Finding Themselves in Service


Young single adults in Fresno discover that serving others is the best part of their program.

Fresno is:

(a) the heart of one of the world’s most productive agricultural areas;

(b) an inland city in central California, with a population of more than half a million, that is attracting many people from more congested, expensive coastal areas;

(c) a place where well-run Young Single Adult programs are helping young Latter-day Saints find the full potential of the gospel in their lives.

The correct answer is (d)—all of the above.

But in the very long run—in eternal terms—the most important of these three answers is (c). Young Single Adult programs in Fresno-area stakes are making lasting differences in the lives of young members.

“It brought me to where I am now—to going on a mission,” recalls Elder Tom Dunkle of Auberry, now serving in the Minnesota Minneapolis Mission. “When I was called to be my ward’s Young Single Adult chairman, I wasn’t active at all.”

Baptized in 1984, Tom did not stay close to the Church at first. But after his call, he resolved to fulfill it to the best of his ability. As Tom led his peers in service projects, socials, and gospel study, he developed leadership skills that have been valuable within his family and in the mission field.

In the Fresno area, the Young Single Adult program seems to work as it was designed to. Priesthood leaders furnish direction and support, but committed, enthusiastic leaders are taking the initiative and touching the lives of their peers.

Serving others seems to be the key to the greatest growth in the Young Single Adult program. Some service projects are quiet but memorable. An unwed mother in a Fresno ward gained gospel perspective as she was befriended by young single adults in her area. During this difficult period in her life, her friends supported her and encouraged her to stay close to the Church.

An elderly brother in the Visalia California Stake became ill and was forced to move because he could no longer care for his home and yard. To make his home more appealing to prospective buyers, the young adults replanted his yard. He was grateful for their help, and the young people made a new friend.

One of the young single adults’ more enjoyable activities last summer was helping “drownproof” a group of youth—children of refugees from Southeast Asia—at a Church member’s pool. The children didn’t know how to swim, so the young adults taught them how.

Southeast Asian refugees have come by the thousands to the Fresno area because of the climate and the agricultural opportunities of the fertile San Joaquin Valley. And young single adults in Fresno have been among the guiding influences in helping them become accustomed to a new culture. They are among the dedicated members who render many hours of service in leadership and teaching callings in the city’s four Asian-language Church units—a Hmong ward, two Laotian branches, and a Cambodian branch.

At a Saturday night volleyball and pizza party with members from the Hmong ward, young single adults do one of the things they do best—fellowshipping. They intersperse themselves among the Hmong youth in volleyball teams; the Hmong players, generally shorter than the North Americans, more than hold their own. Pizza and soft drinks and friendly fellowshipping top a lively evening.

Hand in hand with fellowshipping and service goes reactivation, and Fresno young single adults have daily opportunities to befriend others and help them back into Church activity. Dale Reher’s life was turned around when young adults from his ward brought him back into activity. He had been associating with friends who felt that serving a mission was foolish. But his family persuaded him to attend a Young Single Adult conference, where he accepted the challenge to reach out to someone else and start a friendship. Dale’s new friends encouraged him to become a missionary, and he is now serving in the Columbia South Carolina Mission.

Wise leaders help, too, as they find ways to reach out to people who are less active. One young woman was not taking part regularly in Young Single Adult activities, so the ward Young Single Adult representative asked if some of the group’s spiritual activities could be scheduled in her home. She was drawn back into activity. A young man was drifting away from the Church when his stake’s Young Single Adult vice chairman invited him to a party at the beach. There he met a young woman investigator who was later baptized and became his fiancee. Helping her into the Church strengthened him also. Today they are married and are preparing to go to the temple.

Social activities and service projects are the core around which the Young Single Adult program revolves. Craig Cleveland, the Fresno stake’s Young Single Adult program chairman, has found that less-active members are often more willing to help on a service project than come to an activity. So he concentrates on trying to help them experience joy in service to others. As he looks around at dances and recreational activities to see who is not there, he thinks of ways to involve these absent friends.

Well-planned spiritual activities draw many young adults who need moral nourishment. The Fresno North stake, for example, has replaced many of its regularly scheduled firesides with testimony meetings. Young single adults in the Visalia Third Ward meet regularly to study and discuss the Book of Mormon. Cheryl Pace, who is now attending school in Sacramento, is one of many who found that these sessions spurred her to study the scriptures more diligently.

That kind of support can be eternally important for young adults, says Kerri Harris, Young Single Adult vice chairman in the Fresno North Stake. They are at an age when they are thinking independently, forming new associations, and seeking a course in life.

In addition to the community ties that these young adults have, many find fellowshipping opportunities in the large student populations in the area. At California State University at Fresno and at Fresno City College, young Latter-day Saints often share the gospel with their peers.

Lisa McCurry, a recent convert, wrote a paper for a Fresno State class about how interpersonal communication changes as one comes into the Church. Why did she choose this topic for a class composed mostly of nonmembers? “There are a lot of people in college who are confused,” she says. “The more we stand up for what we believe, the more people respect us.”

For Lisa, young single adults have been “like my family in the Church. We watch out for one another.” They provide strength and support she cannot find elsewhere.

Jeff Orton, a Fresno State student who joined the Church at sixteen and later served a mission in Brazil, echoes Lisa’s sentiments. Currently the Young Single Adult chairman in the Fresno California East Stake, he feels that the Young Single Adult program can foster spiritual and emotional growth in its members.

