Melanie Hollis has always enjoyed planning activities for her friends to do together, and after she joined the Church, she realized that gathering people is a spiritual gift. She put that gift of gathering into practice as a Young Adult counselor for the FSY (For the Strength of Youth) summer conferences around the United States in the summer of 2022.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born in California, and we moved to Michigan while I was in middle school to help care for my grandma because she was sick with Parkinson’s disease. A couple of years after I graduated from high school, the economy was garbage in Michigan and my family was drained financially. We were trying to go back to California but that’s even more expensive so it didn’t work out. We settled for Las Vegas, Nevada.
I was jumping around with schools and majors and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. During COVID, I thought I had a prompting to move to Utah. I’m not sure when or why, but I just went with it. And within just a couple of weeks, I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” Thinking that you know what a place is like and actually living there are two different things. There are pro’s and con’s and Utah didn’t work for me so I lived there for only a year.
I was still thinking, “Let me find what I want to do.” I went to cosmetology school and that’s not for me. So I started working as a baker and cake decorator until I decided to move back to Vegas. I was there for a while until this past summer. I worked as an FSY counselor for the Church (For the Strength of Youth conferences), and at the end of the summer, I realized I was not excited to go back to Vegas. I went to the temple and prayed on it, and the Spirit said, “Try again. You can always move back if it doesn’t work out.” So, I moved to Provo. So far it’s been good! I feel more calm here, and I’ve had more opportunities after FSY. I’ve applied to be a seminary teacher, to teach at the MTC, and will definitely apply to be part of FSY again next year.
I saw on social media that you feel you have a spiritual gift of bringing people together. I’d never heard of spiritual gifts in that context and it intrigued me. How do you explain it?
I used to travel a lot with my friends. I would hang out and plan stuff together – “Let’s do this. Let’s do that.” One day, I was talking to one of my friends, and she said that she felt like I have a spiritual gift of bringing people together. It put me at pause for a minute because I didn’t realize it myself. But then I thought, yeah, that’s true, I guess I do, because I do like planning stuff in general, and I don’t like to leave people out or leave them behind.
That’s what the Savior is about. He never left anybody behind. I learned from the example of one of my friends – she’s that type of person that if you’re sitting by yourself, she will come sit by you. If you’re walking by yourself, she’ll walk with you, because that’s just who she is. She always wants someone to feel like they have a friend. So I learned from her example. I wish I had more people like that in my life.
How have you put the gift of gathering into practice in other parts of your life?
I was a hospitality management major at UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) before I moved to Utah. There’s also event planning or wedding planning. I know someone who is a wedding planner and she did not go to school for it. She just kind of went up the ladder and kept cross-training for other stuff. She was working at a hotel in Vegas, but when COVID hit, she decided to do it on her own and she’s her own boss. So I’ve been thinking, do I really want to keep going to school for this? But at the same time, it’d be good to have a bachelor’s with a Hospitality Management degree.
And working FSY – you’re working with the youth and you have a co-counselor, so you’re not doing it all by yourself. The first week, I struggled with thinking, “I wish I could teach as good as he does,” and I wasn’t getting things out correctly. But people told me that everyone is at FSY for a different reason. Your gift and my gift are two different things, and that’s fine. One of the things my trainer told me is that the Lord needs you for who you are. That’s really stuck to me. We’re all here for a different purposes. It’s not going to always be the same.
How did you get into FSY in the first place?
I was just sniffing around online. I’d heard of EFY (Especially For Youth) and started looking. They mentioned FSY on the EFY page, and I’d never heard of it. I applied in November last year and they got back to me for an interview within three weeks. I flew out to Provo to the interview in person and in a few more weeks, they told me I got the job.
They don’t just throw you out there. They email a workbook of the do’s and don’ts as a counselor and have in-person training as well. It wasn’t the youth that stressed me out. It’s sometimes the material that you need to know that can be stressful. But I loved doing it, and I want to keep doing something to be part of FSY even after I age out of being a Young Adult counselor.
Had you not heard of EFY and FSY before? Are you a convert?
I was baptized eight years ago. At that time, I just moved from Michigan to Vegas. I felt like Joseph Smith when he didn’t know what church to join – that phase in his life. I was in a new state. Didn’t know what I was doing. Where I was going. I didn’t know what church to be a part of. I had never been baptized into my church in Michigan because I thought the more important part was just to attend church, and they only read the Bible there.
