Everybody Belongs

by Richard M. Romney

Managing Editor

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    Lots of people say “Welcome, friends.” At school and elsewhere, these young women live it.

    Sarah Tunnell was worried about how she’d fit in. Her family had just moved from Texas to Snohomish, Washington. Now Sarah would have to start all over again. New school. New ward. New friends—she hoped.

    “We came to church that first week,” Sarah remembers. “It was the Sunday before school started, and in Mia Maids Tresa Brown was saying the closing prayer.”

    At the end of the prayer Tresa said, “And please help Sarah to make friends and to feel at home here.”

    “That made me feel really good,” Sarah says. “It was, ‘Wow, I’m new and they’re already praying for me! They remembered my name!’ I felt like everyone accepted me. That week I was walking down the hall at school, and everyone from the ward said hi. Becky Gale went out of her way to help me check my class schedule.”

    A Simple Thing

    The example of friendliness wasn’t wasted on Sarah. Visit the Snohomish Second Ward today, and she’s one of the many young women eager to welcome you. These “homies,” as people from Snohomish call themselves, have learned that it’s a simple thing to help everyone feel included.

    Consider some additional examples:

    —“When I came into Beehives for the first time,” Angela Gilbert says, “they had ‘Welcome, Angie!’ written on the board. They announced that I was new and made me feel comfortable.”

    —“I got chicken pox and had to stay home from youth conference,” Traci Brown says. “But when they got back they came and told me how it was, and brought me stuff so I could see what they’d done. It was almost like having been there myself.”

    —“Most of the LDS kids sit together at lunch,” says Anne Broadbent. Whether it’s at Snohomish High or at Centennial Middle School, these “Mormon Circles” have so much fun and use such clean language that others, LDS or not, ask to join in.

    And the examples go on and on. Thirteen-year-old Bonnie Jarvis remembers being greeted at the door with a sincere, “Yea! Bonnie’s here!” Leann Gustafson heard that a less-active friend had a sore throat and stopped by to bring her some cough drops. Aja Elmer learned not to be afraid to sing solos in Young Women, because she knows they’re all her friends. Others have learned not to be afraid to bear their testimonies before the whole group, for the same reason.

    No Outsiders

    “There are no outsiders,” Tracie Graafstra explains. “Everybody belongs.”

    It’s a concept that’s not only strengthened members but also played a part in seven conversions in the last few years.

    “It was the people who first interested me in the Church,” says Kristy Shackelford. “They were genuine. They like you for yourself.”

    “Bonnie Skinner, the bishop’s daughter, was in one of my classes at school,” Tracie says. “She kept inviting me to church dances. One night I finally went. I stayed overnight at her house, and the next day her family invited me to church. I felt the Spirit there, and I felt loved. The people here are really friendly, and that helped a lot. I met the missionaries and started the discussions. I knew I should pray about what they were teaching me. When I did, a peace came over me. I knew I needed to be baptized.”

    “I went to church with Neoma Huston; then I went to girls’ camp, and I always felt like I was accepted,” says Jula Jefferson. “The more I learned about the Church, the more I liked it. And everybody was always right there to help me.”

    A Grand Opening

    That type of support makes it easier to open up. “We’re not afraid to share the gospel, because it’s fun, it’s easy, and we know it’s true,” Angela says. “You want to do missionary work because you know people will be happier.”

    “It doesn’t have to be hard,” says Aja. “Just say, ‘Hi, hello, how are you doing?’ People appreciate that more than you think.”

    So what generates all this goodwill and sisterhood? Some of it comes from spending time together: at church, at school, at youth conference, on service projects even when it rains. Some of it comes from taking a genuine interest in people, little things like remembering birthdays and making them special. And some of it comes from receiving kindness and passing it along.

    “The Laurels were nice to me when I was a Beehive,” says Tresa Brown, “so now that I’m a Laurel, I try to be nice to the Beehives, too.”


    But it’s Traci who gives the most accurate answer. “It’s how the Savior would treat people, isn’t it?” she asks. “His example shows us that he loves everyone. We’re trying to act like he would—to be kind and loving to everyone.

    “Oh,” she adds, “and hugs work, too.”

    “You can feel the Spirit,” Tracie says. “That love draws people in. When you’re going through a hard time, you know these people are always here for you. And since they have the Spirit with them, it just overwhelms you with love.”

    That’s why everybody belongs here. It’s why in every ward or branch, every young woman should belong.

    Things You Can Do to Help Somebody New

    Is there a newcomer in your ward who may feel like nobody cares? You can help him or her overcome that feeling. Here are some suggestions from the Snohomish Second Ward Young Women. By the way, these ideas work just as well for long-time members, too:

    “Be open-minded and really cheerful. You don’t know what they’re feeling, and you don’t know if they’ve had a really crummy day. So if you say hi and cheer them, it’s going to boost up their day and they’re going to remember it for a long time.”

    Nicole Broadbent, 15

    “Remember birthdays. When I turned 14, the Beehives made a big sign, brought balloons, taped candy to the porch, and gave me a journal as a present. I thought, ‘They’re doing all this for me!’ I felt so loved.”

    Courtney Davis, 14

    “Be genuine. Treat each other the same at school as you do at church. Treat everybody the same no matter where you are or who you are with.”

    Becky Gale, 18

    “With activities every Wednesday, seminary every morning, church every Sunday, and dances on Saturdays, there are plenty of things to invite your non-LDS friends to. Have your own parties, so you don’t feel the need to go to the wild parties at school.”

    Kathy Cravens, 14

    “Don’t be separated in spirit just because you’re in different classes. Avoid forming cliques. You’re all sisters, some older, some younger. You’ve got all these sisters in the Church.”

    Becky Tunnell, 14

    “For our Young Women in Excellence program, I brought two nonmembers to play music with me. They were so well accepted and felt so at home that now they want to come back and do more things with us.”

    Angela Gilbert, 13

    “It starts with one person. Let someone know that you love them, and they’ll go out and do it to somebody else; then they’ll do it to somebody else, and so on, and then you’ll have this great ward like ours.”

    Tresa Brown, 16

    Photography by Richard M. Romney and Lisa A. Johnson

    “The Savior’s example shows he would love everone, and I think that’s how we’re acting toward everybody,” says Traci Brown, 14.

    “You have to be persistent. Not everybody responds at first. Not everybody understands at first. But keep on doing it. If you’re sincere, eventually they’ll understand,” says Michele Broadbent, 16.

    “Pray for each other. It will help you realize how special you are to each other. I pray for the other girls all the time, especially for those who aren’t coming to church very often. I pray that we will be able to help them come back,” says Aja Elmer, 14.