Where Are They Now: NBA XPLOR Resident Lauren Frato

NBA has been engaged with young adults across the denomination in a variety of ways via several experiences like our NBA Scholars and XPLOR programs. This Where Are They Now series is a chance for NBA to catch up with the young adults who got their start in ministry at NBA and learn about how their experience has shaped where they are today.   

Frato during the 2015 NBA XPLOR orientation.

Lauren Frato’s experience with the NBA started in 2015 via the XPLOR program where she spent two years working with children in St. Louis, Missouri, and a food program in Tucson, Arizona. At the time, Frato said yes to the opportunity with NBA because she was unsure what was next for her.

“I applied for the XPLOR Residency shortly after high school. I did not think college was for me and I’d struggled academically in high school,” she recalls. “I used XPLOR to figure out a different route for my life because I was bored and feeling stagnant. I did not expect to go into the program, stay an additional year, and then leave wanting to give college a try.”

Recently, NBA President & CEO Mark D. Anderson sat down to speak with Frato to chat about their heart and passion for social work issues. Similar to Anderson, who received his Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Frato is also looking to pursue a career in social work as well. The pair also talked about Frato’s time with NBA, how it shaped her next steps, and what she’s been up to since then.

When you first applied to NBA’s XPLOR program in 2014, what drew you to the program and eventually led you to say yes?

Lauren Frato: I was in a time in my life when I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I was working but wasn’t doing anything else. I was also very unsure about college and couldn’t identify anything that I was passionate about.

I’d been on some mission trips which gave me some sense of adventure, I remember I’d always come back from those trips feeling invigorated and I was looking for more of that.

At the time, I was just going through the motions of life. I’d wake up, go to work, and then go home. That was it. I was working a lot and kept busy, but I wasn’t doing anything. I knew I needed to step back and figure out where I wanted to go in life because I just felt very unhappy and unsatisfied with what I was doing. So when I heard about the XPLOR Residency, I decided to apply, not thinking I’d be accepted into the program, but really I applied just for the chance to do something different.

Talk about your experience in XPLOR (host site, job, etc.)

LF: My first year with XPLOR I was based in St. Louis and my host church was Union Avenue Christian Church with two other residents. While there, I worked at Unleashing Potential (known as Neighborhood House at the time) where my focus was on an after-school program for children in grades K-5.

Working with the kids at Unleashing Potential really reassured me that I liked working with kids. I fit in so easily at the organization and the entire experience made me feel like I belonged in that line of work.

More than anything, planning after-school activities and opportunities for those children gave me the confidence to pursue nonprofit work and work with children. I had very little experience in these areas before and if it weren’t for those 10 months at Unleashing Potential, I’m not sure I’d be pursuing a career within the nonprofit space and supporting children.

Your first cycle with our XPLOR program left such an impact that you decided to do a second residency with the program, why?

LF: Yeah, so by the end of my first residency with XPLOR, I was starting to consider college in a serious way because I felt like I had a purpose and passion for kids. But before completely diving in, I wanted to experience another aspect of health and social service work, so I applied for another 10 months in the XPLOR Residency.

My second year was in Tucson, Arizona with Community Food Bank. I stayed at First Christian Church near the University of Arizona campus with three other residents. The focus of my second residency was helping the foodbank launch its child nutrition program. The food bank partnered with university students majoring in nutrition and brought them in once a week to share nutrition tips with children in the area. My experience in Tucson was less focused on children and more focused on learning how to launch, grow and sustain a new community program. I learned a lot but ultimately realized working with children was where my passion lay.

What did you do when you left XPLOR and what have you been up to since?

LF: When my time in Arizona ended, I started prepping for college. I’d been applying and taking the necessary entrance exams while in Tucson, so once the fall hit, I began at a local community college in Hiram Mantua, Ohio. I also was able to return to a local daycare that I was at before on a part-time basis, but this time I was able to do more with the kids because of the experience I’d gained from working at Unleashing Potential.

After finishing up general courses at community college, I transferred to Ursuline College where I’ll be graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work in May 2023.

You’re interning currently with a local organization that supports adolescents and young adults as they navigate through school and the beginning of their careers; what has that experience been like? 

LF: Yes, currently I intern for an organization called Boys Hope, Girls Hope working with kids in grades 6-12. Similar to Unleashing Potential, we offer after-school programs that focus on wellness. We focus on the importance of physical activity, nutrition, coping with grief and disappointment, and even help students determine what their next steps might be after high school.

Working at Boys Hope, Girls Hope is also part of the 280 hours of hands-on social work experience I need to graduate, so during my time with the organization I’ve gotten to shadow the two social workers on staff learning about their different cases and how they approach their work.

I was nervous starting out because the age group I work with now are so much older than what I’m accustomed to and experienced in XPLOR, but I’ve found that this work has been just as rewarding as my time in St. Louis.

You’re graduating from college soon, what are your hopes for life after graduation?

LF: I know I want to go and get my Master’s in Social Work, but I’ve been in school, interning, and working nonstop throughout undergrad that I think I need a year off before diving into a grad school program.

I do feel like I have a clear sense of direction though and know I want to pursue a career in social work and work with children and families.

How would you say NBA impacted your next steps when it comes to career and ministry?

LF: I definitely feel like if it wasn’t for my experience in XPLOR—and I tell people this all the time—I don’t know if I would have gone to college. NBA XPLOR gave me the confidence to say ‘yeah, I can do this.’ I was able to obviously spend 10 months away from my family, working in places that I had never worked in while living with complete strangers and surviving.

The support I was able to get from my spiritual companions and roommates helped me tremendously and ultimately helped determine my next steps and what I’m doing now. I don’t know if I would be where I am now if it wasn’t for that experience, I’m so grateful.