Members of the Young Women general board seek to help young women follow God’s plan for them. Not only does that include following the covenant path, but it also includes following His plan for each individual. As Sister Carmela M. Hooker, 52, has sought to follow Heavenly Father’s plan in her life, she has found that He will also guide us and bless us to do His will.
For example, right after joining the Church at age 18, Sister Hooker was called as the ward Young Women president over 15 young women. That calling could have been very intimidating for a young convert, but she was able to serve with God’s help and now looks back fondly on the calling. “Most of those 15 young women are now mothers,” she says. “But when we see each other, we experience the same tender feelings we shared during that time.” She adds, “We never know how our love and kindness will help others grow in the gospel.”
Sister Hooker has relied on God’s plan in her life as a wife and mother as well, including when she first decided to leave her job at a bank to marry her husband, Cesar, and then together start a family. “Even though at the time our country suffered a frightening economy and a threat of terrorism, I knew in my heart that children would be a blessing and not a burden—and so it has been,” says Sister Hooker. She has sought to teach her children that “poverty is not always cause for sadness. It helps us appreciate all that the Lord gives us, and we learn to be industrious and thrifty. Faith in Jesus Christ and perseverance in His Church have been the solution to our challenges.”
She and her family again learned to rely on Heavenly Father when her husband was called to serve as mission president in Piura, Peru, when all four of her children were still at home. Of this she says, “We left our little home to serve the Lord in a different way” and saw many blessings through the opportunity to serve.
At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, Sister Hooker was serving in the nursery and as a ward young single adult adviser, having served previously as a ward Relief Society and Young Women president. She watched how the Lord guided and taught her during those callings. “I developed more love,” she says. “I learned how to work with priesthood leaders and how the gospel changes lives. That was a privilege—to see how we can be inspired by the Spirit and to see changes in the families as they progress to receive ordinances in the temple.”
Recently, Sister Hooker studied tourism for one year, and she now runs a small travel agency in her home, where she cares for her family, including her widowed mother, who was baptized at age 88.
Talking about the power of sisterhood, she says, “Women in the Church are sometimes criticized, so we need to be together and stand for our principles. We can have an impact on the world in a good way. Many in the world and even some in the Church do not understand the role of women because of the influence of worldly media. When others know we live the commandments because we choose to, not because we have to, they will realize we are happy being Latter-day Saints.” She adds, “Women have much to do in this world—together with their husbands or leaders. We need to change the world with love, knowledge, and testimony.”
Young Women general board members review and provide training for materials that help young women live and grow in the gospel. As the mother of nine children (seven of whom are daughters), Sister Leslie P. Layton, 62, understands the blessings that can come into the lives of young women as they learn from these materials. She saw such blessings in the lives of her children while they were growing up and continues to see how lessons from Young Women still influence her daughters in their roles as mothers today.
When one of her daughters prepared to receive her Young Womanhood Recognition Award, she told her mom, “I don’t really think I’ve learned that much.” But Sister Layton had seen the difference it had made. She pulled out her daughter’s Personal Progress booklet, and together they reviewed each of the experiences she’d completed. They discovered how, through “baby steps,” her daughter had made significant developments in her testimony and character by setting and completing goals in Personal Progress.
While spending regular time with her grandchildren, Sister Layton continues to see how Church materials are strengthening the youth. “The Young Women program is branching out to help them learn to be spiritually independent—teaching them to learn for themselves that the gospel is true and that our Father in Heaven answers prayers. It’s thrilling to think about my granddaughters having wonderful opportunities with Come, Follow Me,” she says. “I believe they will come to the Savior and be a generation ready to prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior.”
She knows that all youth can do the same. “Sometimes if you read or watch the news, you might think that the world is going downhill,” says Sister Layton. “But all you need to do is be in the temple and see the youth who are coming to the temple and you know that the world is in good hands and that the Lord is in charge.”
Sister Layton saw the example of these righteous youth while serving as the first matron of the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple from 2009 to 2012. There, the youth expressed a desire to attend the temple before school, so the schedule was changed to open at 6:00 a.m. By 5:30 each morning, youth were lined up to do baptisms to begin their day.
Sister Layton saw this same example as she visited briefly with young sisters receiving their temple endowment, which she describes as “one of the sweetest things” about her calling as temple matron. “We saw girls come who weren’t concerned about a fancy wedding dress but were concerned about being dressed appropriately in the temple. We saw girls who were prepared to make and keep sacred covenants. And what a difference that made for them as they received their endowments.”
