The Udall Ward and Guerrero Park Branch have an interesting symbiotic relationship. Both units are in the Mesa Stake, both meet in the building on First Avenue in Mesa. Sacrament meeting for the Udall Ward takes place in English at 9:30 a.m.; for the Guerrero Park Branch, it’s at 12:30 p.m. in Spanish. During the hours between those times, the two units hold separate adult auxiliary meetings in their native languages.
The interesting part is what happens with the young people. The Primary and Young Men and Young Women of both units meet together to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While the Udall Ward provides many of the leaders and teachers, several of whom are bilingual, the Ward consists mostly of retirees and newly married couples. The Branch, on the other hand, has many new convert families, with children and teens, including 9 of the 10 active Young Women.
Primary president Lisl Nunez says, when she was in an all Spanish-speaking branch, “I knew that youth felt uncomfortable and embarrassed in front of other youth at stake activities, like camp, because they didn’t know how to bear their testimony or pray in English. Here, they learn how to in both languages.”
Beehive advisor, Mandy Nielsen, says she has enjoyed seeing the Young Women work together. She says, to earn money for girl’s camp this summer, they held a bake sale. In addition to baking, the girls made signs and set up their goodies almost every night across from the Mesa Temple during the Easter Pageant. Sister Nielsen says, “I think it really brought the girls together because they did most of the work themselves.” During the week and a half of their sale, the girls became more comfortable as entrepreneurs and engaged more with customers. Since the pageant gathers people from all around, it was helpful that nearly every girl is bilingual. They ultimately made enough for all to attend camp.
In the Young Men’s group, each of the units provides about half of the nine priests and teachers that participate in Boy Scouts. As their Varsity Coach, Justin Cowan accompanies them on High Adventure trips and sees them mentor one another. During a Lake Pleasant trip in June, he witnessed the boys encouraging each other to earn swimming merit badges. For a few, that support was crucial. He says, “As some boys were bobbing out in the water, you’d hear the ones on the shore say to their assigned buddies and others in the group, ‘Hey, I’m here. You can do this.’ ”
He adds, “They’re learning to build stable relationships.”
Brother Cowan says cultural differences sometimes makes meal-planning rather tricky, but also rewarding. The boys have to “negotiate and collaborate” to have foods they like on the menu.
Through interactions such as these, the youth from the Branch, some who speak only Spanish at home, have not only improved their English, but have developed emotionally and spiritually as well.
“I’ve seen a change in the youth,” says Raul Cruz, president of the Guerrero Park Branch. “They used to sit apart; now they sit together.” He adds that the youth of his branch are more likely to attend seminary because they see those in the Udall Ward go.
Youth leaders say the merger has been good for all the youth, providing opportunities for service and leadership and better preparation and encouragement to serve missions, marry in the temple and stay true to the faith.
Lucy Pinon, second counselor in the Young Women’s presidency, says while “logistically inconvenient at times” it’s well worth it as it “makes the purpose more evident: saving these kids.”