During this time, I was a night student. I was going home one night after classes, and I came across these Elders and I noticed they were so dressed up. I thought it was kind of weird, eight o’clock at night, pitch black outside. They wanted to talk to me, get to know me, and my testimony. I didn’t even know what a testimony was. So I turned it around and made them do more of the talking. They told me who they are and what we believe, and a few days later, they passed me over to the Sisters and came to my house.
The first thing we talked about was the Restoration and how it started with Joseph Smith and the First Vision. They gave me a Book of Mormon and invited me to pray if the gospel altogether is true. I couldn’t explain the good feeling that I had then. I told them, “I feel good. I feel like the gospel is church.” She said, “Well, that’s the Spirit you’re feeling.” It took two months for me to be baptized because I was so stressed out with life and everything was a mess with work and school. Even the week of my baptism, I think it’s so convenient for Satan when he knows something good is gonna happen to you. He tries to come in and get at you with every crack. It was just an irritating week. But then that Saturday came and I was baptized. I just felt so clean and fresh and brand new. All this weight lifted off my shoulders – that was a really special moment.
When my baptism anniversary comes around, I like to do something special. I love the temple. I try to pick which temple to go to that I have not been to. Yeah, that’s what I like to do every year to celebrate that moment. I’ve been to all in Utah except one. I think it’s Monticello that I’ve never been to yet. I’ve been to Vegas, of course. Tucson, Arizona. Los Angeles. I went to Boise this summer.
Some friends and I went to the temple open house in Cedar City, Utah and stayed with one of my bishop’s friends. We were talking about family history, church history, and the bishop’s wife asked who is a convert, and I raised my hand. She said, “Did you guys ever think about how your family will be changed forever? Because you’re a pioneer, you’re the first generation in your family.” I never thought about that but yeah, that’s so true. It was a little challenging with my family in the beginning, but now that it’s been eight years, my family doesn’t really ask questions or anything. But my lineage is forever changed because of that decision I made.
It absolutely is changed. How has your connection to the Lord and spiritual gifts been enhanced for you since then?
I feel like that gathering people is a gift that I didn’t even notice until later. Certain people in my life pointed it out and helped me to mold myself into that after it was noticed. I know what it’s like to not feel included or part of the crowd. It makes me think about Jesus and how He doesn’t leave people behind. When I go to church, I get kind of irritated when I see cliques because Jesus was never about cliques. He saw us all as one. We’re all equal as His children, but we’re all different, unique, and we stand out in our own way.
The fact that He’s never been about cliques or choosing favorites makes me want to keep acting more on that spiritual gift. The more I think about the Savior’s example, the more I don’t want people to feel left behind or left out. When working at FSY, I could see that some were not wanting to be part of the group because they already feel left out. That’s sad, because their parents paid money for them to go. I wanted them to leave the experience on a good note, have fun, they’ve at least accomplished something. They’re not just learning stuff spiritually at FSY, they’re also having fun. I love the youth and it’s very interesting to hear their perspectives because they’re so young.
It does hurt and it does make me sad when I see someone feel like they’re not a part of the group. So, I sit with them, and I talk to them. But at the same time, if they don’t feel comfortable, I don’t want to be too pushy. I want to let them progress in their time as well.
How was FSY for you as a counselor?
It was really, really, really great. I worked a week in Provo, three weeks in Kentucky, four weeks in Logan, Utah, and one week in Rexburg, Idaho. Out of all the sessions, Provo and Kentucky were my favorite. I just didn’t like the humidity part, but it’s so green and the people are super friendly. I had random kids come up to me and say Hi even though I didn’t know them. Everyone is so properly mannered, they say “yes ma’am, no ma’am.” They actually treat you with respect, honor.
Our objective was just to serve the kids and the Lord. We were to teach new habits to the kids to help strengthen their faith and testimony of Jesus Christ. I really love the FSY medley – it’s a combination of the songs As Sisters in Zion and Army of Helaman.
What were the different things you did in the week?
Sunday night is when you find out who your co-counselor is for the week – you’re partnering with someone who is the opposite sex. I had the girls, he had the boys, and we come together as a company. Sometimes we had a third co-counselor so it was kind of a party with about 35 kids. We would sometimes separate and have our own activities – me and my girls, him and his boys. And the company would come together for other activities.
Every day, there’s something different happening. Monday is when we get things ready for the kids, check-in, and orientation. We wanted them to understand the rules, like no talking about politics. We had icebreaker games. We had a company name – one week, my company name was Always Remember, and we had a scripture that went with it. The kids were supposed to come together and come with a cheer and a chant to help build unity. The Savior was about unity and coming together because we’re all children of God. Everything we did was focused on the Savior and His teachings.
