I love the young women of the Church, and the Young Women program needs each one of these girls. But does your daughter need Young Women?
You would probably get different answers, depending on whom you ask. A survey of the Young Women program in fifteen stakes throughout the United States asked the girls to indicate to what extent family, friends, and Church programs influenced their lives. These active young women reported that their parents and the Young Women program equally influenced the development of their testimonies, their kindness and concern for others, and their feelings of importance as young women. We’d like to tell you why we think the girls said what they did about the Young Women program.
What kind of difference can Young Women make?
A girl named Bridgett admits, “I’d done just about everything a girl shouldn’t do. I was running around with the wrong kids and doing their thing, but Marilee, my class president, just wouldn’t give up on me. That’s why I’m here today.”
One young Laurel in England comments, “I don’t know what the problem is with women today. I know who I am and I know where I’m going and I know what I should do. Now all I’ve got to do is make myself do it.”
A young Puerto Rican girl at a youth conference testified in broken English, “I’ve never been so happy. Just think! There are nine of us here this year instead of two. Five of them have been baptized, and before the year is out we’ll have many more. I love this Church.”
The perspective of leaders and parents is equally sobering and inspiring. One Young Women leader sees her class as “spirits who can be taught by the Holy Ghost, spirits who hunger to be so taught.”
A bishop from the Salem, Oregon, area gives the youth program credit for “transforming” his young people. “They rejoice in each other, they carry each other’s burdens, and when one weeps, they all weep. Their activity seems to have affected the activity of the whole ward.”
A father acknowledged, “I think that when Allyson asked for a father’s blessing I realized for the first time what it meant to magnify my priesthood in behalf of the members of my family.”
And a mother added, “Marjorie is so different from our other four daughters. She’s so interested in the happiness of each family member. Maybe it comes from being Beehive president. I’m amazed at the responsibility she assumes in that calling. How grateful I am for this program!”
We are grateful, too—for the program and for the concern of parents that their daughters be taught what it means to be a child of God and a member of the Church.
We see our mission as supporting those worthy home goals, as assisting parents to teach their daughters the joys and responsibilities of citizenship in their Father’s kingdom. Our program is designed to give the girls experience with the process of progression. There’s great joy for parents in seeing their girls recognize where they are and where they are going, and build bridges between the two places. We’re here to help. And here’s how we do it:
New manuals for Beehives, Mia Maids, and Laurels were printed for 1977–78. The adult adviser teaches twenty-two of these lessons each year. The Laurel lessons, for instance, deal with relationships (with the Savior, the Holy Ghost, boys, and family), with preparation (for the temple endowment, for marriage, for jobs, for sorrow, and for adversity), and with skills (developing talents and learning to communicate). Gospel principles of honesty, stewardship, and charity are emphasized too.
Whatever the lesson, it includes scriptures. Each girl is encouraged to bring her own standard works to class, to read the applicable quotations, and to discuss how they apply to daily living. Parents who are trying to teach their daughters how to use the scriptures to draw closer to the Lord and to learn his ways know what a source of strength regular scripture study can be.
We know how important these spiritual ties are. Sometimes they’re the only anchor that a young woman has in a world that seems to change constantly, a world where her values are always being threatened and challenged.
I was awed by the courage of Stephanie, a black girl who joined the Church at age fourteen. She was the only Mormon in her family and also in her New York high school. One day, riding the old elevator to the sixth floor, she heard three other girls talking about religion. “Eager to tell a million people” about her own experience, she announced that she was a Mormon. She was frightened to see immediately the venomous looks and hear the more venomous words of the other girls. Finally she said, “You have a right to believe what you believe, and I have a right to believe what I believe. I know that what I believe is true.” She reports, “That silenced them, and I got off the elevator—shaking—and went to class.” For Stephanie, who is without parental support of her religious beliefs, the strength she receives from her church classes is doubly important.
