Young Women leader focusing on temple ideals

Goal is to keep girls connected to faith despite challenges

Published: Saturday, Oct. 4 2008 12:23 a.m. MDT

Sister Elaine S. Dalton, president of the LDS Church's Young Women General Presidency, greets a group of young women from LDS wards in Holladay at the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City last month.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

When visitors are invited to Sister Elaine S. Dalton's office, the first thing she shows them is a picture-perfect view from the window at her desk in the LDS Relief Society Building. The Salt Lake Temple stands about 100 yards away, its spires glistening as they soar into the clear blue afternoon sky.

It has become the focus of all her effort during the past six months as the newest general president of the Young Women's organization for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That temple — and scores of others worldwide — represents the ideals she hopes to help LDS girls achieve as they learn about their relationship to God and prepare to make sacred covenants one day.

Sister Dalton is among several top LDS leaders expected to address millions of Latter-day Saints this weekend during the faith's 178th Semiannual General Conference, to convene Saturday and Sunday in the Conference Center.

"After I was sustained in general conference (last April), I came in here for the first time, sat at my desk, looked out the window and cried for an hour," she said.

They weren't tears of sadness, but of realization.

"It was very clear to me that it's all about the temple. That's the reason for everything we do in Young Women. Every camp, Sunday lesson and Personal Progress experience will hopefully lead them to the Lord."

And while the temple is a short and straight walk for Sister Dalton, she knows it's not that way for many of the hundreds of thousands of girls worldwide who she now leads.

As a marathon runner, Sister Dalton has experienced the physical demands of running so far that every natural impulse — except sheer will — has tempted her to quit before reaching the finish line. As a result, she has known, in a figurative sense, something of what teenage girls experience when the loudest voices in the world around them are shouting at them to give up on modesty, moral cleanliness and even on their faith.

With that perspective, many see her as uniquely positioned to deal with questions and challenges for young women that were not part of her own teen years growing up in Ogden during what she acknowledges was "a much simpler time."

Visiting young women ages 12 to 18 and training their leaders in far-flung congregations around the world is part of her assignment, and during a recent visit with LDS girls in the Dominican Republic, she asked what their biggest challenge was. The answer came without any hesitation: "sexual purity. I asked how often they were challenged that way. They said it was every day, in one way or another. They are constantly being bombarded and pushed" to give in to others' advances.

Even when the pressures are more subtle, they are real nonetheless, which means many girls who are active in the church's Young Women program in their early teens are being drawn away from its reach by making decisions that don't always keep them connected to their faith.

"We're losing young women much earlier than 18," when they traditionally complete their years in the Young Women program, graduate from high school and move on to adult pursuits. "We're starting to lose them around age 14," she said, and figuring out how to help them maintain ties to the church's programs for youths "is something we're exploring with a gusto. We're aware that we've got to do something to strengthen 14-year-olds."

"They become very vulnerable. We often lose young women because of some sort of sin. They have done something (they feel guilty about) and think they don't fit in. They don't really understand the principle of repentance."

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