Sister Layton also served with her husband, Alan, when he was a mission president in the New York Rochester Mission and when they served a humanitarian mission in Peru. At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, she was serving as a Primary teacher and a temple worker, having served previously as a counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency, ward Primary president, Gospel Doctrine teacher, and seminary instructor.
“I love the young women of the Church,” says Sister Layton. “I know the Lord has great things in store for these young women, and I know they’re up to the challenge.” She knows that as sisters of all ages and in all locations are “all one unified body, we have much to learn from each other. The more we can be together, the better it is.”
Young Women general board members understand that women of all ages can strengthen and support one another along the covenant path—as will be seen when girls age eight and older, young women, and women come together in the new general women’s meeting. Sister Denise P. Lindberg, 63, is excited to participate in that meeting with her family. “As a grandmother of 11 grandchildren, 7 of whom are girls, I am thrilled at the thought that from my 8-year-old granddaughter who was just baptized to my 14-year-old granddaughter, we can come together and share, teaching one another. It will give our girls and young women the opportunity to learn from mentors.”
Sister Lindberg knows from personal experience that good mentors make a difference. She has had great mentors in her life, and she has worked hard to be a good mentor to others, starting with her sons. When her sons were young, she and her husband, Neil, taught them the value of working toward goals, whether in the home, in the gospel, or in life. “Every Saturday the four of us worked together to accomplish all the household chores and yard work,” she says. “Our boys learned how to clean the house, wash and iron clothes, mow the lawn, etc. I think the key was that we didn’t just send them to do their chores; rather, we worked side-by-side to get it all accomplished. That was just our way.”
That same approach carried into their family’s participation in family home evening, prayer, scripture study, Church attendance, and even family councils. “From the time they were little,” she says, “our sons participated with us in setting goals and in discussing how we’d accomplish those goals. We would do that through regular family councils as well as in the course of our nightly dinner-table discussions.”
Sister Lindberg’s desire to mentor others has carried over into her community service. She and her husband recently completed a service mission to help members of an inner-city LDS branch become more self-reliant. In that branch, she spent time helping youth “see a vision of themselves that was different from what they saw in their everyday environment.” In teaching them, she emphasized how goal-setting and education could lead them to brighter futures.
Helping people change is also part of her professional life. In her work as a trial court judge, she primarily handles criminal cases. In that setting she “sees almost all there is to be seen about human frailty, the pitfalls that make people stumble, and how they can be avoided.” She believes in holding people accountable for their actions but also believes that if they want to, “people can extricate themselves when they’ve made wrong choices initially.” One of her “goals as a judge is to try to help people restructure the choices they make,” to conquer the problems that have held them back, and to “become honest, law-abiding, and contributing members of society.”
In all aspects of her life, Sister Lindberg has learned that “if persons have a positive vision of themselves and their potential, that will help them set goals and improve their lives.” That’s a truth that the gospel offers to young women as they strive to understand and fulfill their divine nature.
At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, Sister Lindberg was serving as a Relief Society teacher. She has also served as an adviser and counselor in the Young Women organization, as a counselor in her ward Relief Society, and as a Primary, Sunday School, and teacher-development instructor.
She looks forward to the general women’s meeting, where girls and young women “will be seeing their future selves in the 20-year-olds, the 30-year-olds, and even in the 60-, 70-, and 80-year-olds who attend. And for those of us who are older,” she says, “I hope we’ll look back and remember the feeling of excitement and possibilities we felt in our youth. I hope we’ll help our girls and young women look forward to what life is going to bring them and that we will reach out to them and befriend them. I pray we can be role models, that we can love them, guide them, laugh with them, and cry with them.”
Soweto, South Africa
Members of the Young Women general board seek to help young women understand the great strength that comes through sisterhood. Sister Dorah Mkhabela, 47, has seen that strength throughout her life. And for her, that sisterhood begins at home with her two daughters (she also has a son). “I would not trade my role of motherhood with anything else in this life,” she says. “The joy of nurturing, guiding, teaching, and preparing my children to return to Heavenly Father is more like heaven on earth.”
