When Juliana Circe da Costa, a member of the Colônia Branch, Jundiaí Brazil Stake, turned 18, she was worried about attending Relief Society. “I was afraid I would be alone and wouldn’t be comfortable with the adult women in the branch,” she says. “In the beginning it was strange, but the Lord has a purpose for everything. I’m not saying it was easy, but I’m grateful to the Lord and the sisters who were so wonderful to me.”
Juliana’s Relief Society president, Rita Ribereiro Pandolfi, played a key role in Juliana’s transition. “In our branch we receive the young women with open arms,” she says. “We know they face many changes when they leave Young Women and begin attending Relief Society.”
Like Juliana, many young women find that entering Relief Society can be an adjustment. However, not all young women are apprehensive about joining Relief Society. For some, entering Relief Society is a welcome rite of passage. “I felt ready for the change,” says Rachel Kramer of the Chapel Hill First Ward, Durham North Carolina Stake. “I was just as ready to leave Young Women at 18 as I had been to become part of it at 12. I felt that the women in Relief Society were wise, brimming with the virtue of a life in harmony with the gospel. And I was glad to go on to the ‘meatier’ gospel discussions and to be around so many women I could look up to.”
Ready to attend or not, young women entering Relief Society need the same thing—to be loved and valued, have friends, learn, feel the Spirit, and be a part of the organization. Experience shows that there are ways to make the transition easier. Proper planning between Young Women and Relief Society presidencies, fellowshipping, and a strong support system of caring ward or branch members can help.
The Church Handbook of Instructions lays the foundation for the transition to Relief Society, encouraging Young Women and Relief Society presidencies to work together (see Book 2: Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders , 206, 217).
To get better acquainted with incoming young women, one stake Relief Society presidency cooks and serves a meal at Young Women camp each year. “We would go early enough to visit each ward site,” says Relief Society president Carolyn Rasmus of the Orem Utah North Stake. “We served something that required us to place the food item on their plates so we could interact with each young woman. I remember the girls commenting—positively—that we wore jeans, weren’t afraid to get dirty, and took the time to come to camp. We hope it provided an opportunity for them to see us as sisters who are approachable.”
Evelia de Hoyos, Relief Society president of the Viveros Ward, Cuautla México Stake, says: “Every October our Relief Society presidency, accompanied by a single adult representative, visits the Laurel class. We talk about the Relief Society declaration; the history of the organization and its purpose; the focus on education; personal enrichment; the family and the home; charity; visiting teachers; and the Pursuit of Excellence program.”
Another Relief Society presidency regularly addresses the needs of the young women during stake training meetings. “Training the leaders, both in Young Women and in Relief Society, has kept the young women’s needs at the forefront,” says Margarita Woodhouse, Relief Society president of the San Antonio Texas Stake. “By planning to include our younger sisters more fully, we are strengthening the future of Relief Society.”
She adds: “We’ve found that Young Women leaders’ attendance at Relief Society activities plays a key role in the transition. Young women look for the familiar faces of these leaders they have grown to love. Aside from mothers, Young Women leaders are the role models of Relief Society to young women.”
Many leaders on the ward or branch and the stake or district level plan events that bring young women and Relief Society sisters together. Diana Gardner of the Harrogate Ward, York England Stake, says that Laurels were invited to go to the temple to do baptisms on a night when their ward Relief Society sisters were performing endowments. “The Laurels and Relief Society sisters were eating dinner at the cafeteria together and walking around the temple grounds together. Their discussions have had a major impact on the young women,” says Sister Gardner.
One young woman found that attending home, family, and personal enrichment meeting greatly helped her with the transition to Relief Society. “When I was in Young Women, our Relief Society invited the Laurels to attend,” says Vicky Hacking of the Pleasant Hill Ward, Orlando Florida South Stake. “They regularly had a craft class that pertained to us. Sometimes we had a class for mothers and daughters. This helped me feel like I could fit in and made me want to attend Relief Society when I turned 18.”
In the Billingham Ward, Billingham England Stake, Young Women leaders invited a group of Relief Society sisters to join the young women in making Christmas presents for a service project. “It was fun to see the young women and Relief Society sisters mingling and sitting with each other, getting on so well, chatting and laughing in a less formal setting,” says Ann Helps, second counselor in the Young Women presidency. “It helped our young women break down the stereotype of Relief Society sisters and realize that older sisters were once young women too and they still have fun.”
Including young women new to Relief Society in planning activities, teaching lessons, and giving service helps them feel the spirit of Relief Society. Assigning them visiting teachers immediately and giving them visiting teaching assignments provide opportunities to serve as well as make friends. A new sister could also be called to a committee or given another assignment in Relief Society.
Some wards and branches invite a confident new sister to help teach a lesson. “Sharing insights from the youthful perspective of these young sisters has often had a lasting and powerful impact in our Relief Society,” says Relief Society president Susan Burningham of the Bountiful Hills Ward, Bountiful Utah Central Stake. “I will never forget the lesson in which one young adult shared experiences recorded in her journal. In another lesson, two young women and their mother each shared the reasons they had decided to live pure and virtuous lives.”
Service opportunities bring joy to the soul and a sense of purpose. New sisters could be invited to assist other Relief Society sisters with compassionate service needs or on a humanitarian project.
