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Young adults serve through MI-1

MI-1 serves at NOAH

The Michigan Conference has long been a leader in leadership development with young adults. A new program, MI-1, provides 18 to 28-year-olds opportunities for service. 

KAY DEMOSS
Senior Content Editor

Lots of awesome things are “Made in Michigan,” including an innovative, new program for young adults called MI-1 (pronounced MY One).

For years, the Michigan Conference has made the leadership development of young adults a priority. EncounterMICall is a 32-week internship that helps young adults discern their vocational path. The Mission Intern Program has been sending young adults into ministry during the summer months for the past 22 years. And Michigan is currently one of three United Methodist conferences with placement sites for young adult missionaries called US-2s.

But something was missing in that range of opportunities. “MI-1 came out of talking to young adults in Michigan about serving as a US-2,” says the Rev. Lisa Batten, Coordinator of Young Adult Initiatives for The Michigan Conference. “Some said, ‘I don’t know if I want to commit to two years of service.’ Others said, ‘Why would I leave Michigan when there is work to do here?’ And there were young people who simply could not leave the state,” Batten explained.

What was missing was a one-year post-graduate fellowship program. Over the past year, Batten has collaborated with Laura Witkowski, Associate Director of Lay Leadership Development, to fill that gap. Witkowski said, “Historically, half of those serving as interns and US-2s go into ministry as clergy. The other half go into non-profit work as professional laypeople. So, this seemed like a good partnership.”

MI-1 serving in Kalamazoo
Mandakini Brophy (3rd from left) with members of MANNA, a young adult ministry of Kalamazoo First United Methodist Church. She began service as a MI-1 in August. ~ photo courtesy Lisa Batten

The formal description of the MI-1 Young Adult Program on application materials states: “MI-1 is a program of mutually transformational experiences between young adults, their living communities, the neighborhoods, and the organizations in which they serve. It is a one-year commitment (Academic year August to August) for 18-28 year-olds. MI-1 is designed to be intentionally cross-cultural, purposeful in transformation and renewing for individuals and organizations as well.”

Batten describes MI-1 as a “parallel to the US-2 program.” She said Michigan’s three US-2s, who arrived in August, and the two new MI-1s will train together in October. “They are also connecting with each other socially and for support,” she added.

Mandakini Brophy, from Portage, MI, is now serving at Kalamazoo First United Methodist Church as a MI-1. She is a leader with the youth and a young adult ministry called MANNA. She also is involved with social justice efforts there. DaJon Fisher, who grew up in Clinton Township, is now a MI-1 serving at NOAH Project in Detroit. He serves in a variety of capacities including case management, community center coordination, and bagged lunch distribution. Both Kalamazoo First and NOAH have been placement sites for US-2s in the past.

“This is the young adult network at work,” Lisa said. “We had our existing sites that were vetted. We reach out to churches with strong young adult programs. The young adults for MI-1 and US-2 often get into the program because of a campus pastor or their local church pastor or youth leader saying, “Hey, this is happening.’”

“We have talked about other churches and organizations that we believe would be good placement sites for MI-1s,” Witkowski continued. Sites under consideration include Methodist Children’s Home Society, Justice For Our Neighbors, and Asbury Farms in Flint. They have “planted a seed” with District Superintendents asking to be alerted to new ministries that may benefit from partnering with MI-1.

There are three essentials for placement sites.

  1. Meaningful outreach
  2. Attention to justice and advocacy
  3. Mutual transformation for the community and the development of the participant

“Sites have to have enough capacity to do supervision,” Batten said. “That can be challenging.” Further, it costs a site $18,000 a year to support an MI-1 with housing, stipend, and transportation. The Conference Board of Global Ministries is currently funding training and retreats.

US-2s arrive to lend a hand
Three women serve as US-2s in Michigan. Left to right: Bailey Townsend’s primary assignment is Motown Mission. She is also in ministry at Motor City Wesley and Redford Brightmoor Initiative. Marie Rittenberry is serving at United Methodist Community House in Grand Rapids. Ceneya Ward Johns is on the ministry team at Wesley Campus Ministry at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Michigan’s US-2s and MI-1s are in community together. ~ photos courtesy Lisa Batten

While the search is on for more placement sites, Batten emphasizes that “we don’t want to grow too quickly. We need to keep pace with the number of fellows.” She and Witkowski agree that they would be happy finding one new site and one new fellow a year for the next five years. “That would be sustainable,” Batten said. Witkowski remarked, “Even one or two ministries that are not part of our everyday United Methodist system would be great.”

How can persons and churches be supportive of the fledgling MI-1 program? Mentors from outside the placement sites are being sought. A mentor might meet with the MI-1 once a month. Contact Lisa Batten at lbatten@michiganumc.org if interested. Those who know a young adult, age 18-28, who might be interested in service as a MI-1 can also provide Lisa with contact information.

“I wish I had an opportunity like MI-1 available to me when I was that age,” Witkowski stated. “Not knowing what came next after college was hard.”  

Batten is glad, “We were able to hear and respond to the needs of the young adults who said ‘US-2 is not my thing.’” She added, “US-2 prefers a bachelor’s degree. You can use MI-1 as a gap year. It is suited to someone who has finished an associate degree but doesn’t know if they want a BA. I am excited we can offer a program like this as fewer and fewer are going for a degree today.”

“MI-1 is another way that the church can invest in young adults,” Witkowski pointed out. “We need more of that.”