David Strickland, 28, comes from a family whose roots reach deep into the Virginia soil. His great-grandfather Alexander B. Strickland helped organize the first branch of the Church in the area in 1917. For David, Virginia is home and the Norfolk Ward in the Virginia Beach Virginia Stake is like family. “I was the only deacon, the only teacher, and the only priest in my ward while I was growing up,” he says. “Most of the time I was the only Latter-day Saint in my high school.” He is also the first of great-grandfather Strickland’s direct descendants to serve a mission.
The strength of his roots helps explain why David, who graduated from nearby Old Dominion University, where he is now employed, has chosen to stay in the area when many other single adults leave. “I purposely made that decision long ago,” he explains. “I find that there are many opportunities for me here, particularly leadership opportunities. But there are challenges as well.”
One of his biggest challenges is meeting other single Latter-day Saints. But because of the stake’s strong young single adult program, David is drawn into a variety of activities that help offset the lonely times. The Lord and the Church are an important support for him. “I have discovered that the more I put into the young single adult program, the more opportunities I find open up to me to associate with other young people,” he said. “Supporting this program has changed my life.”
Many young single adults like David Strickland in the Virginia Beach stake, located on the Atlantic coast at the south end of Chesapeake Bay, are traveling amid an often perplexing sea of change. Some have left their hometowns for work or college while others come to the area on military assignment. Still other young people are leaving for or returning from missions.
Providing an anchor for young single adults while they navigate this sea of change in their lives became a priority for Virginia Beach stake president David S. Wright. “One day I realized that we not only had a large number of single adults in our stake, but that we also had the largest naval base in the world within our boundaries. We needed good, solid programs for everyone.”
After evaluating needs and carefully studying guidance provided by Church handbooks, stake leaders decided to significantly strengthen existing programs. President Wright explains: “We wanted to give our young people the best of both worlds: better stake and ward young single adult programs coupled with increased involvement in their home wards.”
For young single adults like David Strickland who live far from concentrations of Latter-day Saints and who benefit from strong Church programs that, among other things, foster fellowship among Latter-day Saint young people, that is good news.
Richard A. Monteith, stake presidency counselor who oversees single adult programs, realized that in order to strengthen the stake program he needed an enthusiastic couple to advise and young single adult representatives.
• Stake advisers. To get the program moving, the stake presidency called Gayle and Jim Herwig, a dynamic, mature couple who work for the navy, as stake young single adult advisers. The couple’s first goal was to ensure that all available positions in the young single adult program were filled.
The Herwigs asked to meet with each bishop and the one branch president. After explaining the program’s needs, the Herwigs suggested names of people the leaders might consider calling to be young single adult advisers in their home wards, then offered to work closely with those called. It wasn’t long before their efforts saw fruit. In their search for young single adults to serve as ward representatives, the Herwigs identified which of the graduating high school seniors planned to continue living at home after graduation. “We wanted to extend invitations to them personally to become active in the program,” explains Sister Herwig. Many responded and accepted callings in the young single adult program.
• Young single adult representatives. Another of Brother and Sister Herwig’s goals was to find two enthusiastic young single adults to serve as chairman and vice-chairman. Laurie Williams and Mike Monteith accepted those callings. Laurie, who at the time lived on a boat at a nearby marina, was working and saving money for college.
“I planned to go to a university several hundred miles away with some of my friends,” Laurie recalls. “Then I received this calling. I had to reconsider my goals. I felt the Lord wanted me to stay here, and finally I decided to change my plans. That decision has changed my life. I would have gone into a very worldly situation, and I don’t know if the Church would have been a strong influence there.”
Mike Monteith had recently graduated from seminary when he became involved in young single adult activities. “I know if I hadn’t started attending the young single adult program, I wouldn’t be planning on my mission,” he says. While still living at home, he had begun attending young single adult activities after high school graduation. In the fall he began attending the institute course offered by the stake. “Soon I thought, I’ve got to get a job and start making some money so I can serve a mission.”
