I always thought I would grow out of it.  I thought, “Going on a mission will change things.”  It didn’t.  Then, “Going away to college will change things.”  It did.  Sort of.  Then I moved back to the ward that I grew up in, with my parents still within the ward boundaries.  The families were the same.  The kids I taught swimming lessons to in the back yard were now all teenagers.  The adults that used to be refered to as Brother (Insert First Name Here) or Sister (Insert First Name Here) became (Insert First Name Here).  They became equals.  And then I realized nothing had changed.

I loved my youth experience.  Granted, it all started 14 years ago, when I was a wide-eyed Deacon who was just excited to pass the Sacrament, but those 6 years that I went through the youth program really were magical.  I attribute that to 3 factors:

1. The amount of youth.  In our prime, we were at 15 Priests and 15 Laurels, spread throughout 3-5 high schools.  We were all very close, all the same age, and because we were usually in the extreme minority, we all hung out together.  As a matter of fact, I calculated it out.  Out of 432 students just in my graduating class, there were 4 of us.  That’s 0.93% of my graduating class that was LDS.

2. Support of the youth leaders.  Our stake youth leaders not only were young at heart, but they let us be kids.  We had stake dances.  Lots of them.  Once a month, every month, the second Saturday of the month.  It wasn’t structured, or formal.  We showed up, we danced, we went home and talked about how great the dance was.  Many of our activities were like that.  As young at heart as they were, they also weren’t afraid to lead, challenge, and inspire us.  They fostered a spirit that (from the Young Men’s side) got 13/15 of us out on missions at one time.

2.5. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the vital role our bishop played in all of this.  He was at almost all of our activities.  Campouts, service projects, firesides, a few dances, Scout Camp, Youth Conference, everywhere.  He was warm, cheery, and one that the youth could talk to at a moment’s notice.  I know in my personal case, he counseled with me some very late hours into the night about the struggles and teenage angst that I was going through.  His support for the youth and youth program caught fire, and all the leaders could feel it.

3. I saw a downfall of the youth program.  I think this is the most vital of all my experiences.  I saw micromanagement, an escape from traditionalism in the programs, and the voice of the youth being forgotten/ignored.  This had a huge effect on me.  I was there at the beginning of the downfall.  I lobbied to be on the youth committee to hopefully change some things.  I didn’t like the way that was handled (2-year term limits based on whose been in the longest…I don’t get it).  When I went on my mission I even wrote a strongly worded letter (12 pages in length) detailing why the youth committee wasn’t effective and how to change it, and sent it to the 1st Counselor in the Stake Presidency. Like I said, I thought it would change.  But it didn’t.  And I look at my younger sister and brother, both out of the youth program, and see their mockery of their youth program, and my affection towards mine.  I think the downfall contributed to that.
Last Sunday I was called to serve as the 2nd Counselor in the ward Young Men’s presidency.  I’ll be with the deacons.  In my perfect world, I would move up in about 6 months to be with the Teachers so I could see this large group of youth in our ward go through the same experiences together that I did.  As for now?  These are the experiences, lessons, and activities of a Young Men’s Counselor.  Hopefully you can learn from the inevitable failures and the hopeful successes.