Focus on Others: Fun with a Purpose


Your activities will be anything but boring—and you’ll get better participation—when you use these principles in your planning.

The youth in the Waxahachie Ward, Dallas Texas Stake, are always talking about fun. In every activity, in every class or quorum presidency meeting, in every bishopric youth committee meeting, the discussion inevitably turns to how to have fun.

But the way they have fun is unusual. They focus on the needs of others. Every activity, whether it’s a service project, a campout, a game, or a party, is planned around meeting the needs of someone in their group.

“I think focusing on others is pretty neat,” says Lacy Giles, Laurel president. “I’ll get out a sheet of paper, and we’ll list all the Laurels. We’ll go through the list and write what they like to do and all kinds of ideas. We plan our activities around them. It’s really helped them attend activities more.”

Getting Specific

Here’s how the Laurel presidency helps the Laurels in their ward focus on others—and have fun doing it:

In one instance, the Laurel presidency discovered that one of their less-active members had an unusual doll collection. For one activity night, they all brought their favorite collections.

In another instance, a Laurel whose cultural background is Spanish wanted to teach the youth of the ward some Spanish dances as part of her Laurel project. She planned the activity, learned dances from her parents and her aunts and uncles, then came and taught the young women of the ward. It was a great success. “We had fun dancing with her,” says Jenny Rencher, Laurel class secretary.

This emphasis on having fun while focusing on needs has given direction to both class and priesthood quorum presidency meetings. Here’s how the deacons quorum plans activities for their group:

Mark Jones is the president. “There are six in our quorum. We’re working on some guys who don’t come at all. We plan certain campouts that we think people will enjoy based on their personalities. We planned one activity for one guy, and he came. He’s starting to come more. He’s a good guy.”

Of course, trying to plan an activity to help one person might leave several others wishing for something different. What do these deacons do? They’ve learned to plan well and be flexible.

“When you plan something, and something goes wrong, you have to change your plans,” says Mark.

“And reschedule and reschedule,” adds Royden Jeffries, second counselor.

“And change it and make it work,” continues Mark.

A Presidency That Works

The first thing an observer notices is that this deacons quorum presidency, and all the other quorum and class presidencies in the ward, function—and function well. They hold regular meetings. They have their leadership manuals in hand, an agenda for the meeting is drawn up, and their adviser is present. With a ward as spread out as theirs, the presidencies meet on Sundays or just before or after weekly activities, whichever works best for that particular presidency. All the presidencies come together in bishopric youth committee meetings. But by that time, all the activities are planned. It’s just a matter of making assignments.

Consider the planning for this month’s Young Women and Young Men combined activity. The activity is a special-needs night. The youth are going to learn what it’s like to be restricted to a wheelchair and how accessible their building is to those in wheelchairs. They are also having someone demonstrate how it feels to be blind or deaf.

The activity will be fun, but it also has a valuable purpose: It meets the needs of several of the youth and other ward members. The youth will be experiencing some of the problems their own ward members experience every day. The mother of two of the young men is confined to a wheelchair; if the youth know how she struggles, they will be better able to help her on occasion. One young woman’s grandfather is blind; she will demonstrate how to be an effective guide. Another ward member is hearing impaired; a young woman is planning to demonstrate how others can be of service to her.

In youth committee, the group in charge has divided the work for the activity into six assignments. One group quickly volunteers to round up some wheelchairs. Another offers to bring refreshments. Another offers to do the publicity. Soon cleanup is the only job left. It goes to the deacons. Everyone starts to laugh. The deacons haven’t learned to volunteer quickly enough for other assignments to keep from getting stuck with cleanup. But they are good-natured about it. It’s a job they know well.

Keeping Track of Each Member

One item that is always on the agenda of every class or quorum presidency each month is the members they don’t see very often or at all. The deacons have only a couple of members they don’t see regularly. In the presidency meeting, Mark Jones asks, “Have any of you seen Francisco?”

Royden answers, “Not recently. I think the last time I saw him was two weeks ago.”

Mark says, “I’ll talk to the bishop about it. I think he has a problem getting a ride to church.”

Royden then brings up a project he’s trying to work out. Their ward is so spread out that long-distance telephone calls are required to reach from one area to another. Royden is trying to figure out who can make calls to whom without using long-distance telephone service.

“It’s like the food chain,” explains Royden. The others look at him blankly.

“It’s like bears and deer and grass,” continues Royden. “Something eats something that eats something else, and so on.”

“Oh,” says Jay Venable, first counselor, “like a phone web. That’s a good idea.” And they are soon figuring out a plan to contact the other quorum members without running up phone bills.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Spreading out the work, or delegating, is one of the biggest leadership skills the Waxahachie Ward youth presidencies have learned. “As a president,” says Lacy Giles, “I’ve learned to be organized and delegate. Delegation is the most important thing I’ve learned. It makes things work more smoothly. Everyone gets involved and has a lot more fun instead of one person doing everything and being all stressed out. I’ve figured out how to break it down into smaller jobs.

“The first thing our Young Women president, Sister Clark, asks when we are beginning to plan activities is, ‘Who do you feel would do this well? Who do you think would make the best of this? Who would be helped by leading this activity, or conducting it, or whatever?’ She has helped me learn to delegate.”

Having an assignment is a great way to help someone feel part of things. Michael South, the first assistant in the priests quorum, explains, “When someone is in a presidency, it really helps him to be more active in the quorum.” In Michael’s quorum just about everybody has the opportunity for leadership. The presidency uses committees to organize temple assignments, camping, sports, priesthood assignments, and service projects. At the head of each committee is a different quorum member, and virtually every other member of the quorum is involved somehow in committee responsibilities.

Everyone Is a Leader

The leadership abilities some of the youth have learned in the ward have lapped over into other areas of their lives. For example, the principles Michelle Clark learned in Young Women presidencies prepared her to be a leader at school. Although just a junior, Michelle was elected student council president. Her ability to organize and focus on the needs of the students carried her campaign.

Chances for leadership come often in the Waxahachie Ward. Each teen, even if he or she isn’t serving in a presidency, has an opportunity to be in charge of an event or a committee. As a result, the youth know how to have a good time—but more important, they help individuals while doing it.

After all, thinking of others really is the best way to have fun.

[photos] Photography by Janet Thomas

[photo] The Laurel class presidency, Jenny Rencher, Jamie South, Lacy Giles, and Audrie Young, plan their activities to meet specific needs.

[photos] Below: Darrin (left) and Mark Jones’s mother is confined to a wheelchair. These brothers are expert in helping other youth understand the challenges of getting around. Right: Chelsea MacDonnell (left) helps Stephanie Horne and Roque Contreras learn how to be more effective guides for the blind.

[photos] Top: Russ Ellis (right) is active in the Church again after quorum president Nick Clark (left) made a point of inviting him to youth activities and to church. Bottom: Royden Jeffries, Beau MacDonnell, and Mark Jones review the menu for the Dog-Gone Diner, a sequel to the previous year’s popular activity, the Crazy Cat Cafe. The deacons wrote riddles in the menu so no one would know exactly what they were ordering to eat.