• Activities with a purpose. Laurie and Mike work together planning stake young single adult activities. Each month they chair a monthly planning meeting that includes ward couple advisers and ward young single adult representatives. Each activity is designed to build testimonies, and this is achieved, for example, through giving service and involving the less active. “We have a spiritual thought at every meeting, even at the activities,” adds Laurie.
Activities for one month included weekly family home evenings, the Wednesday evening class taught from the institute manual, a trip to the Washington (D.C.) Temple to do baptisms for the dead, a broom-hockey game night, and a multistake dance. Service projects included transporting elderly ward members to the temple and working in a soup kitchen.
Detailed planning, joining with neighboring stakes to increase numbers, and occasionally participating in regionwide conferences and activities help young people find joy and purpose in associating with one another. Thus unified and strengthened in spirit, they are able to stay their gospel course “in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and waves” (D&C 123:16).
Because of the often unsettled nature of their lives, young single adults may feel out of place or unneeded at church. For this reason, even when the stake is well organized, ward and branch leaders still need to offer strong support to their young single adults. Dedicated, caring advisers and annual interviews are two important aspects of bolstering the success of any effort to help meet the needs of single adults. Reaching out to youth in these ways helps them to stay active and committed as well as strengthened in many other important ways.
• Ward advisers. Finding a dedicated married couple to serve as young single adult advisers can often make a difference in helping young people feel comfortable and needed in church as well as cared about. In a ward, these advisers meet monthly with a bishopric counselor and two young single adult ward representatives. These meetings are used to keep apprised of the needs and progress of young single adults and to see that invitations to attend ward and stake activities are extended to them.
In the Norfolk Ward, advisers Edwin (Skip) and Lynn Cantaloupe mail invitations to each single adult member for upcoming activities, faithfully attend every ward and stake young single adult activity, and arrange needed transportation. In the Sandbridge Ward, adviser John Walsh teaches a separate young single adult Gospel Doctrine class. “I feel this is an investment for the future,” he says. “Most of these youth live on their own, and we want to bring them together.”
In some wards the young single adult activities are listed on the ward’s Sunday bulletin. When such seemingly small details combine with the attentions of interested advisers and representatives, young adults know they are cared about and find joy in mingling together.
• Annual interviews. According to stake president David Wright, knowing someone cares is an important part of the Virginia Beach stake’s focus on young single adults.
“When youth turn 18,” explains President Wright, “often all the props are taken out from under them. We want to see that this doesn’t happen.”
One way President Wright helps accomplish that is by encouraging bishops to continue holding annual interviews. “It’s so important to keep in touch. Young adults need special attention,” he says.
Another way to help young adults progress spiritually and socially is to extend callings to them. For example, Mike Monteith serves not only as stake young single adult representative but also as the Salem Ward physical facilities representative. In the Norfolk Ward, Clark Loftus, 27, serves as ward mission leader. In the same ward, Brian Cantaloupe, 29, serves as elders quorum president. All three of these young men enjoy their opportunities to serve and appreciate the growth they have experienced as a result.
Steve Walker, Kempsville Ward bishopric counselor assigned to single adult members, is enthusiastic about the valuable contributions of young single members as they magnify their callings in the ward. “Now we take every young person as they enter the young single adult program and, as a bishopric, offer them a calling.” Currently young single adults in the Kempsville Ward serve as a Primary teacher, Sunday School secretary, elders quorum teacher, librarian, and stake missionary. They also assist with Scouting, sports programs, and substitute teaching.
Also called as home and visiting teachers, young single adults are sometimes paired with older members who befriend them and become strong role models.
Providing youth with opportunities to serve, calling caring advisers to stay in touch with them, and providing a strong stake program that offers additional opportunities to meet and serve together have helped provide both a lifeline and an anchor for young single adults in the Virginia Beach stake amid their constantly changing seas of life.