But how relevant can lessons be that are prepared in Salt Lake City for over 250,000 young women ranging in age from twelve to eighteen, alike in some ways and unique in others? The key is flexibility from adult leaders. When they study the materials, pray for help, and counsel with their priesthood leaders, they can successfully adapt the program to the individual needs of their class members. And one of their greatest resources is class leaders.
In an effort to reach back in time for understanding, the young women in the New York Stake trekked two miles through the snow, barefoot part of the way, to understand better some of their pioneer heritage. In testimony meeting later, one of them said, “I saw those girls take off their shoes and I thought, ‘No way!’ But because they were doing it, I did too, and I’ll never forget how close it brought me to those pioneer sisters.”
The Young Women program is priesthood directed. The General Presidency and General Board are called by the First Presidency, and work with the executive director of the Priesthood Department, and more closely with the managing director assigned to the Young Women.
On the ward level, the bishop calls the youth and adult leaders. Each class president chooses her own counselors and secretary, if the class is big enough. The class president and her counselors receive weekly leadership training lessons from an adult adviser, and are charged with the stewardship of knowing and loving each class member and, with their adviser, of planning activities to include each individual. A special blessing for the class president is a monthly stewardship meeting with a member of the bishopric.
Can young women really take this kind of responsibility for each other? One Mia Maid president gives a humble yes:
“Nancy never came to Mutual. I tried everything I could think of—took her cookies and cakes, and told her we missed her. Each time, her eyes were cold. I could tell she didn’t like me. I was ready to give up—she was so ungrateful. Then my adviser suggested that I pray and listen for an answer. I prayed, and waited impatiently. Suddenly it came to me that I was treating my Heavenly Father the same way I treated Nancy—not trying to find out what was important to him, just demanding my own way.
“I prayed again, this time for forgiveness. And I prayed, with more intensity than I’d ever prayed for anything, for help in loving Nancy. It took time and concentration, but I found myself caring less about my reputation as a great leader and more about Nancy.
“A kind of breakthrough came when I realized that we really needed her as much as she needed us. Since she was a fine dancer, we asked her to develop a special routine for the roadshow. We don’t know the end of the story yet, but she came to Mutual last week and I hope she’ll be back.”
Stewardship for others is only part of the responsibility. Another part is developing individual abilities. I attended a Beehive standards night recently and was impressed by the dignity and confidence of the president. Not everything went perfectly. The meeting had already started by the time the stake president came in, but the class president, with perfect graciousness, welcomed him by name and asked him to join them on the stand.
A couple of other potential emergencies were handled with equal poise; afterwards I asked her how she did it. She grinned. “No big deal. My adviser and I listed all the possible things that could happen and how to handle them—we worked on it for a whole month.” That told me a lot.
Think for a minute about the juggling act a girl has to do constantly between her challenges and her abilities, her interests and her time. Young Women activities aren’t just to take up her time—they’re to help her meet problems as they come up.
What are some of these challenges? One is the gospel’s high standards and expectations. Temple marriage is high on that list, but the means of reaching it aren’t always easily available. One Laurel I know has so many friends and dates she can hardly find time to study. But another has been lonely all her life. She hasn’t ever had a date, and wonders if she will ever have a close friend.
A couple of years ago I asked a Korean girl what her greatest challenge was. She replied, “I want to be married in the temple. In this country, I know few Church members, so it looks like I will either have to convert a mate or move to another part of the world. But I’m a Korean. I want to marry a Korean. That means I’ll have to be a missionary too. If I do my part, I know the Lord will do his.” I felt impressed to promise her that the way would be opened for her to have an eternal marriage. Just two months later the Tokyo Temple was announced.
Education can be another challenge. In Guatemala some young women must make great sacrifices to learn more than reading and writing. In the United States some girls quail before the challenge of college.
Some of our young women struggle with conflicting options. Sixteen-year-old Rebecca says right now that she doesn’t want to be “just a career woman” but she doesn’t want to be “just a housewife” either. The examples of women she respects and her study of the scriptures are important as she sorts out what her Heavenly Father wants her to be.
