Two young leaders serving Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ in Miami are in the process of vetting potential internships and recruiting young adults, 21-35, to become the first participants in their Young Adult Service Communities (YASC) program.
"We are very excited about hosting YASC and look forward to welcoming the interns into our community," said the Rev. Laurie Hafner, Coral Gables pastor. The Miami congregation is one of three UCC churches hosting the leadership development program in 2019-2020.
The Rev. Aaron Lauer, associate pastor of Emerging Generations, and Elena Korallis, the church director of communications, have teamed up to identify internship opportunities and find the right young people to fill them.
"I love that the energy for Coral Gables hosting a YASC community is coming from the young adult members in the congregation itself," said the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, the UCC Humanitarian Ministries team leader who oversees the YASC program. "I keep telling the intern applicants I interview that they will be joining a vibrant young adult ministry at the church and in the community."
Lauer first learned about Young Adult Service Communities when he was in Minneapolis, serving First Congregational Church as their Minister for Children, Youth, and Families. When he relocated to South Florida from the Twin Cities three years ago, he was surprised by the lack of local advocacy and engagement in the community. Lauer decided YASC would be a compelling fellowship program to bring to the area — and that Coral Gables UCC would be a great fit.
"Miami is a unique city in a lot of ways," Lauer said. "There is a lot less civic engagement and community organizing, and non-profit philanthropy is not as common as in the Midwest. The need exists in Miami for passionate young social justice speaking people. Mix that with the resources and passion of the congregation — our strong commitment to peace and justice work is really good starting point."
"I also love the connection that Aaron is a part of one of the cohorts of the Pension Board's Next Generation Leadership Initiative," Blaufuss said. "This is not his NGLI project, but the skills he learns in the NGLI program and the support he receives is enabling him to be entrepreneurial and step out into this model of young adult leadership development. It is a model that immerses participants in boundary crossing between congregational life and God's justice in the world."
Lauer and Korallis, who has been serving as Coral Gables YASC recruitment coordinator, have already identified one of two interns they plan to bring into their community in August.
Marcus Frye, a student just finishing up at the University of Wyoming, will spend the next year in service, living with others who share his commitment to service and social justice. In exchange, the program will provide his housing, food, living stipend and health insurance.
"I applied to join the YASC program after college because I feel compelled to do my part to address the injustice and suffering that occur in this country," said Frye, a member of St. Paul's UCC in Laramie, Wy. "I want to learn how to serve marginalized communities and how to oppose oppressive forces in our world."
While Lauer is not yet certain where Frye will be working, he's certain it will be a valuable learning experience.
"We are known in Miami as the social justice church, as a hub of organizing and community justice work," Lauer said. "This is a continuation and investment in that, with our interns working with us in the church and out in the city."
He and Korallis are in conversation with two different local organizations to pinpoint internship possibilities. One does homeless outreach in a Miami neighborhood. The other is a re-entry program for felons. And the interns don't get placed. They interview and get matched. The partner agency will define their responsibilities, usually a mix of direct service work and advocacy work around the issue of homelessness or criminal justice reform. The YASC interns will also spend six hours in weekly service work at Coral Gables UCC.
"That is what makes YASC unique from other internship programs," Lauer said. We have six hours a week at the church. 32 hours a week in agency. Our young people will be fully immersed in the life of the congregation. We hope to tap into their interests and their calling to match them with their work at the church."
The YASC program also emphasizes spiritual development and leadership development in the context of faith and justice.
"They will have a spiritual sojourn, and we will provide a spiritual director for these two young people. They will be meeting once a month for a conversation on vocation," Lauer said. "We plan to have periodic conversations between interns and staff around the intersection of faith and justice. I wouldn't call it curriculum, but [it is] a series of classes to give them a chance to process the work they are doing and see how this type of work makes a difference."
Coral Gables is working through the on-boarding process with the Blaufuss in the National Setting. The church is also working collaboratively and ecumenically with a couple of other faith groups and trying to find housing for them with interns from a United Methodist church involved in the same fellowship.
Lauer has high hopes for the program, which begins in August and continues through July 2020.
"We want this to serve as a springboard for these young people," Lauer said. "When they leave this place they have a transformative experience that takes them into the world to make some much needed change."