EFY: 30 and Beyond
May 4, 2006 — News from the Church
This year, 50,000 youth, many from all over the world, will take part in the 30th year of the Especially For Youth program during the summer’s 100 sessions—the most sessions to take place in one summer, in more places than ever before.
The program has become a phenomenon over the last 30 years, as more youth than ever return for an atmosphere program director Greg Tanner says does something to their hearts.
“They come back because the Spirit is here,” he says. “It comes down to the strength of the youth.”
In the weeklong gathering, teens ages 14 to 18 kneel in prayer together, get to know each other, and bear their testimonies to peers they have never seen before. Between dances and variety shows, sharing meals and living quarters, and in-depth doctrinal study and firesides, the youth who were strangers at the beginning of the week tear up in parting.
Brother Tanner’s recent questions to youth in Mexico sum it up: “How many of you have two friends your age who are members?” Almost all the hands go up.
“How many of you have five?” A few hands go down.
“Ten?” Few hands are left.
“Well, at EFY, you have 600!”
Or more. Attendance at the largest-ever session held at Brigham Young University in July 2004 boasted 1,400 participants—far more than the first-ever EFY in 1976. That year, 172 participants and 15 counselors gathered in Helaman Halls dormitories at BYU. The following year, 863 attended, an increase of 500 percent.
With increased participation came a whole new realm of planning for the summer event, specifically the development of a theme. This year’s theme is “The Greatest Gift,” taken from Doctrine and Covenants 14:7.
“The greatest gift is the gift of the Atonement—the gift of our Savior,” Brother Tanner says, reflecting on the theme, which in turn shapes the annual, ever-popular EFY CD. The tracks on the CD are cut specifically with the youth in mind, incorporating messages directed to them from Church leaders.
“When music accompanies a strong experience, such as EFY, it can be incredibly powerful,” says Tyler Castleton, joint-producer of this year’s CD with Staci Peters. As a participant himself years ago, the first song he ever wrote was included on the 1993 EFY CD produced by Merrill Jenson. Brother Castleton says they now receive 200 to 300 submissions from talented artists for the CD each year.
More EFY paraphernalia, including books, T-shirts, and multimedia DVDs have developed in years past—though none of it is for profit.
“EFY must be self-sustaining,” says Brother Tanner, emphasizing that the program strives to break even each year. To do so, the cost for each participant is $350.
However, they don’t want that to keep youth from attending. Donations are accepted on the registration forms and online for a fund to sponsor youth who could not otherwise attend, with money awarded in partial grants.
The Provo location is not necessarily the best, adds assistant EFY director Pete Kadish. Many of the regional sessions may be more financially feasible.
At the six EFY sessions in Virginia this summer alone, more than 2,000 participants are expected to attend. Dan Heaton, a director of the Virginia conference, has attended EFY as a participant, a counselor, and now a liaison for the regional programs as he studies law in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve felt the impact, and I want to give something back to the youth,” Brother Heaton says. He still remembers his first EFY counselor by name—David Bowman—“the craziest guy I ever met. He loved the gospel, he loved teaching, and he loved the youth.”
EFY recruits worthy, enthusiastic, young single adults as counselors for the youth, a choice Brother Tanner says makes a powerful connection.
“The youth look up to them,” he says. “They see these young adults—they’ve made it and they are happy and energetic—they absolutely love that,” Brother Tanner says.
Brother Heaton agrees: “One of the toughest things growing up is a disconnect between the youth and parents and teachers. To have someone closer to their age, living the gospel in action—they respond to that.”
The response is overwhelming, as EFY has expanded to 34 of the 50 states, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. A “Best of EFY” program takes the sessions’ best speakers on tours to stakes by request, and participants have come from more than 15 countries, including Australia, China, and Uganda, to name a few.
Paul Bauman, a 16-year-old from Hessen, Germany, flew 12 hours by plane to attend a Provo session, and will not forget the relationships he built there.
“There were other guys the same age,” says Paul. Back home there are two members his age in his own ward. “Every morning we read scriptures, we prayed together, we shared testimonies. I felt the Spirit strongly.”
Paul wishes he could be there again, where in a crowded cafeteria this summer, hordes of LDS youth at EFY will gather, chattering over scriptures and soft-serve. Spontaneously, someone will shout out, and instantly, the entire group will erupt in unison, singing the EFY theme chant with newfound friends and newfound strength in the gospel.
“America is far,” Paul says. “If one would come to Germany, I am sure I would go again. It would be good, not as big, but good to make new relationships.”
Perhaps one day there will be something like it closer to his home, considering the growth of EFY in the last 30 years.
“Our goal is to reach as many youth as we possibly can,” says Brother Tanner, looking to the future. “Wherever they may be.”