“My transition from Young Women to Relief Society was a wonderful experience because of service,” says Tagen Spencer of the Princeton Ward, Pocatello Idaho East Stake. “Even though I started my Relief Society experience in my home ward, where most of the women were elderly, they were all very welcoming to me. When I served with them on a humanitarian project, many of the widows in the ward were there. We were assigned to sort used clothing. One sister called and offered to pick me up. She even took me to lunch after the service project. Every time someone came across a used wedding dress, she would pull it out, give it to me, and start laughing. We had such a good time. It strengthened my testimony of service as well as helped me bond with the sisters.”
Welcoming the new sisters to Relief Society can be a special event. Some presidencies give each young woman a flower or a framed copy of the Relief Society declaration. Some spotlight each new member. One ward president created invitations that said, “Planting the seed of Relief Society in your heart,” and took one to each young woman at her home, along with a packet of seeds.
Welcoming young women and accepting them with love strengthen the sisterhood of Relief Society. Sitting by them, talking to them, learning about their interests and their lives can be important to the new sisters. Many of them are used to a one-on-one caring relationship with their Young Women advisers. They need to be loved by their new Relief Society sisters too.
“I had just moved to Atlanta, my first time away from home,” says Tara Towsley of the North Point Ward, Roswell Georgia Stake. “Needless to say, I was a bit intimidated. I remember sitting in sacrament meeting thinking about going home, when the most wonderful lady came up and introduced herself. She told me her name, said she was the Relief Society president, and told me where Relief Society was held. She said she was excited that I was there. I felt better immediately.”
One Relief Society president challenged her ward sisters to learn the names of each young woman entering Relief Society. She distributed photos and a short biography of all the incoming young adults to each of the Relief Society sisters. It helped the sisters to call each young woman by name and befriend her.
Another Relief Society president attended the Laurel class and asked each young woman to fill out a card with her name and the name of five sisters in the ward she particularly admired. She then sent a letter to each of the sisters named, explaining how much that Laurel admired the sister. The sisters in turn took a special interest in the young woman.
Many leaders have realized that a young woman who is home for a summer needs fellowshipping just as much as those young women who are in the ward year-round. Extra attention helps these sisters feel part of Relief Society.
Fellowshipping is not a one-way street, however. Sister Margaret D. Nadauld, former Young Women general president, says, “I hope these new young adults entering Relief Society bring with them a friendliness and let the sisters feel of their strong spirits, love of the Lord, love of the scriptures, and understanding of gospel teachings.”
M. E. Clayton has attended Relief Society in several wards. Her suggestion for easing into Relief Society?
“Participate!” she says. “If young women want to have the meetings more geared toward what they’re interested in, participating and becoming part of the program will allow the other women to meet and understand them. If they never participate, they can easily feel left out.”
Penny Rowe of the Leeds Fourth Ward, Leeds England Stake, says: “As leaders we must humbly pray for our fellow sisters and how we can best fellowship them. The greatest leader of all, our Savior, will always show us the way.”
Though Young Women and Relief Society leaders are on the forefront of helping young women make the transition, other shepherds are available to help too—parents, former Young Women leaders, priesthood leaders, home teachers, visiting teachers, friends, ward or branch families, and institute teachers. Working together, they can form a safety net for these young women, making sure they will not be ignored or drift away at this crucial time in their lives.
Bonnie D. Parkin, Relief Society general president says: “A bishop can make a big difference in a young woman’s attitude toward Relief Society. When the bishop interviews each young woman and talks about the value of Relief Society in her life, it has an impact.” Continuing attention and interviews with the bishop after a young woman joins Relief Society are helpful too.
Kelly Smurthwaite of the Brigham Young University—Idaho 56th Ward, BYU—Idaho Fourth Stake, was called to be a Relief Society president in her student ward for the following school year just as she was leaving to go home for the summer. “My bishop’s parting advice to me was to observe the Relief Society leaders in my home ward,” she says. “He also encouraged me to remain active in Relief Society in the summer by going to home, family, and personal enrichment meetings and other activities.”
With temptations so prevalent in the world and Satan trying to deceive those who are striving to follow the Savior, we need to hold fast in our efforts to strengthen young adult sisters. When faithful Latter-day Saints rally around to love, support, and protect these young women, the Lord’s blessings can be poured out in full measure.
“I’m so grateful for the Relief Society organization. I feel it has better prepared me for the next stage of my life,” says Tara Towsley. “It has given me the opportunity to befriend women older and wiser and has helped my testimony mature in so many ways. It took time for me to find my place, but with time Relief Society began to feel like home.”
That is how it should be.
“We love these young women so much and pray for them continually,” says Sister Nadauld. “We don’t quit loving them after they leave the Young Women organization. We know how important it is for them to stay close to the Church in all ages of their lives, so we pray that we’ll see them sitting next to us in Relief Society meetings after they turn 18.”
“My wish for the young women joining Relief Society is that they would be received with arms wrapped around them, feel secure and safe, and feel the love of the Lord through the women they associate with. Relief Society will be the place where each young woman should find women to care about her and serve her. It’s also where she’ll learn to love her sisters. My counsel to these new sisters is to get involved and forget yourself. Then great things will happen.”
Bonnie D. Parkin, Relief Society general president