In a new video posted on Tuesday, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon shared a special invitation in preparation for the celebration of 150 years of Young Women.
“We love our Young Women leaders. We would like to hear how they’ve influenced your life, whether you’re a young woman now or a young woman long ago, so here’s our next invitation. Using #StriveToBe, post on social media how your young women leader has blessed your life, and then if you can, reach out. Tell her what she means to you.”
This is the second challenge issued by President Cordon in commemoration of the sesquicentennial anniversary. The first challenge, “My 150,” encouraged people to do something associated with the number 150 to bless the lives of others, like indexing 150 names or sending 150 positive text messages to friends. On November 15, 2020, the Young Women General Presidency will host a special Face to Face event to commemorate 150 years of Young Women.
We, some of the female employees of LDS Living, wanted to pay tribute to the influence of our Young Women leaders and how they have shaped our lives. Below we share tributes to our Young Women leaders. You’ll also find some of our favorite LDS Living videos featuring Young Women leaders scattered throughout.
We hope you, too, will take President Cordon’s invitation to post about how a Young Women leader has blessed your life using #StriveToBe on social media.
When you show up in a new ward as a 17-year-old high school senior, you don't really expect to find your people at church. You assume that you'll just sort of float in and out until graduation and then head off to college without much fanfare. After all, these people haven't known you since you were little. They don't have to be invested in you and your success.
But then again, most Young Women leaders are not the Janes. Janey Axelson and Jane Ashton, along with my seminary teacher, Brenda Wahrer, not only made space for me in their South Carolina ward, they embraced me, challenged me, and talked to me. I cannot tell you about one lesson they taught, but I remember the ones they made me teach. And I remember feeling like they believed in me and cared about my growth. I loved my mom, but at a time when I was too busy trying to differentiate myself from my family, these women mothered me and helped me to appreciate my own mother more. They loved God and they loved us. And more than anything they showed me that I was a spiritually competent person, even as a 17-year-old. I took that knowledge with me when I left for college in the big city and it propelled me toward the decision to serve a mission. I'm grateful for that year with the Janes and Brenda and am grateful for their testimonies that led me toward solidifying mine.
Elissa Mataele was my leader when I was a 17-year-old Laurel. I was on my way to college soon and was very ready to move on to the next chapter of life. I suspect teaching young women whose minds are half occupied with the next stage of life was challenging at times. And yet, Sister Mataele was seemingly unfazed. She was funny, loving, cool, and inspired. Sister Mataele loved the Lord and she loved us completely—we knew it without a doubt. She came every week with a thoughtful lesson, customized to our age and current life circumstances. Because of her preparation on our behalf, her lessons quickly became the highlight of my Sunday. I always knew I was going to hear something that I needed.
I'll never forget the week she taught our lesson on dating. I pretended not to care about the topic but for the record, I VERY MUCH CARED. At the end of the lesson she handed out a keepsake for us—a homemade felt frog with a tag on it that said, "You don't have to kiss every boy you date before you find your prince." We laughed and laughed and then took our frogs home. And while I don't know where my frog is now, I can't tell you how many times I have had that statement run through my head at just the right moment. I'll never forget that little frog and I will never forget Sister Mataele.
(Please note: This picture is not of me as a Laurel but it was the only one I could find of Sister Mataele and me. I fully realize she looks like a supermodel and I am dressed as a lioness with braces, but it makes sense because she was directing our ward's roadshow where I was an animal who made it on Noah's Ark. What can I say, it was the '80s.)
When I think of Young Women leaders, I can’t picture one person who influenced my life more than others because there were simply too many who did. When I reflect on that time, countless memories fill my mind. I think of Suzanne Fankhouser’s gingerbread houses that she baked for us from scratch to decorate at Christmas (I did this for a Young Women project once and it still stuns me that she did this multiple times). I think of Lynette Haslam and her steady voice as she bore testimony time and time again (I still wear the lip gloss she gave me when I finished one of my Personal Progress values). And I think of my mom, who was my Young Women president, pointing to pictures of the Savior in a chart of her own design to help the Young Women memorize “The Living Christ,” which I still know by heart today.
