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Church creates ASL Board of Education to support youth and young adults who are deaf

Board includes representatives from deaf community and Church departments

To better support the needs of youth and young adults in the United States who are deaf, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently formed an ASL Board of Education. 

The board’s first meeting was held at the Church Office Building on Friday, Nov. 4. 

“I hope you get a sense that this is something historic — meeting today for the first time,” Elder Peter M. Johnson, General Authority Seventy and chairman of the board, said during the meeting through an ASL interpreter. 

“We want to counsel together and learn from each other. We want to move this work forward. … We are committed to help everyone learn and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language and culture,” he said, referencing 2 Nephi 31:3

The board includes representatives from the deaf community, Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, the Priesthood and Family Department, and the general advisory councils of the Young Women, Young Men, Primary and Relief Society organizations.

The excitement in the room was palpable as board members introduced and greeted one another — many of whom have worked together for several years on various initiatives. 

“I’m excited to be here with all of you and learn from everyone and see how Seminaries and Institutes can support this effort,” said Rick Jensen, Seminaries and Institutes North America ASL coordinator and adviser. 

Rick Jensen, Seminaries and Institutes North America ASL coordinator and adviser, signs during the ASL Board of Education meeting at the Church Office Building on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. | Hunter Winterton, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The ASL Board of Education’s vision and goals are aligned with the objectives of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion to help youth and young adults deepen their conversion to Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, qualify for the blessings of the holy temple, and prepare themselves, their families and others for eternal life.

Katie Steed, disability specialist in the Priesthood and Family Department, said: “I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so excited. I’ve learned so much from so many of you here, and I’ve been humbled by your desire to reach all of God’s children. … I always say that my job is not to be a voice for the people but to elevate their voices. And I know we have a lot to learn.”

Kathryn Godderidge, a member of the Primary general advisory council, added, “We are very excited in Primary to learn how we can help the children.”

One topic discussed during the meeting was a pilot For the Strength of Deaf Youth, or FSDY, conference held this summer. Youth who participated reported feeling happier and more involved.

Elder Glen D. Mella, an Area Seventy in the Utah Area with responsibility for the ASL community, attended the FSDY and spoke with the youth. 

“I had a wonderful experience with them. In fact, I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm,” Elder Mella told the board. “Driving home that night I called [Young Men General President] Steve Lund and said, ‘President, I wish you had the chance to see what I just experienced tonight in the faces of these very special young people.’ We need to do all we can to create that opportunity throughout the Church.”

Other topics discussed included supporting members who are deaf and their families, expanding participation in seminary and institute for youth and young adults who are deaf, and identifying and encouraging young adults and seniors who are deaf for missionary service.

The board plans to meet every six months, with subcommittee meetings in between. 

Elder Peter M. Johnson, General Authority Seventy and chairman of the ASL Board of Education, speaks during the board’s first meeting on Nov. 4, 2022, at the Church Office Building. Katie Steed, disability specialist in the Priesthood and Family Department, is on his right. | Hunter Winterton, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Johnson said, “Deepening faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His gospel and His restored Church, and to make this available to all in their own language and culture — that’s our desire. …

“This is the beginning. A lot of great work has already been done. We’re going to capitalize on that work and move forward and see what we can sustain and improve.”

To learn more about the Church’s resources for members with disabilities, visit disability.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

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