Volunteer Intern Deepens Faith, Discovers Call Through UCC CHHSM Ministry Experience
Paige Bobbitt didn’t quite know what she was in for when she agreed to travel away from her home near Columbus, Ohio, in 2017. But her landing place — CHHSM’s iFM Community Medicine in St. Louis — became the launching point for her future.
Bobbitt, a member of Saint Andrew Christian Church in Dublin, Ohio, came to iFM via the National Benevolent Association (NBA) XPLOR Program. The NBA is the health and social services general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). NBA XPLOR is a service-Residency internship for adults ages 21-30.
“Deciding to commit to a 10-month internship … led me on a journey that far exceeded my expectations or comfort zone,” says Bobbitt. “Moving to a new city for the first time in my life was very scary, but it proved to be much less difficult because of the great sense of community that surrounded me.”
That community included not only the staff at iFM, but also the other XPLOR interns sharing a house for the year.
The XPLOR Residency is an immersion experience of 10 months, says the Rev. Bonnie Osei-Frimpong, director of NBA XPLOR. “Interns work for a nonprofit agency 30 hours a week, Monday through Thursday, for 40 weeks. They must engage in direct service and social justice work — they must have the opportunity to confront and engage a justice issue in a community context — and there must be professional skill building for the intern.”
iFM was the perfect fit. “We’re a small organization, with limited resources, and were needing assistance with a couple different projects,” says Tami Timmer, director of program operations at iFM. “We decided that having an additional, affordable staff member would help us merely ‘get by.’ Yet we got lucky, and Paige helped us SO beyond ‘getting by.’”
Bobbitt says that interning at iFM taught her much about health and human services, and how it intersects with her life and faith.
“One of the great aspects of working with iFM is they gave me the freedom to explore my interests and grow in the direction of my choosing,” she says. “I was fortunate to have a great supervisor and leader who recognizes that people are more likely to take control of a project or idea if it interests them. When I initially started, we thought what I would be doing was something much different. I found myself gravitating towards social media, fundraising events, and even web design. The program helped reveal my strengths and passion and, in return, I was able to provide a new level of marketing for the program.”
Timmer agrees. “We allowed Paige to dig deepest into areas of her interest and ability in a real world environment,” she says. “Having said that, she also had a HUGE impact on iFM and seemingly gained a lot of self-confidence and a lot of great practical work experience along the way — experience that she can tout to future employers.”
During her residency, Bobbitt created a large number of pieces for iFM’s rebranding efforts, begun before her arrival. She also “coordinated all the volunteers for a fall event shortly after she arrived, and rebuilt our website,” says Timmer. “And she pretty much singlehandedly organized our Spring 2018 Trivia Night — an event iFM hadn’t held for three years; hence, she had to do everything. The event was a HUGE success due to her crazy remarkable organizational abilities.”
Timmer reports that, thanks to the initial success of Bobbitt’s placement, a new XPLOR intern will be arriving later this month. “XPLOR intern Bianca Holley from McKinney, Texas, will be joining iFM this year to continue the great work Paige started,” Timmer says.
Michael J. Readinger, president and CEO of CHHSM, says he hopes the success of this iFM/XPLOR partnership is the first of many. “It is my hope to create more connections between CHHSM member ministries and the Disciples’ National Benevolent Association through XPLOR,” he says.
Similar Disciples and UCC Programs Converge
The Disciples’ NBA XPLOR program began in 2014 , and this fall will place 20 Residents in six locations around the United States. The UCC has a similar program, the Young Adult Service Communities program (YASC), which currently places interns in four locations. Several years ago, an intern served at the Beatitudes Campus, a CHHSM ministry in Phoenix, and Readinger says such partnerships benefit both the interns and the CHHSM members.
“YASC is invaluable to the UCC in developing leadership in justice and health and human service ministries,” says Readinger. “The program is an important way to link young adult UCC members with CHHSM ministries.”
In 2018-2019, the program celebrates its 10th anniversary, says the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, program coordinator. A related program is the Summer Communities of Service, a shorter version of YASC that is a partnership between the UCC and the Alliance of Baptists.
“Alumni of the Summer Communities of Service were part of the leadership at three of the UCC’s Regional Youth Events this summer, sharing stories of transformation … and inspiring attendees to explore these possibilities for leadership,” says Schaller Blaufuss. “One of my favorite experiences of the summer was to catch up with these interns in the hallway after their presentation, and find them interacting with one of the Disciples’ XPLOR residents who also was providing leadership at the Regional Youth Event. The same model of leadership immersion had created the opportunity for each to hear themselves in each other’s stories and experiences.”
XPLOR Requires Service, but also Sabbath
Each NBA XPLOR host site is community based: usually, one or more local Disciples congregations sponsor and run the program, picking the agencies with which it will partner. In addition to the hours spent with the agency, interns commit to worshiping with the sponsoring church and giving 6 service leadership hours per week to the congregation.
There also is intentional time each week for “spiritual deepening,” says Osei-Frimpong. Interns have a spiritual companion and must meet two hours each week, either in group conversation with the other interns and the spiritual companion, or one-on-one with the spiritual companion. Discussions range from how to get along with the other residents to discerning God’s call to advocating for one’s self in the work place.
“XPLOR is like a sabbatical before you’ve earned it, but it’s still right on time,” Osei-Frimpong says. “Interns put a pause on the rat race of classwork, job hunting, or other distractions, in order to stop and say, ‘What if?’ What if you had the gift for a year of ‘plenty of time’?”
This intentional sabbath allows participants to find new direction and interests.
“Paige had a different internship line up that fell through,” Osei-Frimpong says. “She initially wasn’t really fond of being placed with iFM, and came into the internship skeptical.” The cross-cultural immersion aspect of Bobbitt’s internship was an experience that changed her life, says Osei-Frimpong.
As a result of her residency with iFM, Bobbitt decided to interview with employers in the nonprofit sector because “I discovered through XPLOR that this is where my passion lies,” she says. Recently, she accepted the position of communication and community relations manager for Advocacy and Protective Services, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that advocates for outcomes promoting dignity, respect, and enhanced quality of life for individual persons with developmental disabilities.
“I could not be more thrilled about this opportunity, and am feeling more thankful now than ever for my time with iFM,” Bobbitt says. “I am excited to see where this opportunity will take me.”
The XPLOR experience strengthened Bobbitt’s faith as well, “by giving me the opportunity to meet on a weekly basis with a wonderful spiritual companion,” she says. “This allowed me to reflect upon and process my work experience in the context of my Christian faith. I realized that through our daily decisions and actions, we are able to fulfill God’s will.”
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