How Youth Worldwide Are Gathering Virtually during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Contributed By Sydney Walker, Church News staff writer
- The Church recently published guidelines for using web and mobile tools.
- Focus on meeting individual, family, and local needs.
- Give consideration to children and youth who may not have digital access.
- Follow Church safety policies and “Service and Activity Guidelines” for youth and children.
“Counsel together and seek revelation for adapting activities so they can be held digitally. Youth will often have solutions.” —Youth activity guidelines
Shortly after missionaries began returning home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Christchurch New Zealand Stake held a virtual youth missionary devotional. The missionaries shared their experiences and testimonies and answered questions from the youth.
“The missionary devotional gave the youth an opportunity to interact with recent and serving missionaries, feel the Spirit, and hopefully strengthen their own testimony and desire to serve missions,” said Jeff Clendon, stake Young Men president and high councilor.
The missionaries also benefited from relating their experiences and feeling support during a difficult time of returning home.
The stake later held a trivia quiz for youth using Zoom. Participants submitted answers using the chat feature. The quiz was a fun opportunity for youth to “meet” with their leaders and encourage “team spirit” within their wards, Clendon said.
Clendon has observed that it’s easy for youth to feel isolated during these difficult circumstances. “Regular contact with their Church leaders and Church peers keeps them engaged with the gospel and with the Children and Youth program and supports their spiritual development,” he said.
Though youth and children of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints haven’t been able to physically meet for a few months, due to COVID-19 concerns, many have found creative ways to gather virtually. Here’s a glimpse of what some stakes and wards have been doing around the world.
Virtual Youth Activities
Gabriela Pires da Rocha, 16, of the Pinhais Ward in Curitiba, Brazil, said the youth in her ward have been meeting online twice a week for seminary. The full-time missionaries in her area recently planned a four-part virtual missionary activity for the youth. They tested their knowledge of the scriptures, played games in groups, and shared on social media how they find peace in Christ.
“It’s so cool to see how the Lord provides various ways so that we can continue learning the gospel,” she said.
In the Mayagüez Puerto Rico Stake, stake Young Women president Betsy González said youth have continued to hold weekly activities through various online platforms.
Some recent activities have focused on the new bicentennial proclamation President Russell M. Nelson announced in the April general conference. Youth from around the stake recently compiled a video of reciting the proclamation.
The stake is planning an upcoming virtual youth devotional on the Restoration, and the Caribbean Area is planning an area-wide virtual conference patterned after For the Strength of Youth (FSY).
“It’s so difficult for youth in this moment to pass through all these problems and social distancing alone,” González said. “We are inviting them to invite other friends and nonmembers that are social distancing like them so they can join us in these devotionals and activities.”
Young women in the Canyon Rim Second Ward in Salt Lake City, Utah, recently participated in a virtual cupcake-decorating contest.
Leslie Walker, secretary in the Young Women presidency, said she and other leaders delivered cupcake mixes and instructions for the activity to each girl’s home. The young women submitted a picture of their finished cupcake by a specific date, and the bishopric judged the creations.
The activity was a success for all involved. “I think they learned that we can still do things. We don’t have to be totally isolated,” Walker said. “There’s still things we can do to try to stay together and be together but still be safe.”
Hazel Shumay, 15, second counselor in the Young Women class presidency, said the activity helped her feel more united with the young women. “Sometimes you feel really alone. So it’s really nice to know even if you can’t see the young women, there’s still this community that’s excited to see you when quarantine is over. It just makes you feel more supported.”
Bishop Marc Child added, “They need connection. That’s part of it. We all need to be touched and know that we’re important. We’ve got to stay engaged in this. This is critical. And I need to see them too. I need to know how they’re doing.”
Virtual Youth Camps
Young women in the Charlotte North Carolina South Stake are planning to hold a two-day virtual Young Women camp in July. Stake camp director Suzy Pierson said they are embracing the unique circumstances to make virtual camp an uplifting and unforgettable experience.
“We’re calling it ‘camp in a box,’” Pierson said. Each young woman will receive a box with supplies for activities and classes, as well as a camp T-shirt, schedule, and note from their leaders. Older young women serving as youth camp leaders will have a group of younger young women to meet with virtually.
Pierson has already noticed some unexpected advantages to virtual camp. For example, classes are usually limited by time or resources at camp. But this year youth camp leaders can teach however many classes they’d like. The young women will receive links to recordings of the classes they sign up for.
Though a virtual talent show and virtual testimony meeting will look different, Pierson hopes the activities will give young women who usually feel uncomfortable “their moment to shine and be strengthened.”
“Even though we can’t get together physically and it’s breaking a lot of their hearts, there’s no need to erase [camp] this year,” Pierson said. “There’s so much growth. There’s so much learning. . . . So let’s make it memorable in a great way. There’s no forgetting this year.”
Young men in the Birmingham Alabama Stake are also planning a virtual camp. Plans include a prerecorded devotional and activities in each of the four areas of the Children and Youth program (spiritual, social, intellectual, and physical).
“We want to make sure we’re giving everyone an opportunity to do something that they like and enjoy,” said David Galloway, stake Young Men president and high councilor.
Despite challenges of the pandemic, he hopes youth will see “you can make lemonade out of lemons.”
“You can still make the most out of this time that we’re going through without just giving up and saying, ‘Hey, we can’t do anything.’ Sure, we can’t do the camp in the traditional sense, but if one person is inspired to be better and do better through some of these activities, then why not do it?” Galloway said.
Virtual Primary Activities
Children in the Mountain Shadows First Ward (Portuguese), West Jordan Utah Mountain Shadows Stake, participated in a virtual exercise activity last week over Zoom.
Primary activities leader Vanessa Lagemann said she explained the benefits of exercise and showed appropriate YouTube videos the children could dance to. Some parents also participated. The children have been participating in virtual activities about once a month since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I think it’s important for them,” said Lagemann of continuing to hold activities for the children. “At least they can say hi and see them and see that everybody’s OK and we’re going to be fine and we’re just adjusting.”
Guidelines for Virtual Gatherings for Youth and Children
To help youth, adult, and Primary leaders continue to plan virtual gatherings, the Church recently published guidelines for using web and mobile tools:
- “Activities for Youth through Web and Mobile Tools and Virtual Gatherings”
- “Activities for Children through Web and Mobile Tools and Virtual Gatherings”
Principles include focusing on meeting individual, family, and local needs; giving consideration to children and youth who may not have digital access; and following the Church’s safety policies and “Service and Activity Guidelines” for youth and children.
“Counsel together and seek revelation for adapting activities so they can be held digitally. Youth will often have solutions,” the youth guidelines state.
Online safety practices include avoiding using unknown vendors and sites, sharing personal information online, and displaying pictures of others without their permission. Leaders should participate in all virtual activities, and parents should be aware of activities so they can be responsible for the online safety of their children and youth.
The Christchurch New Zealand Stake held a virtual youth missionary devotional over Zoom in April 2020.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Clendon, courtesy of Church News.