I remember Erin Alexander holding Christmas dinners in her home, fellow Anne of Green Gables lover Tricia Sloan sending me a card calling us “kindred spirits,” and Laura Rupper hand-knitting the girls in our class scarves. I remember Steffanie Clark reading us stories, learning how to organize girls’ camp from Krista Spilker, and Karen Draper’s kind smile that always made me feel at ease. I remember Missy Wilde’s spontaneous spirit (thank you for driving over the island in the street so we could get to Wendy’s before the temple that night), Tawni Lawrence and her heartfelt lessons, and Diane Lidell’s flawless activities.
Now, I know these are only snapshots of moments in time—just pieces of memory, really, that can never do justice to who these women are. I know there was so much more that went on behind the scenes as they planned activities, shared their testimonies, and prepared lessons. But I also believe that in life, we sometimes feel that the small things don’t matter—that the hours we spent on something, the time we invested, was for naught. Women who are less selfless than these might have thought that dedicating time each week to help a group of young women trying to figure out who they are wasn’t worth the effort. But these women did it anyway. And I know without a doubt it’s not because they were hoping for attention or praise, or that they would get something from it in the end. It’s because they loved the Savior and they are His disciples—and if He couldn’t physically be there for these young women He loved, then they would be there for Him instead.
So while I know a simple thank you from me will never be enough, I want these women and all women who have served in this capacity to know that their time, talents, and love have not gone unnoticed. Because I know that for me, it was due to all the time that they spent that I felt a little more cared for. After every conversation, I felt a little more loved. And with every testimony they shared, my own was strengthened. So that now, years later, I know without a doubt as the new Young Women theme says, that “I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.” And it’s because of them. So while these words can never express the depth of gratitude I feel for the service these women gave, I want to say it anyway—thank you.
I will never forget the first time I met Kim Pearson. She and her family had just moved back to the United States from Italy where her husband served in the Air Force, and we were assigned to the same room during my first year at youth conference. We talked and laughed for hours that night, and she has been a guiding light in my life ever since.
Kim is one of those people who makes everything fun. She taught me to hang back on hikes and make sure every person made it up the trail. She taught me to appreciate a good s’more and that the most surefire way to be cool is to not worry about what others think of you. She taught me to be responsible and to help out everywhere possible just because I wanted to be around her. She taught me to look for the lessons in any experience and that it’s a lot more fun to make a joke out of frustrating moments than it is to complain. She taught me to show up for people, not only because she showed up in the most important moments of my life but also because I watched as she was there for other young women I loved at crossroads in their lives. She taught me to believe in people's potential and to encourage them to use their talents by taking a chance on them. She taught me to love those who are not the easiest to love and to seek to understand where people are coming from, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to always believe they're on the upswing.
As the years have passed, I’ve watched Kim, as we all do, pass through difficult things and have admired her unfailing faith. Just a month or so ago, I woke up to a text from her asking me to call when I had a second, and when I called, just like always, we picked up right where we left off. We talked for almost an hour about Come, Follow Me and what we were learning from King Lamoni. We talked about church callings and things that were on our hearts. We caught up on our families. And when we got off the phone, I realized how important her presence has been in my life. I looked back this morning on the emails she sent me during my time as a missionary and read these words, “One last thing . . . I want you to know how much you mean to me, too!! . . . I love you like one of my own. You are living out a dream that I have always had. . . to serve a mission. Do the work for both of us . . . know that I am always with you, in both thought and prayer.” And the thing is, I have always felt that—even when I wasn’t a missionary. Because I had Kim as a Young Women leader, I have always known I had someone in my corner, someone who loved me unconditionally.
I loved all of my leaders for different reasons but one experience that stands out is one that I had with Christi Gibson. I was an insecure Beehive and I sometimes felt out of place, but Sister Gibson was always so fun and full of life that it made everyone feel at ease. When my stake in Utah attended the Day of Celebration in honor of Joseph Smith's First Vision, Sister Gibson would blast fun, uplifting music in her car on the way there and back. It really made that time special and made me feel part of the group. I wanted to go to Young Women activities after that because I knew she would be there and I would have fun, and that really helped strengthen my testimony during my teenage years.
Mine isn't super specific, but my mom was one of my Young Women leaders growing up. And anyone who knows our family knows that we aren't very lovey-dovey. We say I love you on special occasions and hug on holidays or when someone is moving far away. So it was really special for me as a youth to hear my mom's testimony and love for the Savior almost every Sunday for years. I feel like most teenagers don't really have many opportunities to hear their parents’ testimony very often, and I'm just grateful that I was able to get to know my mom through her love for this gospel. I know it made our relationship deeper and I know it made my own testimony stronger.
