Community Becomes Staff, Staff Becomes Community

By Melanie Cocalis, Community Development Director

A shift in missions.

Community-based missions.

Short-term mission trips collide with long-term community development.

Words such as sustainability, partnership, collaboration, empowerment, and

development emerge in the unfolding story of the new direction our ministry is taking.

Since Missions Director, Nick Cocalis, posted on July 7th, things have continued to change. Things have continued to build momentum in this movement of community-based missions. The decision in our heart had been made: we were going to put the same amount of time and resources into developing the communities we serve in as we simultaneously facilitate short-term trips. This inside-out mentality had begun to take form. But these words have gone much further than good intentions as we share with excitement that five new full-time staff members are being added to the Next Step team. These staff members are individuals that have chosen to relocate or currently live within the communities we partner with. These staff members are individuals that are currently in a state of planning, listening, envisioning, and praying over the direction our partnership in each specific community will take.  These staff members are individuals that are now community members, living alongside the people we have grown to love so deeply.  Beyond the numbers and logistics, we want to share the heart and story behind each new staff member.

West Virginia

Hannah Kessler has served on our Summer Staff team in West Virginia for the past two summers. With a growing heart for Rosedale, she has not only invested into the full-time missionaries we work with, but into the many families she has gotten to know so well. With continued momentum on repair work at the Community Center, this platform for spiritual discipleship will continue to be the heartbeat of the work being done in West Virginia.


On staff in Ohio last summer, and Milwaukee the summer prior; Liz Powers has a heart for community development. When first arriving in Lorain County earlier this year, the vision was unclear. Her heart was pulled in a direction that continually challenged herself, the staff, the church, and the teams that were serving in Ohio: what does empowerment look like when working with a primarily elderly population? Liz decided she would move to Ohio quickly after her summer ended, with a heart to unify the community and neighborhoods alongside organizations rooted in Lorain.


Alison Praisewater moved out to Haiti on June 1st. She has since grown in her love and compassion for the community: not only to promote a healthier lifestyle, or to create greater educational opportunities, but to reveal Christ and His love through every day routines and interactions. She has worked alongside local church and community leadership to establish the Fond Blanc Project. For more information, check out the website at:

South Carolina

On staff in New York and Mississippi, Chelsea Crocker is from Lexington County: home to our community partnership in South Carolina. Since her summers working with Next Step, her heart for missions in her own community has deepened. Initiating Bible Studies, connecting with families, and consistent investment into Mt. Horeb UMC and the Nehemiah Project, Chelsea desires to see the Belle Meade community grow spiritually, physically, economically, and emotionally.

New York

Blesson Mathews is a New York resident and has a heart for his community. Serving for two summers on staff in his home state of New York, his desire to deepen partnerships and the long-term work we do in New York has compelled him to serve in this new capacity. Blesson’s heart to spread the Gospel in neighborhoods across the state will continue to be the foundation of all future plans and goals in this community.

Although brief, these stories reflect the life of each individual Next Step has begun pouring it’s resources into… ultimately, an investment into the long-term development in each community we serve alongside. Our goal is to have a full-time staff member in each community by October 2015.

Please join us in prayer for these individuals as they invest fully into the relationships and neighborhoods they will now call home. Whether they have lived in the community their entire life, or are making the decision to relocate and dive head first into a new neighborhood, the goal is clear: spiritually and sustainably develop their community.

Next Step Ministries