The Best Thing We’ve Done

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Arizona Young Women Emphasize Ward Program

In early 1978 Otto Shill, counselor in the Mesa Arizona North Stake presidency, challenged the stake Young Women to deemphasize stake activities and expend our efforts in strengthening the wards and families. I was the stake Young Women’s president, and it didn’t take me long to see that we had our work cut out for us. But the rewards came quickly.

With the support of stake president George Allen, we started by cutting the frequency of our stake preparation meetings from monthly to quarterly. Even if we cut one meeting, we reasoned, we’d be giving the ward leaders another opportunity to work with their girls directly. But we knew the leaders would miss sharing ideas with one another on a monthly basis, so we decided to start an idea bank. We went throughout the stake seeking every idea we could get on how to have a successful program. These all went into the idea bank. Included were effective programs for standards nights, skits, sample agendas, movies, slide presentations, and so on. My second counselor, Claudia Randall, was named the librarian (teller!) of the idea bank and was given the responsibility of collecting materials and helping the wards have access to them.

Of course, sometimes the bank was hard to get at. But its very lack of availability proved to be an asset to the Thirty-ninth Ward. They were planning an Evening for Sharing, and since they were unable to get help from us, they created their own. In doing so, they discovered talent that they never knew existed. Before they were through, they had been able to involve every single girl in their ward in the program.

“There is no way we could have involved every single girl in our ward had the program been held on a stake level,” says Thirty-ninth Ward Bishop Tom Arnett.

Needless to say, the program went into our idea bank.

Our efforts at activation proved to be equally effective when we began to do our work on the ward level. One approach that helped us was our missionary emphasis. In November 1978 we called our youth and adult leaders together and announced that we’d be having a stake New Year’s Eve missionary fireside to culminate a month’s missionary activity. Subsequent to that announcement, workshops were held in the wards to motivate the youth to approach their inactive and nonmember friends, to teach them how to find contacts, and to challenge them to spend the coming month in missionary-related activities.

The response was overwhelming. The stimulus given to the leaders began to multiply many times through the eleven wards in our stake. In one ward, each priest was paired off with a missionary and they canvassed every home in the ward. At each door they would explain the Church’s youth program, leave a meeting schedule, and ask if the missionaries could come back. Many appointments were made as a result of the canvass.

Then the nonmember youth were invited to a hayride, with the wagon stopping at every home to pick them up. The ride ended at a big barn where a bonfire, hotdogs, and dancing waited.

That was only in one ward. Activities were held in all wards in the stake, and by the end of the month, every young member of the Church had participated in one way or another. Baptisms eventually resulted from the activities. We feel part of our success with this effort is attributable to the fact that we designated specific activities, established a timetable, gave a stimulus, and provided an evaluation at the end of the time period at which the different wards were to account for what they’d accomplished.

Youth aren’t the only ones who have benefited from the counsel to deemphasize stake activities and reduce the number of stake meetings. Ward leaders have expressed how much they appreciate having the extra evenings home with their families. As their own families are being strengthened, their ability to render more quality service has increased. They have also appreciated increased continuity on the ward level. As they plan their three-month calendars (to stretch from one stake meeting to another), they find they make their lessons and activities more meaningful on the ward level without having to break pace to make room for stake activity.

The greatest benefit we’ve been able to see from our new approach is the boost in attendance at standard events. Though the chapel seemed to be full when we held such meetings on the stake level, the percentage of youth attending still wavered between 30 and 50 percent. Yet when the wards put on the programs, every one of them was able to enjoy an attendance of nearly 100 percent.

Our ultimate goal, of course, is to look to the parents to more fully fulfill their important stewardship in training their youth. We feel that great strides have been made in strengthening the wards and families, in raising the level of participation and activity, and in helping “each one reach one.”

Note: Since this article was prepared, the Mesa Arizona North Stake has been divided. Sister Zirker now serves as stake Young Women president in the Mesa Arizona Lehi Stake.