By Susan Huppert, NAMMA
The continued dedication to seafarers is as significant as its century-old history. Seafarers, an invisible workforce in a global economic machine continue to, without voice or platform, demand our attention.
This reality is the main focus of internships offered through the North American Maritime Ministry Association by the ITF Seafarer’s Trust. These opportunities are professional job training to develop a wide-range of competencies that may lead to future career options in the network of seafarer welfare. The skills gained begin with understanding the mission and how to care for seafarers. A balance of staying abreast of seafarers’ personal and practical needs is critical. Understanding the people served, how to serve and possessing the passion are key to a well-rounded experience.
The support systems of many seafarer centers are changing. Directors, chaplains, and volunteers are retiring or aging out of their cherished roles. The engagement of new workers is a high priority. Churches as traditional partners, wrestle to support non-profit organizations as memberships continue to drop and a cultural shift of priorities is in process.
Executive Director of the Seafarers’ Ministry of the Golden Gate, Robert Wilkins, understands the shift. The former graduate school professor solicited interns through a broad outreach to faith-based community.org, college networks and Handshake, the #1 program college students use to find jobs and internships.
Summer intern at Golden Gate, Giselle Flores, is completing her degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is grateful for her opportunity. Flores was selected in part due to her quick response and geographic location near the center. More importantly, her interest in boarding ships, communication, marketing and advocacy led to an agreement she finds fulfilling.
Flores began her internship with study materials on the history and welfare of seafarers’ missions, including her completion of the Ship Welfare Visitor Course online created by the UK Merchant Navy Welfare Board and managed by NAMMA.
“I am very eager to do this. I had no knowledge of the maritime industry or the mission and its meaningful cause,” said Flores. “I am interested in advocacy. The role of a labor investigator resonates with my personal background.”
“Through ship visiting and my involvement in the mission, I am refining my communication skills. It has made me able to meet those of different cultures and backgrounds and be able to interpret their needs,” she said. “I am helping with social media, redesigning websites, blogging and creating YouTube videos.”
“We have her involved in every sector,” said Wilkins. “We want to provide career development and she is both a helper and a recipient of those services.”
The exposure to the maritime industry has raised her interest in WISTA International. Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association began in 1974 and is the broadest network of women in shipping.
“We have to get the young people into this as we will not be able to serve without the younger generation,” said Wilkins of the work Flores engages in at SMGG.
She feels her peers have time and passion for causes like seafarer welfare and she is interested in raising awareness of maritime industry opportunities among them.
“I think they would be very eager to do this,” she said.
Willing to study, work and learn opens doors for interns.
“She is lively, engaged and a good ambassador; a good example to present to maritime welfare employers. There is a place for everyone in the maritime sector. It is personal and technical,” said her superior.
The Seattle Seafarer’s Center, an affiliate of Mission to Seafarers and Stella Maris in Seattle, WA applied for an internship grant through NAMMA. They welcomed college student Siri Donlea at the beginning of the summer. Donlea learned of the opportunity from a mutual acquaintance of the mission’s director. Her training is including interactions with seafarers onboard, in the center, and while transporting them.
“It’s fascinating,” she said. “Ship visits are impactful for me. I didn’t know about seafaring until this job; the sacrifices they make.”
Donlea attends Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Her technical skills are used at the center modernizing the mission website, creating newsletters including stories from her ship visits, and other pertinent data.
“This is special in that you get to participate in and learn the daily functions of a non-profit, she said.”
Thanks to the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, funding for interns is impacting ministries from Canada to Florida.
At the Mission to Seafarers center in Vancouver, BC, interns have been a measure of support for years. In the mission, the three key leaders rotate regarding which position will benefit from and train an intern in the various facets of maritime ministry. This year, Chaplain Gary Roosma is working with Marissa Brown. Brown, in her mid-twenties, like the others will find a global education at the NAMMA annual conference where key speakers provide the most current and relevant information pertaining to global maritime.
Florida’s Canaveral Port Ministry, bustles with the cruise industry. Here, 18-year-old Evan Bolin serves as a NAMMA-sponsored intern.
Misson Director Mark Wodka, agrees that young interns are needed to step into the industry.
“Technology is second nature to them,” said Wodka.
The ministry director incorporates interns in a broad range of tasks at Canaveral. Immediate benefits are not always evident. Although interns are not trained specifically for chaplaincy, this ministry’s first intern now serves as a U.S. Navy chaplain.
Another former Canaveral intern leads a team of volunteers annually from a church in Georgia to assist in the port ministry.
“It shaped that intern. It has always been in his heart,” he said. “It pays off from the investment we made a long time ago.”
Photo: NAMMA Interns gather with other participants at the opening of the NAMMA Conference 2023 in Seattle, WA.