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Oh, Girls Camp

By Sarita Rich

As that time of year approaches again, (or, because it may have happened already, depending on your stake/location) I fondly recall my first Girls Camp as a green YW counselor…

I thought there might be body odor and ticks, greasy hair and flatulence, and unflattering color-coordinating t-shirts designating our ranks and unit numbers. There might be circles around the campfire with lilting choruses of “Sinner Man,” “A Woonie Koonie,” “Cannibal King,” and “Mormon Boy,” (someone told me these were real songs). For four days Twilight Woods eau de toilette would be traded for bug spray, and iPhones turned off, the better to compose with pen and paper the warm fuzzy love notes to friends. This is what I expected from my very first Girls Camp. And I was not disappointed!

We set up camp in Tabiona, UT; a.k.a, somewhere on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Except for the pavilion covering the picnic tables with their red and white checked table cloths, the kitchen from which steaming Dutch oven delicacies were served, the flushing toilets with cupboards neatly stocked with a year’s supply of toilet paper, and YW leaders who brought their spray on tans and a different pair of ginormous dangly earrings to wear every day, the camping might have been authentic. I obviously missed the “Look-Cute-at-Camp” memo, so I just wore the same shirt every day.

I was amazed at what our 16 girls could do while being deprived of Facebook and text messaging. They wielded glue guns and pieces of scrap fabric to make cute headbands and necklaces and hairpins worthy of being showcased on Pinterest and Etsy. They wrote camp-themed skits and designed and constructed their own props. One group wrote a “musical” with a medley of parodies of popular songs rewritten to suit the theme—one of their songs was a new and improved version of Rebecca Black’s Friday song: “Sunday, Sunday, wanna go to church on Sunday…Laurels in the front seat, Mia Maids in the back seat, Beehives in the trunk…”

Everyone was united in the spirit of dispensing warm fuzzies. One of the girls made me a boondoggle during craft time.

There’s something about leaving mascara and deodorant at home and going for days without showering that draws the girls closer to each other. That, and the testimony meeting held just before sunset that lasts into the late hours of the night while the campfire burns down and the stars slowly blink into focus. During testimony meeting, I was the keeper of the Kleenex box, charged with the duty of passing tissue to those (including myself) whose tear ducts are directly connected to the Spirit that moves people to stand up and explain how they’ve come to know the truth of the gospel and Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.

During testimony meeting I shared my deeply private anxiety that I’d had since coming to YW without having ever been exposed to Girls Camp before. I was anxious about feeling like I didn’t fit in with the “cool” leaders for several reasons: a) I hardly watched TV; b) I didn’t have a baby the girls could clamor over to coddle during the YW lessons on Sundays; c) I didn’t tell embarrassing stories about my husband that made everyone laugh; d) I wasn’t a masseuse like the most recent addition to the YW leader group, who saw, nay, spoke to Ryan Reynolds at her Park City gym/spa one day when he walked by the front desk to ask her where the nearest exit was…the list went on and on.

The gist of my testimony was that I still hadn’t figured out why I was called to YW. What those three days of camp reminded me of though, was that I’d been placed in a circle of exceptional girls. One of the miracles of camp was that we witnessed no petty girl drama whatsoever. I’ve never seen girls braver and kinder, and more considerate of their fellow human beings (given that they’re teenagers). I know that if I’d had friends like them growing up, my life would have been so different. Which led to my other point: while I didn’t really know why I’d been called to YW, I knew what I’d experienced was a result of our Savior’s love. Calling me to YW was one way to show me how much I’d missed, and how I could be part of something so vitally important as helping to strengthen the testimonies of his choice daughters. Plus, my YW calling was an excuse to find out who the Hemsworth brothers are.

What was your first/last Girls Camp experience like? How has Girls Camp changed over the years? Are you a fan of Girls Camp?



About Sarita Rich

14 thoughts on “Oh, Girls Camp”

  1. This is the line that gets me: "They wielded glue guns and pieces of scrap fabric to make cute headbands and necklaces and hairpins worthy of being showcased on Pinterest and Etsy." – because this encapsulates all of my Girls' Camp experiences.

    WE'RE CAMPING FOR GOODNESS SAKE! Can't we find something more outdoorsy to do than scrapbooking and toll painting! What about hiking and rafting and learning survival skills?

    I get it, not everyone likes doing outdoorsy types of things. We can still offer crafts as an option, but why does Girls' Camp always have to be so frilly? In my ward the boys got to go wakeboarding and backpacking and have tons of cool adventures, while we sat at picnic tables year after year and painted wooden hearts the colors of the YW values.

    Part of me dreads and part of me really wants to be called as camp director one day.

  2. A big amen to what Melanie said. And I loved your remark about dressing appropriately for the situation: "I obviously missed the “Look-Cute-at-Camp” memo, so I just wore the same shirt every day." Thank you for setting such a good example for our youth. Spray tans and dangle earrings. . . I wouldn't have been able to keep my snide mouth shut! Did you say anything to the glam-leaders?

