Its Spring, and that may mean that you have some soon-to-be-graduating Laurels in your ward! How can we help them transition into their next role as adults?
And wait a minute- when exactly do they leave YW, anyhow? When they turn 18? When they graduate? The fall after graduation?
According to the Church handbook of instructions, these are the guidelines that we need to be aware of :
"A young woman normally advances into Relief Society on her 18th birthday or in the coming year. By age 19, each young woman should be fully participating in Relief Society. Because of individual circumstances, such as personal testimony, maturity, school graduation, desire to continue with peers, and college attendance, a young woman may advance into Relief Society earlier than her 18th birthday or remain in Young Women longer. Each young woman counsels with her parents and the bishop to decide what will best help her remain an active participant in the Church" 10.1.5
Regardless of when they actually leave YW, too many girls fall away from the church during that awkward time between leaving the Young Women program and entering Relief Society. They may be intimidated, feel out of place with the adults, or be bored out their mind with a more adult style of lesson - and any of those reasons can be excuse enough to stop attending church... ANYTHING we can do to help them make this transition successfully is vitally important!
If you have Laurels graduating from high school this spring, here are 7 suggestions to help you make that transition go a little smoother:
1. Work with your Relief Society Presidency to make transitioning to Relief Society easier. In your ward/branch, your Relief Society may even have a Sister (probably a member of the Presidency) assigned to help young women make their transition. Even if they don't have a specific person assigned to this task, it is important to meet with the Relief Society President in your ward/branch and establish ways that you can work together in a sort of hand-off...you easing away as Young Women leader, they (and visiting teachers, etc) moving in as the new support system. This will be most successful (and it will be much less likely for the young woman to fall through the cracks) if you work with the Relief Society as a team. "Young Women and Relief Society leaders work together to make the transition into Relief Society successful for each young woman" 10.1.5
2. Attend Relief Society class with the graduating Laurel(s). One idea that we've had is to have our (senior) Laurels attend Relief Society Sunday class on a regular basis (say, quarterly - or even monthly). The frequency of these visits to the Relief Society class could increase as their senior year progresses. You could start out with quarterly visits and eventually move up to every other month, then once every month. I recommend checking with your RS Presidency to see which week of the month they'd recommend. Our RS President recommended that we have Laurels attend the 4th Sunday lessons because she felt they would be most relatable to the YW.
A YW leader (such as the YW President or a Laurel class Advisor) could attend class with the Laurel(s) without causing much of a disruptance with the regular teaching schedule if you plan well. For example, if a member of the YW Presidency teaches the first Sunday lesson every month, you could plan to have the YW Advisor attend Relief Society with the Laurel(s) once a month on first Sundays. Having a YW leader/Advisor attend class with them is meant to help them feel more comfortable, but if their mother is attending RS class or they are otherwise comfortable and reasonably mature, you might be able to wean off attending with them after a while. Please check with your Bishopric first to make sure that this will be appropriate.
3. Attend Enrichment activities with the graduating Laurel(s). With the permission of the RS Presidency, Laurels may start to attend the occasional Enrichment night activity. Your Enrichment Leader and/or the Relief Society Presidency should be able to suggest which activities would be most appropriate for the Laurels to attend. Attending casual activities is very helpful in socializing the YW with the adult sisters.
4. Recognize the Laurels (and all of the YW, really) for their accomplishments. I am a frequent facebook-er and I use it as a medium to point out the achievements of our YW (church-related or not) to our fellow ward members. Susie finished Personal Progress! Jane made the soccer team! Joanie won a scholarship! Ingrid got into BYU-Hawaii! Woo-hoo!!!! Personally, I am horrible with guessing ages, and all teenagers look the same age to me! Its difficult for the entire ward family to keep track of who is old enough to graduate and what all they are doing, so its nice to remind them that we've got some YW who will be moving up to RS soon - otherwise, they might not realize!
5. MORE Recognition! In the same vein, having visible recognition of their maturity and accomplishments is also helpful (for example, we have a plaque in the foyer with the names of girls who complete Personal Progress/receive their Young Womanhood Recognition). In our ward, the Bishop presents the Young Womanhood Recognition award in Sacrament meeting. Even if that isn't done in your ward (some wards don't do that anymore), you can still make a huge deal about their church-related accomplishments in YW Class, at Mutual, and at special events like YWIE. Some wards even do special nights for YW who complete Personal Progress (similar in importance/hype to a Court of Honor for Eagle Scouts)
6. Give the graduating Laurels the opportunity to serve. Do you have a Laurel class presidency? I thought that was a standard thing for every class to have its own presidency, but I've been surprised to hear of many wards who don't have class presidencies at all, or who have a single presidency for the entire group of girls. I understand that adaptations like this can be made for special circumstances (like small branches or wards with very few youth), but if you can swing it, try to have a Laurel class Presidency! This will be their last chances to lead under the mentoring of their YW Presidency. We do not have a large ward and we don't have a huge number of YW. When I was first called to serve in YW, there was only a single presidency made up of girls from the Laurel class. These few girls did and planned everything for the other classes. We have since called separate class presidencies and each class presidency plans their own activities, works with their own less-active/inactive girls, and takes turns conducting on Sundays. We don't always have enough active/interested girls to make up a full class presidency, and thats ok. In my opinion, its better to be missing a Counselor or a Secretary in a class presidency than to not have one. We currently have a Laurel Class Presidency of one - a President only, but that is a major opportunity for me to work with this YW and gives her a chance to lead and be responsible for something. She knows that she is being counted on. And that is a good thing.
7. Get excited about Graduation! Go to her Graduation, make cupcakes, and attend her Open House! Announce graduations in YW class opening exercises. Helping them to celebrate can help them realize that its a good thing because and they really will be moving on to bigger & better!