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New director takes helm of Conference young adult mission ministry

New director takes helm of Conference young adult mission ministry

Conference News Leadership
YAMM participants link arms in a show of solidarity

There are many things Heidi Aspinwall will miss about her job. 

One is helping young adults see their gifts and talents, while building confidence in their skills. Another is watching them experience what she calls “aha” moments related to their faith, social justice or God’s love. 

Her favorite, she said, has been coaching and encouraging them to solve problems, both in their personal lives and at work. 

“Watching them take leadership and make changes in the world gets me up in the morning,” she said.

Former YAMM Director Heidi Aspinwall (left) presents a cutting board imprinted with the ministry’s logo to members at First United Methodist Church in Land O’ Lakes in appreciation for their donation of $1,000 to the ministry. 

As director of the Florida Conference Young Adult Missional Movement (YAMM) for the past six years, Aspinwall has spent many hours nurturing and empowering the 90 young adults who have participated in the ministry to date. 

But now, she said, it’s time to turn her reason for getting up in the morning over to someone else.

In late June, the YAMM board of directors selected Martine Marcelin to be that person. 

In it together

Since YAMM launched in 2014, Aspinwall and her team of staff and volunteers have placed young adults from diverse backgrounds in ministry settings throughout the Florida Conference. They work for at least a year, earning a modest stipend and assistance with groceries and transportation.  

Placement sites include outreach ministries in churches across the conference and nonprofit organizations like Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa. The program also expanded into summer day camps with development of a summer mission intern program called STEP — Summer Transformation and Education Program.

Another component of the experience is communal living. YAMM participants live together in houses across the state. They get emotional support from their YAMM colleagues, but they also learn to live with people who have had different life experiences. 

“We experimented and piloted various ways of orientation, different housing possibilities, retreat options,” Aspinwall said. “But from the beginning, we set out to create a movement made of opportunities for young adults to engage in the best the church can be. We allowed young adults desiring the benefits and spiritual components of intentional community to ‘rent’ into our cooperative houses.” 

But what sets YAMM apart from other programs, Aspinwall said, is its dedication to anti-racism. 

“From the participants to the board, we tried to work from diversity to inclusion to equity. And in our interactions with agencies and local churches, we tried to identify areas of growth for racial justice,” Aspinwall said. “We held trainings, called out racist policies and practices, and sometimes just opened the conversation.”

Now, she said, it’s time for a new perspective that can help the ministry grow and develop even more.

“It is established enough for new leadership and young enough to make a change well,” she said. “The board is strong, with committee assignments and a good grasp of the programs overall.” 

The Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, director of the Florida Conference Missional Engagement office, said he’ll miss Aspinwall’s sense of humor and “deep relational gifts.”

“We first brought Heidi onto the design team seven years ago because of her vast experience with both the Presbyterians and Mennonites in leading their young adult mission ministries,” he said. “She has brought an exuberance and dedication to the job that has enabled us to move to a self-sustaining yearlong opportunity for young adults to serve in mission service.” 

The ministry’s next steps, Campbell-Evans said, are to strengthen partnerships with mission ministries in the United States and around the world, helping connect young adults with service opportunities that enable them to “grow in their faith and make a difference for Christ with their lives.”  

A key component will be fundraising that gives the ministry the resources it needs to continue without relying on support from apportionments.

The immediate challenge, Aspinwall added, is discerning how to do the work in the midst of a pandemic, along with the long-term fight against racial injustice. And now, there are many more young adults looking for ways to serve and start their careers

“It is an opportune moment to harness their passion and skill,” she said. “But the normal organizational systems of nonprofits and churches are still reeling from the COVID crisis. YAMM can be the conduit for young adults to not only engage in the current structures, but to help us all change to better meet the needs of the community and grow the family of God.”

Taking it to the next level

Both Campbell-Evans and Aspinwall say Marcelin is the right person to lead the ministry into that next phase.

Marcelin served most recently as director of college counseling for The SEED School in Miami, where she planned and taught a daily college preparation seminar to 11th-graders to help them prepare for life beyond high school. She also provided personalized college counseling to juniors and their families and offered one-on-one college counseling sessions. 

Martine Marcelin

Before that, she was program manager for the Climb to College & Career program at Branches Inc., which included a college readiness and mentor program that served 150 students at three sites. She also developed and oversaw an eight-week college readiness and boot camp designed to help high school seniors improve their scores on college entrance exams. Writing, monitoring and reporting for grants ranging from $10,000 to $150,000 were also part of her job.

“I am a living example of the importance of investing in young adult leadership development and how it is necessary in the life of the church,” Marcelin wrote in a letter to the YAMM board. “As a youth and young adult, I participated in several young adult leadership programs that opened my eyes to opportunities to serve people within my community.”

And for the past 10 years, Marcelin said she has dedicated her professional life to giving young people the same opportunities she had.

Her “deep roots” in young adult programs and experience with “one of our most creative outreach ministries,” are just a few of the qualities that make her the right person for the job, Campbell-Evans said. Growing up United Methodist in South Florida and her organizational and fundraising experience are others. 

“The board believes she has the right set of gifts to take YAMM to the next level,” he said.

Apsinwall agrees.

​“Martine has a solid, centered focus and brings a level of excellence to any project,” she said. “She improves everything she touches.” 

-- Tita Parham is vice president of marketing and communications for the Florida United Methodist Foundation and chairperson of the Young Adult Missional Movement.

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