Sister Mkhabela and her youngest daughter, Nyikiwe, will share a unique aspect of that sisterhood. Nyikiwe just turned 12, so they are both joining Young Women in the same month. “I am so grateful for this blessing,” she says. “It’s going to be fun for both of us to learn together.” Nyikiwe enjoys “being in Young Women with so many friendly girls” and is looking forward to sharing Young Women with her mother as well.
After her husband, Jackson, was called as an Area Seventy, Sister Mkhabela was able to share a broader sisterhood with others throughout Africa. “Sometimes my husband presides over conferences,” she says, “and I help train the sisters together with the mission president’s wife.” Sister Mkhabela can speak seven languages, and that helps her reach out to many sisters. As a convert herself, she can also relate to the new sisters who are joining the Church. She says that as first-generation members, she and her husband have learned the gospel “slowly every day” and that they “continue to learn.”
With a diploma in education, Sister Mkhabela taught high school for 13 years, though she says she was always happy each day when she could return home to care for her children.
At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, Sister Mkhabela was serving as a Sunday School teacher, having served previously as a counselor in Relief Society and Primary presidencies and as a teacher in seminary, Relief Society, Primary, and nursery.
Speaking of the special connection sisters share, she says, “The feeling of sisterhood is the same whether you’re in Salt Lake or South Africa. I feel that we are the same before our Heavenly Father. We can teach one another.” She is also “grateful for the love that I feel whenever I am with my sisters. It touches me. I met a sister in Kenya, and we had a chat, and I said to her, ‘Thank you very much. It’s good to meet good people and just talk.’ That’s what sisterhood is about.”
Brooklyn, New York
Members of the Young Women general board seek ways to help young women be in the world but not of the world. Sister Janet M. Nelson, 54, has had a lot of experience doing just that.
It began when she lived in Germany as a child and attended school there. When she entered the Young Women program as one of only a handful of young women in her ward, she stayed focused on the gospel in her life by working on her Young Womanhood recognition, setting spiritual goals and achieving them. She still has her book today and treasures those experiences.
Sister Nelson says that her time spent in Germany helped prepare her to live in busy New York City shortly after she and her husband, Jeff, were married. After being there for a time, they wondered if it was the best place to raise their four children. But they felt prompted to stay (except for three years spent in Germany), and so they found ways to focus their family on the gospel despite the noise around them, including family prayer, family scripture study, and family home evening. She also helped her family participate in seminary. “I had children in seminary for 13 straight years,” she says, “and I woke up every morning and drove or walked with them to the building. Those few minutes together were some of our best times, and with teenagers, you don’t get a lot of those moments!”
Sister Nelson knows the influence she has on her family as a mother, so she finds ways to prepare herself spiritually each day. For example, her daily bike commute over the Brooklyn Bridge begins with her listening to a general conference message and then spending the rest of the ride pondering how to apply it. When she rides the subway, she uses the time to read her scriptures. Her choices help her family see that “even though people are around you, you can find quiet places” to draw closer to God, she says.
Even though Sister Nelson’s children are now grown, she’s found ways to continue to strengthen youth and help them create spaces of safety and goodness. Since returning to work as a math teacher four years ago, she spends the day facing what teenagers across the world face every week: the classrooms and hallways of high school. And while she usually sings Primary songs to herself in the hallways when she sees or hears things she’d rather not remember, she doesn’t have to worry much about the language inside her classroom, because at the beginning of the school year she sets clear guidelines that it is a “G-rated classroom.” And if students do say something inappropriate in her class, it’s usually their fellow classmates who quickly remind each other, “Don’t you remember? It’s G-rated!” (Sister Nelson used this same approach in her home as well, and her children’s friends also learned to respond, “Didn’t you hear Mrs. Nelson say their house is G-rated?”)
As someone who faces high school every day, Sister Nelson serves as a reminder of counsel she gives to youth: “You can say, ‘In my space, this is the standard that I want to have.’ A young woman can be courageous enough to say, ‘This is who I am, this is what I believe, and this is what I want.’ And if you do it in a way that’s respectful, it’s usually going to be accepted.”
At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, Sister Nelson was serving as a Relief Society teacher and stake Young Women camp director, having previously served as a ward and stake Relief Society president, stake Young Women secretary, ward Primary president, and temple preparation teacher.
Sharing her testimony of sisterhood, she says, “There’s so much strength that can be had among sisters. We can either tear each other down, or we can build each other up. And I think when we decide to build each other up, we’re unstoppable. Women can do so much to help each other.”