  3. Since I grew up in a place where church members were relatively few and far between, Girls Camp was always a highlight of my summer. While I generally preferred lighting fires and going tippy canoeing on the lake to crafts, I was assigned as "craft barn assistant" for my fourth year camp. There were many wooden hearts waiting to be painted the color of the YW values, but the other girl working in the craft barn with me discovered that we had an abundance of 2" wooden balls with holes drilled on one side. We also had tons of wooden pegs with rounded tops that fit precisely into the previously mentioned holes. We spent the better part of the week creating sculptures made out of bloodshot wooden eyeballs. It was fantastic.

    This year is my first year at camp as a YW leader. It is also my oldest child's first year as a camper. I can't wait to see what she discovers there!

  4. Hooray to Melanie's comment! We always had fingernail painting parties at girls camp. Nail polish? At camp?? Why does that make sense?!

    And with all the love in my heart for those that DO enjoy it (the "Sunday Sunday" parody does sound funny!) why in the world must we continue on with the skits? In my experience, no one really wants to do them and no one really wants to watch them.

    Mostly, though, I really DID enjoy girls camp when I was a youth. Being forced to squeeze into a tent with all the other girls in my ward resulted in a few skirmishes, but mostly a lot of memories and friendship building. I saw my leaders without makeup on, but more importantly, I heard testimonies from girls I had never seen at church. What I didn't learn about survival skills, I more than made up for in learning experiences about people outside of the more formal church setting.

    (But I still wish I could've had both!)

  5. I have a lot of mixed memories and mixed feelings about girl's camp. There were many fun times but also many lonely times for a girl like me who tended to be shy and quiet and a bit on the outside of things. I notice nowadays, at least in our stake, the activities are more ward-focused. They do things together as a whole stake, but the bulk of the time at camp the girls are with only their own wards. Maybe that would have helped me not get so lost in the crowd. I never really had a "crowd" to hang with and spent lots of time tagging along with leaders or on my own trying to find a group that I could ease into for at least a few moments.

    Testimony meeting was always awkward because I was not a crier, didn't really have a group to sit arm-in-arm with. I had a testimony but was shy to bear it and just couldn't seem to work up the tears the other girls had and that I thought were "required" to show I was feeling the spirit. Plus, so many of the testimonies seemed to be more about the friendships and bonds formed, and I was usually on the outside of that. At least testimony meeting was with the whole stake, so I could not be too noticed.

    My dh was in the bishopric for 5 years, so I went to girls' camp with him as part of bishopric night. Just being there brought me back all those years. I spent lots of time worrying about the girls there who might be just like me. Testimony meeting was smaller and more intimate, but there was more pressure on the girls to speak. The bishop even would go around the circle and call girls out and ask them if they wanted to bear their testimonies, and I really hated that. That's all a shy girl needs is to be put on the spot that way.

    One thing I'm envious of is that girls' camp seems to be a bonding experience for leaders. I'm in a presidency right now (not YW), and I kind of think it would be fun to have a girls' camp-like activity for us as leaders.

  6. It's my first year ever going to girl's camp and I'm the camp director. Having spent the last decade in scouts I planned a little bit adventure/survival and a little bit arts & crafts. I'm hoping this will please everyone and give the girls an opportunity to learn some skills they may not otherwise. We are doing a ropes course and making a lantern out of a mason jar. We are putting braids in our hair and learning how to use a compass on a compass course. Hopefully, there will be a nice balance. That was/is my goal.

    I'm hoping that when it comes around to testimony meeting someone will speak…our youth conference was a few weeks ago and there was more silence than sharing. Most of all I hope the girls find the Spirit and learn to embrace His gentle promptings and encouragements.

  7. I grew up in NM and back when I went to camp, we camped. Camping meant we cooked our own meals, trenched our actual factual tents, and some years had to build our own showers and latrines. I loved every minute of camp, even testimony meetings which I struggled with, at times. We did all of our certifying at camp, and we learned to do survival-y things. I recall no craftiness; that was good because it's never been my thing.
    My daughter, who will be 12 by the end of the summer, was allowed to go this year. She had the complete opposite experience in terms of roughing it.
    There had been an excellent article in the New Era in the last month or two about what constitutes a testimony. I pointed out some things in it to her because I was concerned about how that might go-I didn't want her to feel pressured to get up, I wanted her to know it's okay to say what she has faith in, what she hopes for, but not feel like she must say she "knows".
    When I picked her up from camp, I wondered what she would be talking about–snipe hunts, girl drama, cute songs to popular music, etc. Guess what she said. "The Stake President's wife gave the most amazing talk about the Atonement." She went on about it for awhile. Yea!! As much as I want her to learn basic life/survival skills, camp is an amazing opportunity for girls to build testimonies. That she was able to go before she turned 12 was awesome. She got to know the leaders, feel their love and interest in her individually.

  8. Just got home yesterday from my first camp experience as a leader. And my oldest daughter turned 12 while at camp.

    I'm impressed by the quality level of the church camp manual. I wished we followed it closer, but it was a guideline. We did follow it.

    We hiked, we cooked in dutch ovens. We swam in the lake. We performed skits. We had an early morning sunrise testimony meeting on the beach. We had cpr classes and lessons from a professional motivational youth speaker. They let me teach yoga.

