church life, youth ministry

Top 5 Youth Retreat Survival Tips for Chaperones

Youth ministry and especially youth retreats are not for the faint of heart. It takes energy. Lots of it. Oh sure, it takes a passion for following Christ and a love of supporting kids in faith through one of the most difficult phases of life. I’ll agree with myself there, but let’s face it, youth ministry takes energy.

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Bring your own snacks

This is a two fold instruction (not a recommendation).

You have no idea what the food at the retreat center will be like. While we are grateful for all that our hosts provide, we know that some provide tastier meals than others. Also, as staff can fluctuate over the years, what was good last year may not be as good next time you visit….

So bring your own snacks. Our youth ministry brings the big snacks – chips, cookies, candies, the usual – however I pack my own too. Why?

  1. I get hangry if I don’t eat regularly. To avoid snapping off the heads of other people’s children – which is frowned upon – I keep my blood sugar at a nice level state as much as possible. Cliff bars, Kind bars, cashews, etc.
  2. The general snacks are not accessible in the evenings… so hungry teens go out searching for sustenance. Where do they go? The leaders’ room, of course. So yes, I pack an extra box of assorted snacks.

Next time a youth leader is dragging a big ol’ suitcase to the retreat, it is not because they can’t pack light. That suitcase is full of snacks – they likely bought themselves – for your kids.

Iced animal cookies are my retreat tradition. If I’m lucky I get one bag before the kids discover them and take the rest. (Shhhh. Don’t tell them that that is exactly why I get them. They still think that they are getting something over on me.)

Youth Ministry Tip: Send your own kids with a box of assorted snacks. Hand ’em over to the leader at check in. They should hug you, or at least say THANK YOU!

Bring your own coffee

Similar to bringing your own snacks, if you find you need coffee daily, bring your own! Just like the quality of food varies depending on the retreat center, so does the quality and downright drinkability of the coffee.

Some retreat centers are just outside of urban areas, where a 10 minute car ride can take leaders to civilization, and hopefully a Starbucks. However, many are in remote, rural locations, so if you didn’t pack it, you aren’t getting it.

Bring more coffee than you think you will need. This stuff isn’t called the third element for nothing.

What do I pack? I like Starbucks Doubleshot Energy drinks. The are pre-sweetened and don’t need any extra fixings to make them enjoyable. They aren’t perfect, but they don’t have to be. They need to power you through the retreat!

Don’t expect to sleep well

I think if you are prepared for this, you will be able to handle it better and with an open heart. Sleeping conditions vary from excellent to a downright awful.

Even if you get a bunk with a new, fluffy mattress (has only happened once in 6 years, y’all), it isn’t your mattress, so you may still have trouble sleeping.

You may be asked to pack your own air mattress. Be sure it has the ability to last the night without deflating in the middle. That’s not good! Go ahead and give it a trial run for a few hours before you pack it for the retreat.

If you can sleep here, you can sleep anywhere!

Pack an extra blanket or two

Youth Leader Disclaimer: When the Youth Director asks participants to pack light…. they are not talking to leadership! Kids need to pack light, or how else would we fit all of their stuff in the buses? Youth leaders, pack anything and everything you think might possibly need, and sometimes pack two of them.

An extra blanket could mean the difference in a good or a bad night’s sleep for you or one of your students – the ones who took the advice to pack lightly a little too well .

Pack one or two extra blankets. It could be hot or cold or worse moist. You may need extras. Or one of your kids will. You will be happy you did.

Don’t forget your over the counter medications!

Have your OTC arsenal ready: Ibuprofen, anti-itch ointment, ladies products, antacids. Bugs, change in dietary routine and lots of physical activity that you aren’t used to all lead to discomfort. If you pack well, you won’t have to worry about most of it.

Sharing medications (even topical) with students:

Your youth leader will have the paperwork handy for what can be shared with your youth. Follow it. DO NOT DEVIATE from what parents have permitted. Our youth group has a medical form filled out at the beginning of the school year that covers a myriad of everyday situations where OTC medications may need to be administered.

Prepare to have an amazing time!

Prepare to have an amazing time! Seriously, if you focus on the squeaky bunk bed (if you get a bed at all) or the less-than-gourmet dining fare, you will certainly not have a good time. Focus on the awesome reason you are there… for the kids. I find their energy to be contagious and try to siphon a little if I find myself dragging my feet.

Happy retreat!

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