São Paulo, Brazil
Members of the Young Women general board focus on helping young women “be worthy to make and keep sacred covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple”1 and prepare to become wives and mothers—roles that are very dear to Sister M. Lúcia Silva, 58.
Her weekly schedule shows how important these roles are to her. Describing her schedule as a wife, mother, and grandmother, she says Mondays are dedicated to preparing for family home evening, Tuesdays are spent at the family history center, Fridays are her day to serve as a temple worker in the São Paulo Brazil Temple, and Saturdays and Sundays after Church meetings are spent with her children and grandchildren.
Sister Silva wants everyone to have the same blessings she has, which is why family, family history, and temple service are at the heart of her week. She has found great joy in being able to research ancestors’ names and perform ordinances for them in the temple. And so far her family has completed the temple work for nine generations. It’s been a work that’s theirs to do alone, because Sister Silva’s family are the first members of the Church in her line. When she was 12, her home was across from a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse. And when missionaries knocked on her door, her family was receptive and was baptized a few months later. As the only remaining active member among her siblings and parents, Sister Silva feels a great desire to do her family history so others can enjoy the blessings of the gospel. “It’s a great privilege to feel the peace and the opportunity to make other people happy, to have the gospel in their lives,” she says.
At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, Sister Silva was serving as first counselor in her ward Relief Society presidency. She had previously served as a ward Young Women president at age 18 and later as a stake and ward Relief Society president, counselor in her ward Young Women presidency, family history consultant, and Sunday School teacher, along with serving with her husband, João, when he was president of the Brazil Fortaleza Mission.
As she has participated with other sisters in the work of salvation, Sister Silva has seen how the gospel can change the lives of faithful Latter-day Saints and then how they can help others change as well. “The gospel changes lives. I know that the only thing in the world that can make a difference in the women’s and young women’s lives is the gospel—nothing else. The gospel makes a difference in my life. I always try to show the young women that it’s possible to change our lives to create better lives. I know that Jesus helps us to be better women, to be great women—women who can change the world. He can help us—only Him.”
1. Handbook 2: Administering the Church (2010), 10.1.1
Salt Lake City, Utah
As members of the Young Women general board seek to strengthen the young women of the Church, they understand the importance of teaching the youth to rely on the Spirit. Sister Susan S. Taggart, 53, has seen how relying on the Holy Ghost has helped her throughout her life.
She recalls one significant experience from when she decided to serve a full-time mission: “I never thought about going on a mission until I was already old enough to go,” she says. “Then I just felt really strongly that I should serve. My mother was not an active member of the Church, and she was encouraging me not to go. But I could not deny the impression that I needed to serve.” Sister Taggart recognizes the blessings that have come by following that prompting. “My mission to the Netherlands changed my life,” she says. “It taught me that with God I could do hard things. I’ve never really feared doing hard things since then.”
She has continued to rely on the Spirit in strengthening her family as well. She and her husband, David, have two sons, one of whom is serving in the same mission she did. “I love the genius of God’s plan to have the family as a core element,” she says. “It overwhelms me that I am able to share a lifetime and beyond with such a delightful little group. Nothing equals the moments of spiritual depth and love I share with my husband and sons.”
Sister Taggart has relied on the Spirit in her work as an interior designer as well. “This is where I learned to work closely with people—often relying on the Spirit,” she says of how the gospel has become a part of everything she does. “I’ve had to see people’s concerns between family members or clients and contractors. I’ve had to really learn how to understand people and their needs and how to help fulfill those needs in a calm and kind way. I have prayed and sought the Spirit many times in this work to find solutions to delicate situations.”
Though Sister Taggart has a bachelor’s degree in German and a master’s degree in applied linguistics, both from the University of Utah, she found the outlet for her creative energy working as an interior designer. She appreciates how it builds connections with others: “I love dealing with people and helping them,” she says.
At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, Sister Taggart was serving as a stake Relief Society president, having previously served as a ward Young Women and Primary president and helping with Young Women camp in various ways for around 15 years.
As she reflects on these callings and the messages of sisterhood she has learned through them, she says, “Each of us has something to give. My hope is that we can spread our strength and sisterhood to women throughout the world and give them a vision of what they can do and become.”
