to see the youth lead. The youth take the lead in explaining rules, teaching lessons, and shepherding their groups from one activity to the next. While sometimes it’s not the most efficient and may take a while to get started, the youth actually do it. They are able to lead. And even more impressive, the leaders let the youth lead! It is not easy to sit back (even I almost intervened to get the youth going with their lesson), but I watch time and time again how the leaders stay in the background and give the youth the opportunity to lead discussions and get things going.
Yes, if the youth get really off-track, the leaders are there to help, but more often than not, the youth can do it themselves. The whole activity is so youth-centered. Gone are the days of my youth when we snoozed off while our leaders talked to us about all of their spiritual insights and wisdom. Instead, the youth are teaching the youth!
All of these principles I observe fall in line with what the Young Men General Presidency teaches about how to work with youth:
Be with them. The leaders are present with the youth, and participate in the same activities. They are sharing wonderful experiences.
Connect them with heaven. The youth have many opportunities to share lessons with each other, and relate what they are learning to the gospel. At appropriate times, the leaders do share insights and ideas to connect the youth with heaven.
Let them lead. Even though this is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects, this ward allows their youth to lead, even when it may take more time or seem inconvenient. I am impressed at how many opportunities the youth have to lead at this camp.
As the day progresses, it is time for me to return back to Provo, but I wish I could stay in this beautiful Tifie Scout Camp surrounded by leaders and youth experiencing something so wonderful together.
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Author: Natalie Scherck | lives in Provo, UT with her husband. She graduated from Brigham Young University in Elementary Education this last April. She and her husband will soon welcome their first child into their family.