Friday, December 2, 2011

Young Women and why our investment in them is critical

A little set up for those of you who are not familiar with my religion which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Often referred to as Mormons.

We serve in different capacities on a volunteer basis.  There is no paid clergy.  We have a primary which is for children ages 18 months to 12yrs.  Our youth programs for boys and girls from age 12 to 18.  The Young Men are also encouraged and work directly with the Boy Scouts of America.  Both programs have a pamphlet with outlined projects and assignments for them to complete and earn associated jewelry or other significant sources of recognition.  The projects and activities are designed to instill positive habits of clean living, resourcefulness, individual spirituality, interpersonal relationships, communication, public speaking, teaching and ultimately develop their individual testimonies of Jesus Christ as their Savior. 

In Young Women's the program is called Personal Progress.  Which is exactly that.  Every activity and project is designed to allow the young woman to progress and grow in seven different value areas.  It generally takes a young women a couple of years to earn it.

As leaders in the YW organization, we are instructed to encourage and provide opportunities for the girls to work on their Personal Progress and to appropriately acknowledge their progress.  It's a fun challenge and often very difficult and time consuming to complete.  It's certainly something that one could compare to a young man earning his Eagle in the scouting program.

I've been blessed and lucky enough to serve for several years in the YW program in various capacities.  When I was first called several years ago, I was wary.  I didn't even LIKE girls let alone have to work with them at least twice a week?  Sundays and then one evening a week for activities?  And don't get me started on a week of camp with them.  Wary, indeed.

One Sunday with them is all it took.  I was instantly in love.  With every single girl.  From the youngest 12 year old to the oldest 18 year old.  In love.  And an instant testimony of the importance of the program.

The past couple of weeks, it's been on my mind.  I've quietly observed our girls.  I've put a lot more thought into our personal interactions and then spent time thinking about each girl.  Her strengths, her weaknesses, her needs, her individual personality.  Our particular ward of YW is about 25 girls, so it's easy enough to manage and get close with each girl.  It doesn't take much to get to know them each personally.

Over the past month or so, a particular idea has been zeroed in my mind.  Yes, I have known this truth always, but for some reason, I feel very compelled that it's of the utmost importance RIGHT NOW.

The idea, or rather  the truth, is that these young women (and young men for that matter) are really and truly, the future.  We are teaching them by word, and more importantly example, on how to be leaders.  One day, my little Mia Maid who is 14 years old now, will grow up and be a YW leader herself.  How will she know how to lead?  How will she know how the organization is supposed to be run?  How will she know to step out of her comfort zone and love girls that are younger and much different than herself?  From the simple act of conducting a meeting and teaching a lesson, to the more complex of prayerful decisions for the organization, the administration of the organization and following the rules in the handbook.  How will she know these things?

Quite simply from us.  From her leaders.  From the other adults in her life that set the example and give them opportunities to practice and serve.  Too often, we are afraid to let our children fail, and that extends to our ward children that we have stewardship over.  Too often we forget that they don't know.  In fact, that was one of the mistakes I made as a parent.  Without realizing it, I was assuming that my kids just knew stuff.  I don't think I am the only one guilty of that.  And I certainly appreciate my children who kindly brought that attention to me, and now I am responsible for acting on it.  I no longer have children in my home to raise, but the principle applies.

In fact, whether or not you or a member of my same religion, doesn't the truth apply regardless?  Each one of us have interaction with young people on some level.  As a parent, teacher, aunt/uncle, grandparent, teacher or friend.  And all children need to be taught the same leadership principles.  It might not necessarily apply to their religion of choice, but it most certainly applies as members of a community.  As part of society.  As one who will be a future adult, one who votes, leads in their areas,  and determines the course of their individual circles of influence.

It has struck me hard the past little while and caused me to assess if I am fulfilling this stewardship responsibly.  Am I following the rules, being organized, reaching out, conforming to the particular guidelines my church has outline for the program?  Where can I improve?

With the world moving at a neckbreak speed, we have no time to waste.  We don't have the luxury of relying on someone else to do this.  We have to step up to the plate.  It's crucial.  It's not something to be approached haphazardly, but instead with a zeal and passion, and a belief that you are INDEED making a difference for the future simply by teaching, leading and being an example of how things should be done to the young people with whom you interact or whom you have stewardship over.

