LDS Church members with special needs aren't left out when it comes to fun activities and the chance to earn Duty to God, do Scouting and earn Young Women's Recognition Awards.
In the Ogden area, there are four different Special Needs Mutual groups, divided among about 30 stakes. The same system is set up in different areas throughout the world, and the special needs mutual program has been going strong for more than 30 years.
Jim and Stacy VanHook are called to be the Young Men and Young Women presidents for the Weber North area, which comprises eight stakes and about 40 people who have special needs -- some with physical disabilities, but a majority with mental disabilities, Jim said.
He and his wife have been involved with the group, which meets every Thursday night in Shadow Valley, for several years, but have been the leaders only since October. They have found the calling both rewarding and sometimes challenging, but they wouldn't trade it.
"It's a program set up to provide services and advancement as well as spiritual learning and activities for those individuals that need to participate at a different pace," Stacy said.
Those attending the Special Needs mutual must be at least 12, but the age range has no maximum.
Men in the program participate in Scouting and can earn an Eagle rank, and women in the program can earn their Recognition Award, an award that combines scripture study, service projects and personal development over the course of the time a girl is in the Young Women's program. Besides having no age limit, the guidelines also are a little different.
"It's not easier, but it is just different," Stacy said of the programs. She loves watching the members' learning and growth.
One of the ladies she works with cannot verbalize her thoughts and feelings, so to pass off her Young Women's goals Stacy has to ask pointed questions to help her understand.
"I have learned to rely on promptings to know how to communicate with her. It has been amazing, the experiences we've had together," she said.
About 20 people are called to help with the mutual in the Weber North area, which is about the norm for the other areas as well, Jim said. Although that sounds like a lot, many of the members need one-on-one attention.
They also meet each year with representatives from each stake to set up a schedule for youth groups from different wards in the stake to come in each month and work with the Special Needs Mutual.
Jim and Stacy have also attended trainings in Salt Lake City that some stakes have held to help facilitate the special needs groups -- opportunities Jim feels have been very valuable.
He has noticed that the church is working to make sure all of the groups throughout the church are starting to run their programs together more, which will be helpful, he said.
The guidelines have been broader, which is OK because each group is different, he said, but it is also good for everyone to be on the same page.
Jim and Stacy look forward to Thursday nights. As Jim says: "It is a place where you know you are needed and you are really making a difference for people."