BYU Women’s Conference sets new service record

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Attendees at BYU’s 2016 Women’s Conference helped to put together 350,000 meal kits for an estimated 1 in 5 Utah children who don’t know where their next meal will come from, according to Lorelie Sander, assistant program administrator for BYU conferences and workshops. (Photo courtesy of BYU Women’s Conference)

Over 15,000 women attended BYU’s Women’s Conference last April to participate in the largest two-day gathering of LDS women anywhere in the world.

During the conference, the group set a new record for the most service projects ever done during a BYU Women’s Conference. Attendees completed 376,540 items in the two-day conference for individuals in need throughout the state of Utah, according to Lorelie Sander, assistant program administrator for BYU conferences and workshops.

“I really appreciate the service part of Women’s Conference,” said Allison Toronto, who currently lives in Arvada, Colorado and has attended Women’s Conference three times. “We are the Relief Society, for heaven’s sake. If we are going to all get together, we better provide some relief.”

Service seemed to have an extra big role in this year’s conference as opportunities to serve were incorporated into almost every activity.

“They made it so that you could do anything and still be doing service,” said Bonnie Rosdahl, a Highland, Utah resident who has attended Women’s Conference for the past seven years.

Before: Service teams
Before: Service teams set up meal kits project.
After: Women's Conference participants help assemble meal kits
After: Meal kit assembly.
Before: Service teams set up hygiene kits project.
After: Hygiene kit assembly.

There were countless opportunities to serve, including:

(1) Service learning rooms where participants made something for someone else while watching a talk broadcasted in the room.

(2) Take n’ Make kits volunteers could pick up along the way with supplies to crochet burp cloths, scarves, teddy bears and wheelchair or walker bags.

(3) Two evening projects, one in the Smith Fieldhouse where volunteers packaged food, and one in the Richards Building where they made Christmas stockings, procedure doll kits, fleece blankets and “courage capes,” children’s superhero capes made of soft, brightly colored fleece, with felt emblems such as a star, shield or crown.

Sander explained that these “courage capes” are given to children in crisis situations; for example, children who are terminally ill or victims of abuse, a child in a hospital waiting room while someone they love is having surgery or a child whose parent is being arrested. A total of 1,300 courage capes were completed for children in need during the conference.

“Women’s Conference attendees are always eager to participate in service projects; however, they seemed especially willing and enthusiastic this year,” Sander said.

In the months prior to the conference, an additional gym became available to schedule in the Richards Building. This opened up more opportunities to increase the number of projects that could be accomplished during the Evening of Service.

“Truth be told, I had some concerns about whether or not we would have enough participants to fill the space or time to complete the projects,” Sander said. “Then in March as I listened to Sister Burton introduce the ‘I Was a Stranger’ relief effort, I knew I did not need to worry because covenant keeping women would respond to the invitation to act.”

Incorporating service as a core part of the two-day experience was important not only for those who will receive the service projects, but also for the thousands of women who gave their service.

“Most of the women come because they are looking for something — for example, friendship, peace, answers — and then when they get there and get involved in all the service opportunities, it’s the best way to get out of yourself and help others,” Rosdahl said.

Toronto had the same impression about the importance of women serving even when they are in need, as well.

“I feel super strongly that if you get 10,000 Relief Society women together it is so gratifying to have something to show for it; not just self fulfillment,” Toronto said.

According to Sander, all the women who participated in BYU’s Women’s Conference should be proud of all they accomplished individually and collectively, as should Relief Societies around the world that work to help those in their communities.

“Through the 376,000 donations made this spring, urgent needs in our community will be met, but the impact of these projects reaches far beyond our community,” Sander said.

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