There were a couple of days of classes that the kids could choose and learn spiritual things. For fun things, we had a game night and a pizza night, and a variety show with skits. There were dances on Tuesday and Friday nights.
Thursdays were a really great day – we wore church clothes all day because it was a spiritual day, with testimony meeting that night. We had an activity and devotional about the First Vision – we studied the different accounts of the First Vision. I heard a song called My Sacred Grove – I played it for the kids and encouraged them, as well as myself, to find our own sacred grove as well because the world has so many noises. It’s confusing. So we need to invest our time with Heavenly Father, between you and Him, away from all the noise.
There were other lessons as well – we talked about goal setting, and the point of goal setting was to help them understand that to return to our Heavenly Father, we need to make progress in this life. We asked what goals they wanted to set individually for the week in four categories: physical, spiritual, intellectual, and social.
We talked about scripture study – before they did personal scripture study, we had a short lesson. One was, what does it mean to feast on the words of Christ? Things like that.
The things we taught the youth, we hoped that they would take it home and not just leave it. Learning new habits, we want them to keep going, especially with goal setting. We have the goal to live with our Heavenly Father again.
I also felt prompted to talk to them about their worth, that they are a child of God and there’s so much more to them than their names and their flaws. There was a speaker who is a Seventy – I don’t remember his name – but he gave a message that there will be times when you might have to demonstrate your courage and what you know is true by yourself. He said to be strong, stand up in holy places, and be not moved. I encouraged the kids as well, to stay true to the faith even though it may be discouraging doing it by yourself.
FSY is obviously set up to have a positive impact on the youth, but I would figure it had a positive impact on you too. What were some of those positive things?
For a few weeks, it was a struggle for me that had nothing to do with the kids or the co’s – it had to do with myself. I was constantly stressing and not feeling good about myself. I had to take some time to really realize that is not what the Lord wants anyone to feel. That’s definitely not from Him, that’s from the adversary. One of my friends said that just the fact that I was there and I get to be part of it shows how much the Lord trusts me.
When I got to Logan, I was talking to one of my co’s. He has clinical depression and he was really struggling. Also, he had injured himself before he got to Logan so he was in a wheelchair the whole week. I don’t remember what he was saying but the tone was that he was upset and feeling like, What’s my purpose her? I can’t even walk. And I don’t remember what I said to him, but I felt really strong and things started coming out of my mouth that I normally wouldn’t say. I thought, “I wouldn’t have said that weeks ago.” I started to realize I was feeling stronger, more confident, happier.
I even had one of my kids ask me, “Can you give me tips on how to be confident?” Girl, I’m not confident. But I thought about that too. I realized I was so focused on the kids and the Lord that I didn’t pay attention to my insecurities or doubts about myself, all those little things. It was like I gave it to the Lord and He took care of it for me. I just didn’t realize until somebody pointed it out to me.
I met Brad Wilcox as well. It was a week when I was stressing about myself. He looked at me and hugged me. He pointed at me and said to my girls, “You are so lucky to have her as a counselor.” He took a picture with me and posted it on his Instagram. It was a tender moment of meeting someone I wasn’t expecting. One of the assistant coordinators also talked to me – her job was to just see how I was doing and help me plan things. She said, “Your girls love you and are talking about you all the time.”
But I’m stubborn. Even when someone tells me I’m doing so well, it’s hard for me to believe it. I feel like the Lord definitely uses people to help me understand that I’m doing just fine. I’m doing great and I need to give myself more credit. I would say the Lord really worked on me a lot when it came to my self-worth and being more kind to myself. The Spirit also prompted me to do things as a counselor that I probably wouldn’t have done months ago.
When I was packing and getting ready to leave, the Spirit said to me, “When you go home, you are going to be different.” I feel ten times stronger and happier. I feel better about myself. I’m not doubting myself as much, especially with the whole body image. I definitely feel different now than months ago, and I want to keep it that way.
What’s the one thing you wanted the youth at FSY to know when they went home?
The Lord loves you and He hears you. He accepts you and needs you for who you are.
One thing that stood out to me, when I was working in Kentucky – it was our last day with our company. My co said to our kids something I really loved: “You don’t need to go home and be perfect. You need to go home and be different.”
At A Glance
Name: Melanie Hollis
Location: Provo, Utah
Marital History: Single
Occupation: I work for the Marriott Hotel
Convert to the Church: November 17, 2013
Schools Attended: Hospitality Management major at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, hoping to transfer to BYU
Languages Spoken At Home: English, sometimes Spanish
Favorite Hymn: If the Savior Stood Beside Me
Social Media: @themelaniemichelle_
Interview Produced By Trina Caudle