Organization's purpose constant through years

Although 125 years have passed, the message remains much the same - "become righteous, problem-solving young women of faith."

This admonition by current Young Women General Pres. Janette C. Hales reflects the common principles on which the Young Women organization was created Nov. 28, 1869. On that day, Brigham Young gathered his daughters into the parlor of the Lion House in Salt Lake City to create the Young Ladies Department of the Cooperative Retrenchment Association - the predecessor of Young Women. (Please see accompanying historical article.)"When I read Brigham Young's concerns about his daughters 125 years ago," Pres. Hales said, "I realize he was concerned about their dress and the way they were spending their time. He wanted them to lead out in righteous ways, to take responsibility for their behavior, to become leaders. He wanted them to be righteous, problem-solving women."

Despite the passing of years, Pres. Hales added, "our fundamental and universal needs seem to stay the same."

In commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Young Women program, Pres. Hales; her counselors, Virginia H. Pearce and Bonnie D. Parkin; and Young Women administrative assistant Carolyn Rasmus met with the Church News. They discussed the challenges young women face today - both similar and different from their counterparts 125 years ago - and the part the Young Women program can play in their lives and in the lives of their families.

"During the ages of 12 to 18," Pres. Hales explained, "the religious identity of young women develops and much spiritual growth takes place. During these adolescent years, regardless of what a young woman has experienced as a child in a family setting and in Primary, she's having experiences and making decisions about whether or not she's going to adopt her family's behavior for her own. She's integrating that teaching into her own life. This is a time of conversion for her."

As these young people establish their religious identity, Pres. Hales expounded, they can find in the Young Women program a feeling of belonging and of identifying with others who have like values.

In speaking of the role that Young Women plays, Sister Pearce described the program as a "laboratory for learning how to live gospel-centered lives. So when we organize mid-week activities, what we're really doing is providing rehearsal time for young people to learn how to get along with one another in a gospel setting."

Sister Parkin added that Young Women "provides a resource."

"All adolscents have a need during that age to practice in an environment that is a little different than their family's as they make up their own mind about how they want to live," she explained.

However, Sister Pearce emphasized, the purpose of Young Women is not to pull young people away from home or to compete with their families. The program is designed to be a help for parents, and to provide structure for young people - regardless of their home environment.

Pres. Hales emphasized the role that leaders, parents and ward members play in the lives of young women. "A young person really needs to have someone help him or her to think beyond present challenges and become a little bit future-oriented. Caring adults do that very well."

Although based on the same principles for 125 years, the Young Women program has been continually updated to meet the needs of youth in every cultural and economic circumstance. Today, the program includes the Young Women Theme and Values, Personal Progress, the Young Women Motto and Logo, and the Standards of Personal Worthiness.

The values each have an associated color - Faith (white), Divine Nature (blue), Individual Worth (red), Knowledge (green), Choice and Accountability (orange), Good Works (yellow), and Integrity (purple). Sister Rasmus explained that the colors themselves have no particular meaning in relation to the values. They are simply reminders.

Concerning the Standards of Personal Worthiness, Pres. Hales explained that these standards are "closely related to what a person would be asked in a temple recommend interview, so that a young woman prepares to be temple worthy."

Sister Pearce expounded that the Personal Progress program helps young women live the Standards of Worthiness in "bite-size pieces. Adolescence is a little overwhelming. We concentrate on Personal Progress. It provides an opportunity to experience the gospel and recognize the good feelings that accompany righteous behavior."

Sister Rasmus explained that in the letter from the Young Women general presidency, printed in the front of the Personal Progress booklet, the word prepare in various forms appears a total of seven times.

"We talk about the Aaronic Priesthood as a preparatory priesthood," she explained. "In a way, as we work with young women at this same age, it is a preparatory time."

Concerning the Young Women logo - a torch with the profile of a young woman on the right side of the flame - Sister Parkin explained: "You can't lay a torch down when it's burning. You have to pass it on, which is part of the symbolism."

Pres. Hales added that when she thinks of the torch, she relates it to 3 Ne. 18:24: "Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up."

"When a young woman is righteous, the light in her directs others to the Savior," she added.

The Young Women general presidency hopes that these programs and reminders will help young women today cope with their challenges. And as they face these challenges, these auxiliary leaders hope that parents and adults will instill confidence and faith in young people.

Sister Parkin expounded on the importance of parents trusting their children: "That's a funny thing that a parent does. They trust you and thus you feel a real obligation to honor that trust. A lot of it is unspoken, but it is felt."

Now - and in the future - the principles of the gospel remain the same and apply in the lives of young women as they face challenges, the general presidency explained.

Concerning what she has learned during her tenure as general president, Pres. Hales said: "How important it is that I look to the living prophet and recognize the messages that are appropriate for our day. We were called for this time, and we must be constantly looking to the living prophet for our direction and for guidance into the future."

When Pres. Hales was called to her present position in April 1992, she offered counsel that applies now and always: " . . . To every adult member of the Church, may I suggest that you learn the names of the young people in your ward or branch and call them by name. Encourage them in their work efforts. Recognize them for the good things they do. They need our support, and we need theirs. Probably the hardest thing about growing up is that you have to keep doing it. But we are not alone."

Today, there are 511,713 young women in the Church in 19,900 Church units throughout the world.

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