Building bridges that last

Love, acceptance help Young Women as they enter Relief Society

Whether it's building bridges for roads or in human relationships, it takes firm foundations to provide strong and lasting bridges.

And firm foundations such as the Young Women and Relief Society organizations make the transition easier for young adult women as they move from Young Women into Relief Society, said Elaine L. Jack, Relief Society general president."Young Women and Relief Society are firmly grounded in charity and the principles of the gospel," she noted. "That makes it easier to meet in the middle and to help young women move from one program to the other."

But it takes more than just welcoming the young women into Relief Society on their 18th birthday, Pres. Jack said.

"When some young women turn 18 they flounder and feel they don't fit in. The young men are preparing for missions, and unless young women become a part of Relief Society, they can become lost. We want them to know where they fit in in the Church. We hope every Relief Society sister can help them feel a part of the whole."

Janette C. Hales, Young Women general president, remarked: "If the adults will learn the names of youth in the ward, call them by name, compliment them for the good things they do and encourage them in their work efforts, then as the young women enter Relief Society they will already have friends there. They need our help and we need theirs.

"We also feel that by the time young women turn 18, if they are not prepared for Relief Society then they haven't been prepared adequately in Young Women. The Young Women program can give them a chance to interact with others who are not their age and to prepare for transitions."

A special committee, headed by Pres. Jack and composed of Relief Society board members Bonnie Parkin, Barbara Thompson and Mary Ellen Edmunds, has been studying the transition from Young Women to Relief Society and how to make that transition smoother. (A workshop will be presented on the topic during the auxiliary open house meetings on March 25-26 and April 1-2 in the Relief Society Building.)

"Young adult women need to be involved, accepted and need more orientation to Relief Society before they ever get there. That makes a difference in the transition," explained Sister Parkin, chairwoman of the transition committee. "Relationships make the other difference - knowing that they have similar feelings, even though there are different ages, and that they are still women in the gospel."

The committee suggests three objectives for Relief Society leaders as they help young women enter Relief Society: 1. find common ground by getting to know the young adult women, 2. involve them in Relief Society and 3. become shepherds and mentors by helping young adult women grow in all aspects of their lives.

Find common ground

"When we are sincerely looking for commonalities and ways to understand each other, we are able to build bridges," said Sister Parkin.

"At every age women are interested in learning new things, being creative and linking with friends," she added. "We can help these young adult women feel welcome in a variety of ways."

The committee suggests that Relief Society leaders help the young sisters feel welcome by making personal visits, hosting a welcoming event and encouraging interaction among all women. Leaders may also present a preview of Relief Society to the Laurels in the Young Women program to help them look forward to becoming members of Relief Society.

"Even before young women enter Relief Society we can hold joint activities, have occasional lessons and do homemaking projects together," Sister Edmunds noted. "Holding listening groups where they share their ideas about Relief Society with the older women can also be beneficial."

Sister Thompson added: "Know their names before they turn 18 so the transition doesn't start right on their birthday."

Women find common ground with one another when they realize they share spiritual values, she reflected. "They can help each other reach shared goals. We also find a common ground in service. That can help a lot in building bridges."

Involve young adult women

Once the young women become a part of Relief Society, "we can involve them by calling them to be visiting teachers, to participate in homemaking and in rendering compassionate service," Sister Parkin explained.

Relief Society leaders shouldn't be afraid to give the younger sisters assignments and get them involved in something meaningful, Pres. Jack remarked.

"Involve them in Sunday lesson discussions," said Chieko N. Okazaki, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. "Or call them to be a teacher. Their maturity will surprise you.

"Value their opinions, seek out their input. We as women in Relief Society, not just leaders, have an obligation to make them feel comfortable."

Become shepherds, mentors

A mentor or shepherd is someone who actually teaches another and then lets her take an active role in serving and carrying out those duties, Sister Parkin explained.

"The older women can be there to support and sustain the young adult women as they accept and serve in various callings. And it goes both ways. The older women can learn how to do something better through the younger women's perspective. Sometimes a new twist and enthusiasm can make a better situation.

"The younger sisters have certainly done a lot in Young Women," Sister Parkin continued. "They have conducted meetings, helped plan and participate in activities and given service."

When women lift and love each other, they will care enough to listen and assist the young adult women as they enter Relief Society, Sister Edmunds said. "We can help them feel the strength of prayer, help them prepare for the temple and confirm their value as daughters of God.

"But they also need to be treated as women, not as so-and-so's daughter or the former baby sitter. Help them feel like they are part of a woman's organization."

Working closely with the Young Women presidency can also help Relief Society leaders make the transition easier for young women, said Pres. Jack. "The attitude of Young Women leaders is a great determining factor as to how young women accept Relief Society."

While Relief Society leaders have the responsibility to make the young adult women feel a part of the organization, making a successful transition is "not all up to the leaders," Sister Okazaki remarked.

"The young adult women also have a responsibility to assert themselves and become a part of the group. They can do a lot on their own.

"Everyone, no matter what their age, goes through transition periods. When we think about it that way, changes can be easier."

Sister Edmunds added: "A transition is a process, not an event. Sometimes it is expected, when we turn 18 for example, that we will all of a sudden be comfortable with our new roles. But it takes time."

"And it doesn't all happen at the same stage," Pres. Jack continued. "We need to understand that and try different approaches as we love and nurture them along."

Sister Thompson remarked: "Sometimes young people have perceived Relief Society as this organization that does only quilting or luncheons and feel they will never be able to relate to that. That's a myth. Instead, it's an organization that meets the needs of all members. What is there, for example, in the lessons that an 18-year-old doesn't need as much as an older woman?"

Sister Parkin concluded: "We hope that every sister can help build bridges as they become shepherds of these young adult women, so we all feel that we are an essential part of the body of Christ.

"These young adult women bring an energy level to Relief Society that is just dynamic. We don't want to lose that. It's refreshing."

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