“Soaring in Alta Loma,” Ensign, Sept. 1996, 32
Before going on a full-time mission in 1993, Kathryn Drew was one of only a few young single adults participating in activities at the Alta Loma Institute of Religion in California. She remembers the empty parking lot and the sparsely attended classes.
“There were times I would come to the institute and be the only person here,” Kathryn recalls. “Other times I would come and the institute would be closed.”
Four years later, the institute’s parking lot often is so crowded that Kathryn has trouble finding a place to park. She and more than 100 other young single adults who now frequent the institute welcome the inconvenience in parking.
“Today, if I have a few hours between classes, I don’t go home,” says Kathryn, a student at nearby Chaffey College. “The institute reminds me of the mission home. The Spirit is always here.”
Take a stroll through the Alta Loma Institute of Religion—perched on a hill that rises to meet the San Bernardino Mountains in south-central California—and you have a hard time believing that this buzzing building wasn’t always a spiritual and social hub. Forums and firesides, classes and choir, handshakes and hugs combine to attract young adults from four surrounding stakes, which have pooled their efforts in order to strengthen local young single adult programs.
Before his death earlier this year, Sherman Gibbs, then director of the Church Educational System in southern California, said, “We hold up this program all over southern California as an example of what can be accomplished. It’s been amazing what has happened.”
Priesthood leaders attribute the growing vitality of the institute and the increasing spirituality of local young single adults to three factors:
An institute director dedicated to involving all young single adults.
Church-service missionaries called to help keep the institute of religion open for longer hours.
The decision to use the institute of religion for joint activities involving young single adults from four stakes.
Successful changes in young single adult programs followed a 1 July 1993 First Presidency letter to priesthood leaders in the United States and Canada. The letter announced that “all nonstudent young single adults 18 through 30 who live in the immediate area of an institute of religion” were to be invited to institute. The more young single adults get involved with each other in religious education and social and service activities, the letter said, the greater their opportunities for spiritual, educational, and social growth; missionary service; and temple marriage.
After receiving the letter, local priesthood leaders began looking for ways to involve more young single adults, both students and nonstudents. At the time, many young single adults were not progressing spiritually; others were ward-hopping. Leaders from the stakes surrounding the Alta Loma Institute of Religion, citing the need of young single adults for a “place to call home,” decided to make the institute a focal point for young single adult activity.
When classes began at the Alta Loma Institute of Religion in the fall of 1994, newly called institute director Alan Maynes was greeted by a lot of empty chairs. But rather than fret, he went to work.
Brother Maynes designed business cards featuring the institute’s class schedule and hours, and he encouraged young single adults already active at the institute to distribute the cards and invite others to classes and activities. In addition, Brother Maynes began phoning young single adults and visiting them in their homes and wards.
“You give Brother Maynes a name and he follows up on it,” says Steven T. Escher, president of the Rancho Cucamonga California Stake, in which the institute is located.
In many cases, if leaders will simply reach out and invite young single adults to become involved, “they will catch on fire and become a part of the program,” Brother Maynes says. “And as they become involved with institute, they also become involved with the young single adult program. The key is becoming yoked with the priesthood so that we help each other and build each other. That’s why good things are starting to happen.”
Carl Westphal has experienced those “good things” for himself. Following his mission, Carl attempted to split his time between institute and a rock band. But the more he associated with young single adults at the institute, he says, the less time he wanted to spend with his band.
“We come to activities to feel the Spirit, to learn about the gospel, and to meet people who encourage us to do right,” Carl says. “My band was hindering my spiritual progress, while the friends I made at the institute were encouraging my progress.”
One of those friends was Lora Wilson, whom Carl met in 1994 shortly after returning from his mission. With some encouragement from young single adult friends and a little prodding from Brother Maynes, Carl eventually asked Lora out. They were married in 1995 and now encourage other young married adults to join them at the institute.
Heeding a challenge from Brother Maynes to invite someone new to institute, Carl looked up a less-active friend he hadn’t seen since the two were young men.
“Institute is now part of my everyday life,” says that friend, Jonathan Espiritu. “Not only am I more positive about life as a result of institute, but I have a clearer vision of where I want to go. I need to be here.”
In the fall of 1994, leaders of the Rancho Cucamonga California Stake met with Brother Maynes to discuss ways in which the institute could better meet the spiritual needs of young people. Leaders realized that the institute could become a magnet for young single adults if it were open longer—not just a couple more hours for additional classes and activities, but all day so that young single adults would always have a place to study, meditate, unwind, or seek a friend.
“If the store is not open, you go to another store,” Brother Maynes says. “We wanted the store open, and we believed that would pay off in the long run.”
Ray and Alice Harper of the neighboring Upland California Stake soon received callings as Church-service missionaries to help keep the institute open. The Harpers, who spent about 30 hours a week at the institute, did more than increase the hours the building was open—they also helped young single adults feel welcome by cooking for them, counseling with them, and loving them.
President Escher says the Harpers, by warming young single adults’ hearts and stomachs, made a valuable contribution to the institute of religion and persuaded leaders to call other couples.
Jared McBeth, institute choir director, is thankful the Harpers magnified their Church-service calling. Not only did Sister Harper provide piano accompaniment during Tuesday night choir practices, he says, but she and Brother Harper often provided dinner as well. “They showed that they cared by always being there for us,” Jared says.
