Relief Society sesquicentennial

"Women are the spiritual hub of the family," remarked Leigh Stachowski, Relief Society president in the Sydney Australia Parramatta Stake.

And through Relief Society lessons, visiting teaching and other Church activities, women can be strengthened and can strengthen their families and each other, she added."When women are strong and spiritually in tune, then harmony in the family will increase. When families live the gospel principles, they are strengthened and find a sense of security in the common goals and common love they have for the Lord."

The strength of families was impressed upon her after she spent a day with the family of a Relief Society sister whose 19-year-old son was killed in an auto accident. He had just returned to Church activity and was preparing to go on a mission.

"Watching them helped me get the perspective that families are eternal, that we need to work hard now so we can have our families with us in the future, and great strength can come from family members," Sister Stachowski related.

In her own life, Sister Stachowski, 28, and her husband, Eddie, have learned the importance of nurturing their relationship with one another and with their 1-year-old son, Benjamin. Both Brother and Sister Stachowski, members of the Parramatta Ward, are medical doctors.

When their son was born, Sister Stachowski took time off from her medical practice to take care of their son. "But my husband works very, very long hours," she added. "Consequently, the time we have together is very precious to us."

Through Relief Society, she explained, "we try to help the sisters understand that it doesn't matter what sort of family they have, whether they are single, a single mom or have a husband and children. We teach them that the people they live with are important and that they are valuable within their own family."

Sisters in the Parrmatta Stake also find strength in sharing a common gospel bond with others despite diverse backgrounds and cultures, Sister Stachowski remarked. There are 13 units in the Sydney Parramatta Australia Stake, six being non-English speaking branches or wards. Translators play a key part in stake conferences.

"Our stake is very multi-cultural," Sister Stachowski explained. "We have a lot of immigrants here. We have Samoan, Tongan, and Spanish branches in our stake and many other members represent a variety of cultures.

"For new people moving into the area, this is a whole new culture. The Relief Society sisters take them under their wings and help them adjust. They become sisters in a real sense to people who have left their families behind."

Sister Stachowski's own counselors are Spanish and Samoan. With communication being one of the biggest challenges facing stake leaders, it helps to have counselors who can communicate with the sisters in their own language, she said.

"Our major goal has been to increase the spirituality of our sisters by helping them learn of their divine worth. So many of them feel inadequate to do all that they must, but they need to know that they can do it and be positive."

When Sister Stachowski was called to be a ward Relief Society president at age 25, it came as a real surprise, she recounted. "It was a great challenge, but an insight to me that the Lord doesn't care about how old we are. He cares about what we are willing to do for Him and for others. I learned that then and I feel that now.

"It's encouraging to know that the Lord will allow me to do what I can do and then give me the ability to do whatever else He needs me to do. I couldn't do this calling if the Lord wasn't there giving me the support."

At a time when unemployment is at a high in Australia, Relief Society leaders have realized the importance of having strong friendships and finding strength from one another, Sister Stachowski commented.

"Unemployment is a major problem for us. A lot of women have to go to work to meet their minimal financial needs. That's really hard. A lot of them want to be with their families.

"We are really trying to emphasize visiting teaching here because many women can't attend their meetings because they are working or their husbands are working. When we are aware of each other's needs, we can do so much for each other."

The stake also has emphasized the importance of teaching skills that will help sisters through difficult economic situations such as budgetting funds, living more providently, or finding employment in the home.

"Part of helping our sisters is helping them know what their resources are and where to find help in the community."

The stake Relief Society has also stressed fellowshipping recent converts. With the strong influence of alcohol and acceptance of participating in sports on Sundays, most Australians make a big lifestyle change when they join the Church.

By planning Relief Society, ward and stake activities that will strengthen Relief Society sisters and their families, the adjustment becomes easier.

Sister Stachowski said she learned early in life the importance of planning activities with a purpose.

In order to go into medicine, she needed to get high marks in high school and often had to make the decision to study rather than play Church basketball or participate in other extra-curricular activities.

"I learned from that, and now as a leader, I believe that we shouldn't have activities just to have activities. Relief Society is there to strengthen us and we need to have purpose in everything we do. It doesn't matter how many people come to what we put on. It matters that we are reaching the people that need to be reached.

"If we seek to fulfill the needs of the sisters, they will want to come to meetings and activities. Relief Society needs to be practical. We need to help our young women understand that Relief Society is not just little old ladies crocheting. It's there to strengthen all women, young and old, married and single, mothers and daughters."

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