TEMPE, Ariz. — More than 3,500 young single adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are set to gather for a regional conference on the campus of Arizona State University this weekend to hear an impressive group of speakers, participate in a service project and socialize with other young Mormons across five stakes.
The event is one of the first of its kind in Arizona, said President Paul E. Gilbert of the Tempe Arizona Young Single Adult Stake and one of the conference's main organizers. The Tempe YSA stake is hosting the Jan. 10-12 weekend conference with the assistance of four other area YSA stakes. Activities will primarily be in the Grady Gammage Auditorium and the LDS Institute of Religion building, home to one of the largest institute programs outside of Utah.
The conference has been in the planning stages for a year, and its theme comes from a quote by late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley: "There is no obstacle too great, no challenge too difficult, that we cannot meet with faith."
"We are really excited about this opportunity," President Gilbert said. "It gets a lot of YSA adults together in a very invigorating and nurturing environment."
The conference will begin Friday with a keynote address by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Sister Patricia T. Holland.
Other speakers and performers over the three-day conference include former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann; Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow; Sheri Dew, president and CEO of Deseret Book; former NBA player and broadcaster Thurl Bailey; Stephanie Nielson, best-selling author and blogger, and her husband, Christian; Andrew C. Skinner, a religion professor at Brigham Young University; Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News Publishing Company and Deseret Digital Media; former BYU football player and NFL all-pro Chad Lewis; former NFL player and broadcaster Vai Sikahema; former NFL quarterback Danny White; singer Alex Boyè; broadway actress Christeena Driggs and her husband, Jeff; "American Idol" finalist Brooke White; and twin musical artists Jason and Jeff Linford.
President Gilbert said he worked hard to gather the speakers. He was Romney's Arizona state chairman during his presidential campaign. "That's how we were able to get him," he said.
Although Crow, who is the Arizona State University president, is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he has been "a great friend to the church," according to President Gilbert. Crow was instrumental in the construction of a new LDS institute building on campus in 2007 and fixed problems relating to scholarship eligibility for young men or women who serve missions.
"It's been a great partnership," President Gilbert said. "We're excited to have him speak at the conference."
Lewis, Sikahema and White will conduct a panel discussion on the topic of "Overcoming Obstacles Faced by Young Single Adults in Education, Career, Social Life, Missionary Work, etc." Lewis said he remembers life as a young single adult and hopes to share something worthwhile.
"When you have people putting their minds and hearts together for a common purpose, it is guaranteed to be an inspirational and educational opportunity," Lewis said. "This is going to be a great conference."
A service project is one of the main activities for the conference, President Gilbert said. On Saturday afternoon, participants are scheduled to assemble 20,000 school kits that will be donated to National Relief Charities and distributed to Native Americans primarily located on reservations in remote areas of the plains and the southwest, including 13 tribes in Arizona.
Saturday evening will include a dinner, live music and concerts, and a keynote address by the Romneys, followed by a dance and socializing.
Sunday will feature a two-hour sacrament meeting in the Gammage Auditorium.
President Gilbert said the idea for a large YSA conference began spinning in his mind about two years ago when the church reorganized boundaries in the area, creating five YSA stakes. There were opportunities to mingle but never to bring the entire valley YSA population together, he said.
"I thought if we could bring all five stakes together, with an inspiring cadre of speakers and workshop presenters, that it would be very motivational for these young single adults to both be inspired and simultaneously increase their opportunities to meet with other young single adults where there was really no opportunity to do so on such a grand scale," President Gilbert said.
Brittney Phelps is one of many young single adults who helped to organize the event and is excited to hear the speakers and participate in the activities.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how things play out, seeing the people that attend and the effect it will have on them. ... I feel like this conference could be a great experience that changes lives," Phelps said. "It's been a ton of work, but it will definitely be worth it."
Marc LeFevre agreed.
"We are really excited to have something like this come to the valley. The young single adult scene down here is a lot more robust than I imagined," said LeFevre, a young single adult who recently moved to Arizona from Idaho. "It's fabulous, a lot of fun."
Terry F. Calton, the director of the Tempe Arizona LDS Institute of Religion, is hoping the event will spark an increase in institute enrollment.
"We hope that this event will not only provide a wonderful, Spirit-filled weekend for those attending, but it will provide an impetus for the many young single adults not enrolled in an institute class to come and see how these classes can provide similar Spirit-directed experiences over the course of many weeks," Calton said. "Institute is such an outstanding program for the young single adults. LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson has asked them to 'make institute a priority,' and yet there are many who haven't even enrolled in a class, much less make it a priority."
Phelps laughed when asked about the possibility of meeting a future spouse at the conference.
"In my ward, it’s kind of a joke. I always say you never know, you might meet your future husband, a new best friend or a future wife," she said. "You never know who you might meet, so you don’t want to miss out on that opportunity."
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