Russell Hainsworth, who served as institute president during the 1995–96 school year, says stake missionary couples have helped make the institute a haven that eliminates the spiritual gap some young single adults experience after high school or between missions and marriage. And couples, he says, have helped Brother Maynes spread the word about the institute and the young single adult program.
“For the program to work, you have to let people know about it. In that way, the Harpers were a great asset,” Russell says. “They were either always on the phone inviting someone out or were greeting people when they arrived.”
Priesthood and Church Educational System (CES) leaders in southern California look forward to the day when there will be a sufficient number of available couples to help all institutes of religion in the area. The Harpers, who recently were released after serving the institute for a year, recommend that couples unable to serve full-time proselyting missions consider volunteer service at institutes of religion.
“Serving the young single adults has been one of the happiest experiences of our lives,” says Sister Harper, whose cookies became a staple at institute classes. Adds Brother Harper, “It’s been fun, and it’s been rewarding.”
During the summer of 1995, priesthood leaders began looking for additional ways to help meet the needs of young single adults. Though participation at the institute by young single adults from the surrounding Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Ontario, and Upland California Stakes had continued to increase, the stakes’ young single adult programs were not as strong as leaders desired.
“We felt as though we were still not getting all we could out of our efforts, so we decided to call a meeting of the four stake presidencies and see what we could do together to really make the young single adult program fly,” says President Escher of the Rancho Cucamonga stake.
Believing that increased strength could be found in increased numbers, leaders of the four stakes began holding joint young single adult activities using the institute as the center of their efforts. Training and planning meetings at the institute soon followed, and ward lists of young single adults were generated.
“We felt welcome coming to the institute and participating with the other stakes,” says Paul Ebbs, Ontario stake high councilor. “Before, the stakes were holding activities separately with their respective young single adults. Now we are better utilizing the institute as a place to meet together and hold activities, with individual stakes taking turns being in charge. As a result, more lives are being blessed.”
Brother Ebbs says the coordination of efforts under the direction of the Institute of Religion Advisory Committee has meant less work but greater success. Before, on the first Sunday of each month, each of the four stakes attracted only a handful of young people to their respective firesides of CES satellite broadcasts. Today, as many as 80 young single adults from those stakes gather monthly at the institute to watch a videotape of a CES broadcast. Stakes alternate responsibility for the fireside, as well as for quarterly activities and Thursday night activities following institute class.
The increased number of people at the institute has led to the creation of a young single adult choir, committees, regular Friday forums and lunches, more institute classes, and an active institute council that is spreading the word, especially to senior seminary students.
“There’s more energy and excitement, and there are more young single adults participating,” says Brother Maynes. “Uniting our efforts has made the institute theirs. And as word spreads, more young adults are coming, more are attending institute classes, and more are studying the scriptures.”
Thanks to the joint efforts of an institute director dedicated to meeting spiritual needs, missionary couples who make the institute a place where young single adults feel welcome, and priesthood leaders who work together, “there’s a whole new attitude here,” says President Escher.
And there’s a conviction that “out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33).
Three stakes in Edmonton, Alberta, have put their singles wards into the same building, creating a magnet for young single adults.
Now that it’s September, the young single adult ward from the Edmonton Alberta Bonnie Doon Stake meets at 9 A.M. However, in August the week before they met at 2 P.M. And four months earlier they took the 11 A.M. slot. What’s going on?
This changing schedule is part of an innovative approach by three Edmonton, Alberta, stake presidencies to provide programs that help meet the needs of young single adults in and around Edmonton.
“It’s tough to meet the needs of this group,” says David J. Henderson, president of the Bonnie Doon stake. “After seeing the frustrations of stake presidents in past years, we decided to take a new approach.”
The presidencies from the Millwoods and Riverbend stakes joined President Henderson and his counselors to discuss what could be done to improve existing young single adult programs. At the time, the greater Edmonton area had two single adult wards: one organized for institute of religion students, and a second one organized for nonstudents. Despite initial hopes that the arrangement would provide similar opportunities for all young single adults regardless of whether they attended college, the program began to polarize young single adults into student and nonstudent groups.
As the stake presidencies discussed what could be done, they decided to create a young single adult ward in each stake and appoint ward representatives to meet with the director of the local institute of religion in a tri-stake young single adult council. Under priesthood direction, the council coordinates all multistake young single adult activities in Edmonton. The final piece of the plan was to move the three wards into the same building. Because none of the wards wanted the early schedule for an entire year, every fourth month they rotate meeting times.
“Meeting in the same building has a lot of advantages,” President Henderson says. “It virtually eliminates ward-hopping. And the single adults always know where to go for activities.”
Activities abound. Every other week the singles wards meet together for a dance, hosted in turn by one of the stakes. On alternate weekends, each ward plans its own activity. Every Friday the institute of religion hosts a Friday forum, featuring lunch and a guest speaker, and one Sunday a month all young single adults meet at a stake center for the monthly CES satellite fireside broadcast.
What has been the result of putting all the young single adults in one place? “It’s fun, for one thing,” President Henderson says. “It created a synergism when the young single adults from all over the city started getting together.”
Another result is that the activity rate of the area’s young single adults has increased to 60 percent, while attendance at Sunday meetings has doubled. The number of temple marriages has dramatically increased as well, as has the number of those serving missions. The approach has also greatly enhanced missionary activity in each of the wards.
For the Edmonton, Alberta, young single adults, meeting separately together has proved to be a success.