About 80 teenagers and 20 adults from southeast Louisiana took part in a handcart trek Feb. 10-13, experiencing “in some measure the sacrifice, hardship, endurance, forgiveness, faith and testimony early pioneers learned along the trail,” according to Gregory K. Stock, president of the LDS New Orleans Stake.

Participants prepared for the 15-mile trek for more than six months, building their own carts and sewing pioneer skirts and aprons.

More than 70,000 Mormons migrated to Utah between 1847 and 1869. Almost 3,000 of them traveled more than 1,000 miles from Iowa to Utah by handcart, seeking a refuge where they could worship free of persecution. Some traveled by ship from Europe, with thousands arriving in New Orleans.

Latter-day Saint youth groups participate in handcart treks all over the globe, but the February trek on a Mississippi trail was a first for Louisiana Mormons.

Before the trek, Julia Elmer, a sophomore at Lakeshore High School in Mandeville, said, “I think it will be one of those things that’s hard in the beginning, but you feel good about yourself having done it.”

Trek “families” were formed with groups of nine young people and a designated “ma and pa” to push each 400-pound handcart. For 14-year-old Clarissa Ashby, of Luling, this was a new experience. Ashby said, “Here on trek, having older brothers has been amazing. I am the oldest sister of seven children at home.”

At one point, just the young women pulled the heavy wooden carts as the young men watched with hats off in silence to show their respect for the strength of the girls. Hannah Ory, a student at Covington High School, said, “Before trek, I thought, ‘I am weak,’ but now I know I can do hard things.”

“The overall purpose of trek is to help our youth build and strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ. He is the center of our faith and all we do,” said Kelli Dupuy, president of LDS Young Women. “Our youth are living in challenging times with many pressures. This trek will give them an opportunity to step away from the world. It will push them and strengthen them physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Tanner Southam, 14, of Madisonville, said he went expecting “growth, testimony, sore muscles and a humble heart.”

“Trek improved my character on so many levels,” said Mylyah Harding, a high school senior from Destrehan. “I enlisted in the Army and I go to boot camp June 1. I hear, ‘You gonna camp.’ I can handle camping now. This has been empowering as a woman, as a Mormon and a youth, as a daughter of God.”

Charity Conlin, of Bush, a Covington High junior, said, “I’m thankful for the chance to learn about pioneers and all they went through. I know Christ helped them. We can have Christ help us through anything too.”