This past week we had our annual YW Christmas party.  Now one would think, with a party, what is taught?
1.  Traditions are important.  For several year, our girls have gone out and tied Christmas ribbons on each mailbox in our neighborhood.  Service is taught.
2.  It's usually cold.  We can do things that don't seem particularly fun or comfortable.
3.  They go out in groups of 3 or so.  Learning to work together and to be as efficient as possible.
4.  We come back to the church for a simple dinner.  They learn that things don't have to be super fancy to be special.  Homemade soup and rolls teaches the importance of learning some basic homemaking skills.  Simple decorations teach that they don't have to be "over the top" with decor to make a room fun and cute.
5.  An organized table that is designed to allow several girls to serve at once.  Lesson in organization and efficiency.
6.  Unassigned seating.  Learning to reach out to someone who isn't sitting with anyone and including them in your group.  Befriending, socializing and the importance that everyone is important.
7.  Noticing which girls are missing and texting them to let them know you miss them.  Teaching to notice the girls not there and then reaching out to let them know you miss them and wish they were there.
8.  A DVD of  our pictures of activities throughout the year.  Lesson in learning to laugh at ourselves and sometimes our silly pictures.  Sadly, we mostly had camp and very few of other activities.  Lesson in the importance of documenting your life.  Pictures included as well as journaling.
9.   A small and simple gift.  The girls each received a simple Christmas tree ornament with their name painted on it.  Lesson that gifts don't need to be elaborate, just personal.
10.  When the activity is done, everyone tends to jump in and help clean up.  Lesson that many hands make light work, and that simply walking away means someone else is doing the lions' share of the work.  We all enjoyed the activity, we can all take the time to help clean up.

Clearing a Christmas party has become a learning experience.  That should happen each and every single time we interact with our youth.  No matter the event, they are learning from us.  Our examples, our words, our attitude's  A heavy responsibility to be sure, but is absolutely critical since these young people will some day be the leaders and if don't teach them the right way, we could likely be headed for chaos of some kind.  Not just in our respective religions but in our world and society as well.

I love my opportunity to serve with the YW.  They are amazing girls who never cease to astonish me with their level of maturity and willingness to serve and learn.

I can only hope I live worthy enough to continue to be with them.  I love them to the moon and back.  Every last one of them.

( I didn't know how to set the timer, so I had to do a different pic with me in and with TeraAnn's awesome hat!)


" Hit It......." said...

I am so impressed with your writing abilities. You are very gifted. Regarding the Young Women..I agree that this is a very important function. My daughter is 12 and 1/2 and I can't tell you how much she has changed. Friends have become more important. The Young Women program helps also keep these girls grounded;(as you know I am not an active member). I do think the values and principles that you teach these gals will carry through into their adulthood.

btw - I will take you up on the Date Night for all gals too young to date in their sophomore year. Great idea!

tammy said...

You know now that you professed your love for this calling, you'll be released right??

Just kidding...

I love that you love working with them. I often wonder if I'm teaching my boys enough, or if I'm just assuming they know something, especially when it comes to things like my testimony. I need to be better at making sure they know.

Lazarus said...

M-Cat, as a non-Mormom I didn't know any of this, very inspiring piece. I'm sure you're a great spiritual guide/role model for these girls even though you haven't taught them not to Facebook friend weird guys from the East Coast! Seriously, glad I read this, keep up the great work, it benefits all of society, not just Mormons. Thanks!

LKP said...

you SO rock the casbah! thanks for this. helps me remember why i walk into 3rd hour & mutual each week. and it makes me feel not alone in my efforts & realization that every single thing we do teaches these girls, cause they are watching. they are SOOOOOO watching! ::hugs::

DesertHen said...

Beautiful post! My dear friend is involved with the YW program in her ward here and I love hearing the stories she shares with me! I'm not Mormon, but many of my friends are and we do have several family members that are as well. My mother's side of the family were Mormon, but her mother did not continue on with the church after she grew up and married. My dad was raised Baptist, but my siblings and I were not brought up with either faith. My parents left it up to us to decide what faith/church we wanted to belong too. brother ended up becoming Catholic!

Garden of Egan said...

Amen you!
Love this post. It is so true.
And if at any time those young women feel that their leaders aren't there for them, or get caught up in drama, they can be lost.
Trust me on this one. The leaders are crucial to showing unconditional love.

Love the picture of you with that hat. SO YOU!

wendy said...

cause you are fun
you can share stuff....real stuff
and understand
shall I go on.........

I enjoyed my time working with the young women as well. Our Youth NEED good leaders right now, something other then LADY GAGA to exemplify
it is going to be a hard hard road ahead as Satan is getting very Anxious in his purposes of destruction.

Cherie said...

I'm a little late but you did a great job with this post.
I love the YW also - it is a gift to be able to work with them and teach them and you are spot on - When you lead them, you are leading and teaching the future.
It is so amazing!
They are so lucky to have such a fun and inspiring leader in you M!

Amy said...

You are a great leader for these young women. I remember YW being my favorite part of church. We all have a responsibility to be working, living examples to the youth around us. Thank you for the reminder and beautiful post.

Sue said...

Once a gain you published a fabulous post. The young women are so lucky to have you.

Some great ideas and reminders♥

Mom of 12 said...

My four oldest girls have all earned their Personal Progress awards. It is a terrific program! I love that it helps girls set goals and work to achieve them.

Serene is my name, not my life! said...

I'm the Beehive advisor in my ward and I SOOOO heart every word you said.
These girls are amazing. I just hope they can rememeber that!

Pedaling said...

Amen to everything you said. I've felt a big responsibility to step up to the plate these last few years and always really. Always trying to improve.
I am so grateful for the leaders like you in the lives of my girls throughout the years.
Some of my girls did their personal prog and got their recognition and a few didn't. grrr- I'm not big on pushing that one as much as I probably should. I try to help, but hate to nag.