I don't remember anything specific from Wendi Gibbs' lessons (except for how to make the most delicious cupcakes with Diet Orange Crush soda), but her example and experiences were so valuable to me as a teenager. Being a single professional, she stood out among the other leaders who ranged from young moms to grandmas, but she shaped the way I thought about my future and the goals I had for myself.
Wendi wanted to know what was important to us and supported the passions and interests that we had. When we were at Girl's Camp, she never wanted (I mean, maybe she wanted, but she never showed it) to be alone with the leaders. She wanted to get to know us and made an effort to talk to every girl there.
She talked openly about hard things in her life and that living the gospel wouldn't prevent hard things from happening in my own life. Though we haven't talked in close to a decade, I'm so grateful to have learned from her unique insights.
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I have so many special memories of one-on-one moments with my Young Women leaders, but looking back, the biggest thing I remember is seeing how my leaders always had so much fun with each other. They laughed together a lot and I loved that. Even though they had pretty different personalities and were all at different stages in their lives, they always served in unity so well. Their friendships were genuine, and they invited the young women into those friendships so naturally. I don’t think this was an intentional lesson from them, which makes it that much more special. They really just showed us how to love one another by doing that themselves. I feel like it really set the tone for my life and showed me that I can find fun and fellowship in my fellow members, regardless of our many differences.
I had many wonderful Young Women leaders in the two wards I lived in as a teenager. My first memory is of Sister Lisa Glauser. I remember her being kind and soft-spoken. Some might be disappointed to learn this, but I will always be grateful that Sister Glauser recognized that "snipe hunting" on my first girls' camp was causing me more anxiety than excitement and let me in on the secret, making my first camp experience more fun than it might have been. I also remember her bravely and patiently dealing with three or four screaming first years as she combed through our belongings with us after a mouse got in our tent. That made her truly impressive in my 12-year-old mind!
My first year of high school, we moved across the canal and changed wards. Again, I had many wonderful leaders who impacted me for good in different ways, but I will always remember Sister Maxine Swensen. When she was called as Young Women president, she knew very little about the Young Women program and was a busy mom of two little sons working as a nail technician from her home, but she threw herself into her calling, working to complete her own Personal Progress and making sure the girls knew she loved them. I loved spending time talking to her at activities. She was always so happy and enthusiastic, and I can still hear her laugh! She did my nails for my wedding and continues to be someone I look forward to seeing when I visit my home ward with my own family now.
I had two very different and very impactful Young Women's presidents.
Patti Morris was my Young Women's president when I was in high school, and she was exactly who I needed in my life at that time. Both in lessons and in casual conversations, she shared all kinds of stories about when she was a teenager—the good and the bad. She always felt so approachable, so easy to talk to, and so relatable. I always knew she loved me and felt that even more so as I went away to college and came home for holidays. She was still genuinely interested in me and my life, and I knew she was so proud of me by the look in her eyes and the hugs she gave me.
Before Sister Morris, Flovon Forsyth was my Young Women's president. She was so fun, so kind-hearted, and so wise in my 12-year-old eyes. She also was my first leader to really demonstrate a love for and emphasize the importance of the temple. Then when I went to the temple for the first time to receive my endowment, as I stepped into the room and saw family members, I unexpectedly also saw Sister Forsyth sitting there. It was a heavenly accident that she just happened to be working in the temple that day. And having her there—being a part of my sacred experience and knowing that she’d had such a big influence on my journey to that point—was very special, and I was even more grateful for her example.
I had so many amazing Young Women leaders growing up, but my favorite Young Women leader was Sister Karla Gurr. Sister Gurr was everything a girl could ask for in a Young Women leader. In the sometimes-crazy high school years, she was a rock for me. I loved that our relationship wasn’t just limited to church on Sundays or Mutual on Wednesdays. She would find ways to reach out to me individually—whether it was leaving me messages on my Facebook wall (back when that was a thing) or grabbing $1 ice cream cones. She was my friend, and because she was my friend, I was able to fully trust her. She gave me amazing advice through the years, even loving correction at times. She truly “saw others as they may become” and wanted me to be the best I could be. We’re still in touch today and I'm anxiously awaiting our next reunion, which we’ve decided will be at the temple. I can’t think of a better place to reunite with her since she helped prepare me to make those sacred covenants.
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