“I used to be quite introverted. I didn’t like participating in large groups of people,” he says. Jeff made a goal, however, to be more outgoing, and he has tried hard to set an example of gospel love and concern. “My missionary experiences helped me relate to people a lot. And since I’ve been home, I’ve grown as much—in different ways—as I did on my mission.”

In the young single adult community, change is a constant factor as young people graduate from college, get married, or go elsewhere for further schooling or new jobs. With the turnover, organization is the key to success as stakes and wards make sure their Young Single Adult groups are continuously staffed.

The fluidity and enthusiasm of young single adults is reflected in their ability to put together an activity or service project on short notice. It happened last November, when a Young Single Adult group spearheaded a ward project to feed Thanksgiving dinner to one hundred senior citizens. Lisa McCurry and her Young Single Adult group adopted the plan the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and by Thursday, so much food had been donated that they were able to take some of it to needy families.

The Young Single Adult program is for Latter-day Saints from eighteen through thirty years of age. However, some who are beyond college age find they have to work hard to see that the program meets their social needs as well as it does for their younger friends.

Maile Kamalu is first counselor in the Young Women organization of the Fresno California Stake’s Laotian branch. She was formerly vice-chairman of the stake’s Young Single Adult program. A college graduate and returned missionary, Maile is an athletic trainer at a sports medicine clinic.

The Young Single Adult program provides fine opportunities for service and spiritual growth, she says, “but I do more of my socializing with the people I work with.” Fortunately, they have the kind of standards with which she can feel comfortable.

Craig Cleveland who, like Maile, has finished his university studies, says, “I would say that the activities at the stake and region level don’t always target the older group.” He also feels that a lot of the enthusiasm of the program comes from the younger members. But he and Maile find personal growth and satisfaction in trying to create an atmosphere that fosters spiritual development for the full age-span of young adults.

As they pass through this stage of life, young single adults need programs that do more than meet social needs. They need lasting friendships with other spiritually motivated young people and experiences that set values for a lifetime of service in a gospel setting.

For Kerri, and for many others, it has worked that way in Fresno. There is a feeling of “family” in their associations, in their service to others and to each other. She says: “I don’t have a feeling that friendship is something that just lasts until you move away. I really think of these people as my brothers and sisters.”

What Some Leaders Say about the Program

Stephen Christensen, president of the Fresno California North Stake:

“When everything is properly organized, the Young Single Adult program works well, even in small Church units. We give them the guidelines and encourage them to run it.

“In every ward and stake, there are loving, dedicated people who will take the responsibility of accounting for every member. The key to success is to find them, give them the organizational support they need, and then stand back.

“It’s the ward involvement that provides daily strength for the individual. We’re ancillary. Our stake Young Single Adult activities are only to help the wards as we work together to build up and strengthen the Church.”

Dennis Fisher, high council adviser to the Young Single Adult program in the Fresno California East Stake:

“The program has to come together on the ward level. A member of the bishopric, the elders quorum president, and the Relief Society president must be closely involved in planning Young Single Adult activities, and service projects must grow out of real needs in the ward. If we try to put together a service project just because the young adults need a service opportunity, it doesn’t seem to work.”

Bill Jube, high council adviser to the Young Single Adults in the Fresno California West Stake:

“This is a great group of young people. Any hard work that will avoid losing a single one of them is worth the effort.”

What Makes the Program Work?

Here are some of the factors that have contributed to success of the Young Single Adult programs in the Fresno area.

—Regular ward and stake Single Adult Committee meetings are seen as the key to proper functioning of the programs.

—Planning meetings on the regional level regularly include high council advisers and Young Single Adult leaders from the four Fresno stakes and the stake in Visalia.

—Major ward and stake activities and programs are planned for a full year in advance so they can be scheduled and budgeted.

—A good mix of recreational activities and spirit-feeding firesides and programs is planned. One of the most notable activities is an annual Young Single Adult conference for the Fresno California Region.

—Home evening groups in many of the wards strengthen those who are living away from home and provide fellowship for everyone.

—There is a concerted effort to keep track of young adults, who move frequently. In the Fresno California West Stake, for example, two young adults are assigned that job.

—“Hotline” telephone numbers provide recorded listings of approved scheduled activities. For instance, a call to the Visalia hotline yields the information that there will be a video marathon Friday night at the Young Single Adult chairman’s home, a regional dance on Saturday, a stake fireside in Porterville on Sunday, and a Young Single Adult home evening during the week, with the Tulare Ward in charge. The Fresno West stake also takes pains to see that every young single adult receives its newsletter, The Western Flyer.

—Young Single Adult leaders ascertain that their scheduled activities are compatible with those of the LDS institutes adjacent to Fresno State and Fresno City College.

—Ward Young Single Adult leaders seek out young adults who are not part of the college student network and make sure they have opportunities to be involved in all activities.

[photos] Photography by Don L. Searle and Kelly Petersen

[photos] Maile Kamalu, former vice chairman of her stake’s Young Single Adult program, is now a counselor in the Young Women presidency of a Laotian branch. Above: Velinda Campbell teaches the CTR class in the Fresno Nineteenth Ward. Top, right: Young single adults anjoy river-rafting at a recent Young Single Adult conference. Bottom right: Fresno young single adults and Hmong youth enjoy pizza and soft drinks after volleyball.

[photos] Randy Smith (right) is among the young single adults in the Fresno area who have helped fellowship members of the Hmong Ward and Laotian and Cambodian branches in the Fresno area. Left, top: Fresno young single adults enjoy regional and local activities as well as service. Left, bottom: Cory Eagar, Kerri Harris, and Patti Gibson work on a project to aid local Asian members.