Southern Virginia Gathering Place for 1,500 EFY Participants

Nearly 1,500 Latter-day Saint youth gathered to Southern Virginia University in the Shenandoah Valley this summer for one of five weeklong sessions of Especially for Youth.

Used to being in the minority at their schools, the participants, aged 14–18, enjoyed the bonds of friendship they formed while focusing on this year’s theme, “Be Thou an Example” (1 Tim. 4:12).

“EFY provides a refuge from the world where youth can participate in the things that draw them closer to their Heavenly Father and their Savior Jesus Christ,” said Greg Tanner, director of Youth and Family Programs for Brigham Young University. “If we can have places of refuge for the youth of the Church closer to where they and their families live, the sacrifice will not be as great and they won’t have to travel as far to experience the blessings of this program.”

Similar to the way the Church gathers in stakes and congregations, Tanner said that it is important to have EFY in locations that are easy to reach for youth outside of Utah. With hundreds of participants from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and other east coast states, he said that Southern Virginia University provides an enriching and LDS-friendly atmosphere.

“Southern Virginia is a very EFY friendly campus,” Brother Tanner said. The halls are adorned with Church-influenced art, including paintings and sculptures of scenes from the Savior’s life and of the Restoration of the Gospel, which enhance the spirituality of the experience for counselors and participants alike.

A welcome addition to the EFY sessions this summer is the new Institute and student ward building that the Church constructed and dedicated earlier this year. Participants use the new building for testimony meetings, scripture study and other activities. During the school year, the building accommodates the largest institute program in the eastern United States, as well as five student wards.

“It is such a blessing to have a gospel-based program in an environment where the spirit is already present,” said Bethany Anderson, one of two field coordinators for EFY at Southern Virginia this summer. Anderson, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Southern Virginia in 2007, recently returned from a mission in Provo, Utah. She returned to Virginia for EFY — her fifth time as a counselor or supervisor. “I remember thinking my freshman year that being at SVU had a very similar feeling to being at EFY,” she said.

Of the 1,500 participants attending EFY at Southern Virginia this year, more than one-third are from Virginia. 349 are from North Carolina, 155 from Maryland and about 200 from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and West Virginia combined. Some come from Texas, Utah and California, and seven came from international locations like England, Korea and Qatar.

”The objective of EFY is to create a climate of revelation where the Holy Ghost may bear witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the reality of the Savior and His atonement, and that revelation is still being received by living prophets and apostles,” Brother Tanner said. “As participants return home they are better able to stand as examples and influence their families, wards or branches and friends.”