Maintaining spirituality is another challenge. Spiritual highs and lows are sometimes painful at this time. One young woman said, “I felt so lifted and beautiful at testimony meeting, and then came home to an argument about who left a dirty pot in the sink.” Another one said, “I read about ideal families in the New Era and then think of my own family and feel like crying.” The Ayutthya branch in Thailand was closed because there are no active priesthood holders in the area, but the eighteen young Latter-day Saint women there study the Book of Mormon together and periodically take money from their meager earnings to send two sisters to the nearest missionaries with their questions.
The activity program helps bolster spirituality in a variety of ways. There are service activities, sports activities, cultural activities, recreational activities, summer camp, and youth conferences. These activities introduce the girls to other girls and boys, let them work together, play together, and share deep and sacred experiences together.
Sister Carolyn P. Toronto of Northridge, California, wrote of her gratitude for the camp program. The Torontos had left their children home and were attending the Saturday night session of stake conference. At home, their nine-month-old daughter woke up, pulled the wheels off a little car, and put them in her mouth, cutting off the air. The babysitter, Christine Morrison, immediately noticed the problem, took the wheels out of the baby’s mouth, and gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It worked. She’d learned that technique from Lila Orm, a nurse in the stake, at summer camp. Sister Toronto says, from the heart, “We’re so grateful that the Young Women program provides this type of training.”
Another part of the activity program is the Young Women Personal Progress program. The theory behind it is simple and powerful: we want each girl to know that her personal progress is eternal, that it will never be finished in this life. We want her to know that she can change and grow at any time in her life.
Six areas are suggested—from homemaking skills to spiritual awareness—and each girl selects her own goals.
One Beehive girl learned to paint a wall and weave a basket.
Another set the goal of keeping the Sabbath day holy, a problem when her parents went fishing almost every week. “At first, no one at home understood what my goal was and how important it was to me, but they finally reevaluated what they did on Sunday. Now they come with me to church.”
Another girl set the goal of reading the scriptures daily and living those principles for at least a day or two. Her friends asked her why she’d started walking around with a smile on her face.
Another decided to practice the piano two hours every day with the eventual goal of performing a Brahms intermezzo from memory.
Another set the short-range goal of reading the front page of the newspaper daily for two months, with a long-range goal of being actively involved in helping on some community problem.
Each girl, by writing down her goals and by recording her progress, can feel the thrill of achievement. The Young Women program gives no tangible rewards for reaching the goals, but once a year each girl meets with her adviser to prepare a Certificate of Progress. She evaluates her progress toward her goals, her personal worthiness, her journal keeping, and her attendance at seminary and other Church meetings. It’s a good time to discover unexpected areas of progress and to make new plans for the coming year. The girl, her adviser, and the bishop sign this certificate. The bishop also interviews her privately once a year so that he can know her better, counsel her, support her, and help her realize the blessings of priesthood leadership and encourages her in her progress.
The final and most beautiful aspect of the Young Women program is the Young Womanhood recognition—given to a girl upon her application, as she nears completion of the program. Girls receiving this recognition know the commandments of the Lord, are living them to the best of their ability, and have made a commitment to continue living them.
So why then does your daughter need Young Women? The activity program gives her a place to practice what she’s learning at home about Christlike love for others. The lessons reinforce what you’re teaching her in family home evening and in daily conversation.
As you try to teach her the responsibilities of being a mature adult, the Young Women program gives her a chance to accept and exercise responsibility in planning activities, presiding or counseling, and setting goals.
As you teach her the importance of the scriptures, Mutual class will add another dimension to reinforce those teachings. As you search for ways to find out what she’s thinking and feeling, the lessons will be exploring the same areas—along with teaching her communication skills and reinforcing the idea that her parents are her first and greatest resource.
For most young women, being alive today is both glorious and challenging.
We, like you, want to help them find the way to lasting happiness so that they may return to live with their Heavenly Father.