    There was no girl drama. There was one prank–that the 3rd year girls did on themselves (bras up the flagpole).

    In our stake a huge part of camp is secret buddies (I do remember that from my camping years in Los Altos Ca Stake in the early 80's). You bring a cheap gift ($2.50) to share each day. You make them a "buddy bead" with your name, the camp theme and the year. The last day you reveal your identity to your buddy with a hug and placing the necklace. It was really amazing. So the crafting is mainly part of serving someone else.

    I loved being with girls who loved each other. Gave me a taste of Zion.

    I was also grateful for the support of the other leaders when I found out on the 3rd day of camp my dad had been taken off dialysis a week before and would pass soon.

    Girls' camp is about the love more than anything. I love the hiking, canoeing, swimming, roughing it, but I understand not everyone likes that. I still remember the greater focus my girls' camp when I was young placed on survival skills and certifying. I missed that a little at our camp, but that might have been the time limitaton and lack of leader preparation (myself included).

    I was glad our stake (Yorktown, NY) divides the girls by age and not by ward. We only have 5 girls in our ward and my daughter is the only girl her age. My daughter Eden made friends with Zionna. Isn't that appropriate for girls' camp!?

  9. Melanie, you would be an awesome camp director! It's a calling I would never wish upon myself (fingers crossed) because it's so hard to please everyone–balancing the frillies with other enriching activities is key.

    bth, ha ha! No, I didn't say anything. She was the bishop's wife, and so sweet. I just thought it was funny. She also had a different hat to go with each outfit!

    Bekah, I'm so glad you made the best of your made up calling! I love the description of the bloodshot eyeballs–thanks! I hope camp is wonderful for you and your daughter this year.

    Kris, if we can't have the survival skills at camp, learning about others outside of church is the next best thing, I think. That's one of the best parts of Girls' Camp, and I'm glad that happened for you.

    Eljee, it's painful for me to see people with "good intentions" do things to make YW feel even more awkward than they already do!! Your own experience as a girl at camp must have been valuable to those like you when you visited camp later in life. I would have been the one too shy to bear my testimony because I couldn't cry too, and now I will always think especially of those girls too. Thanks for sharing.

    Girlsmama, congratulations on being camp director! I like your ideas for striking balance and hope the girls appreciate all their experience. They are fortunate to have you! I hope they know too, that silence during testimony meeting can be a good time to reflect. But I also hope they'll be brave and speak too.

    Rachel, I'm so glad your daughter loved camp, and for the right reasons. The ultimate goal should be to strengthen testimonies, and I can see how easy it would be to get carried away with all the extras. Good for you, for preparing her to have such a great spiritual experience. Thanks for the ideas!

    Sage, thanks for sharing your story about the support you found during a hard time. I'm glad camp is still a place to find love and strength. And speaking of the secret buddy thing–we did that too and I was surprised to find out so much about the girl I was assigned. I thought she had really mature tastes for only being 12, because her pre-camp get-to-know-you survey indicated that she liked 80s music and her favorite book was The Glass Castle, and she loved gardening. I was so excited. Then on the last day when we all took turns, one by one, revealing who was whose secret sister, I realized that I had actually been assigned the girl's mother, not the daughter. That explained everything!

    Thanks everyone for your stories and memories–that's what I love most.

  10. Having just returned from camp as a freeloading Beehive Advisor, I have mixed feelings about camp and what how it has evolved over the years. Growing up, it was called "Roughout Camp" and while we didn't walk uphill both ways, there was still a strong focus on spiritual learning, camp certification, and bonding between girls and leaders. Now, it appears that girls camp has become an elaborate mix of Super Saturdays, Roadshows, and a carnival in the mountains. I blame leaders who are compelled to outdo one another with clever themes, outfits, props, gifts, decorations, elaborate food, crafts, handouts, coordinated custom-printed shirts/hats/scarves, etc. We've been told by our prophet and leaders to simplify our family lives and to keep our lessons and activities focused on the essential, but somehow this philosophy has not extended to girls camp, which has become an exercise in the extranneous.
    This insistence on "looking beyond the mark" in camp can overwhelm our girls. I'm a huge proponent of camp and think it's a great tool in preparing our young women to be strong and self-sufficient. However, this production that camp has become takes away from it's original purpose.
    We must remind ourselves that it's okay for them not to receive gifts every day. It's okay not to have multiple crafts. It's okay if we scale back the costumes. The will still love us, and they will still have great experiences. The whole idea of camp is to be separate us from the world, not to bring the world in. In the end, they'll thank us for it.

  11. I hated girls camp. Hated it. And I really hated that one year they lost my certification and I had to do it over again the next year. So when the last year of camp came, even though I was the Laurel president, I refused to go. Sadly, I was there the year everyone got food poisoning.

  12. Hi! I am looking a place for next year's camp and heard there was a great location near Tabiona, but no one can remember what it is called? Do you have any info on where you were at? I wonder if it is the place I am looking for. Thanks

  13. Heather, I remember now that it was family property in the ward. Let me know if you want to contact the owner to ask if they rent it out or not. Good luck!


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