Recognizing that faithful Latter-day Saint sisters have more similarities than differences is a foundational principle of the work of the Young Women general board. Sister Rosemary Thackeray, 46, learned that truth when she was called as a Relief Society president. As a single sister with a professional career, she worried how the sisters in her ward who had husbands and families would relate with her. But she says, “As I pondered and prayed about that, the thought came to me, ‘We’re all women. We’re all striving for the same thing. And we really have more similarities than we do differences. It doesn’t matter what our station in life is; we all want exaltation and eternal life.’ ”
“Though I have never been a mother,” she adds, “I have often felt like one. There is a mother heart in each woman regardless of her station in life. My life has been blessed with opportunities to love, nurture, and mentor nieces, nephews, and others.”
Sister Thackeray has enjoyed the spirit of sisterhood as she has served in callings that cross all seasons of life—Primary teacher, Laurel adviser, counselor in a stake Young Women presidency, and in various Relief Society callings.
She recalls one experience from Young Women camp that helped her see that “we are all aiming for the same thing.” She tells the story of a young woman in her stake who has Down syndrome: “When this young woman was asked where she was going to be married, she answered, ‘In the Salt Lake Temple, when Jesus comes again.’ She understood that being sealed in the temple is a covenant that leads us back to our Heavenly Father.”
Sister Thackeray’s words capture the essence of the sisterhood that can be shared across all ages and locations. “Everything we’re trying to do in the Church is to bring people to Christ. For both young women and women, it’s to help them make and keep covenants—at baptism and then in the temple. We’re all trying to accomplish the same goal, and we’re just doing it in different life phases.”
Sister Thackeray received a bachelor of science degree from Utah State University and a master of public health degree and a doctorate in health promotion from the University of Utah. She works as a public health faculty member at Brigham Young University.
At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, she was serving as a Primary teacher, having served previously in eight Relief Society presidencies.
Returning to the message of sisterhood across ages, she says, “My Church callings have allowed me to have a perspective across the span of life. I know that as sisters we can work together to nurture and support each other as we become filled with faith, discover who we are, and come to understand our divine roles.”
As members of the Young Women general board seek to help young women grow in the gospel, they know that they must reach out as the Savior did—one by one. That’s a pattern that Sister Megumi Yamaguchi, 43, has been following in her life. At the time of her call to the Young Women general board, she was serving as a ward Young Women president, having previously served as a stake Young Women president and stake Primary president, as well as in other stake and ward presidencies.
With 11 young women in her ward—all of whom are the only members in their schools and are spread throughout a large geographic region—she finds ways to strengthen them one by one. “They are special. I want to reach each one of them. When I associate with many girls at one time, sometimes I cannot reach each of them individually. That’s why I try to take time to talk with them individually afterward—so I can reach out to them. I also email them individually, because some of them are under strong temptations; I email every week to see how they are doing.”
The power of ministering one by one is something Sister Yamaguchi learned while serving as a missionary in the Japan Sendai Mission. There, she saw how to follow the Spirit to help each individual understand his or her divine nature. “The biggest thing I learned is how to feel, recognize, and follow the Spirit’s promptings. I also learned that when people know they are children of God, they become really strong.”
Sister Yamaguchi has kept that same message in her heart as a constant reminder to remain worthy of the Spirit. As an English interpreter by profession, she’s had the chance to interpret for Church leaders who visit Japan. In those cases, she says, brushing up on her language skills isn’t as important as preparing herself spiritually. “I have to be worthy,” she says. “To get ready to feel the Spirit is essential in translation. Without the Spirit, I don’t do as well. Whenever the General Authorities come to Japan, I go with them. Sometimes I don’t even know the words, but when I open my mouth it just comes naturally. It’s really surprising. With the Spirit, I can do that. But without the Spirit, I can’t.”
To stay worthy of the Spirit, Sister Yamaguchi has learned to embrace the gospel, even when it means being different from those around her—something she knows the young women of the Church face each day. “I used to hate being different when I was young, but now I love to be different from the people in the world. In my work, some people see those differences and request me as an interpreter; they see something and come back—it’s neat.”
She also knows how difficult it is for young women to be Church members in a country with so few members around. But like youth today, she found strength in developing friendships with other young women in the gospel. “Those friendships from Primary and seminary still go on,” she says. “Whenever I have a hard time, I have someone to talk to all the time. It’s really nice.” Sister Yamaguchi has been grateful for the chance to help the young women in her ward find that same strength through living the gospel and through close friendships with one another. “When you come to church and when you talk with the sisters in the Church,” she says, “you just feel that you’re not alone. It helps.”
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