The Youth & Family Institute Origins

The Youth & Family Institute was founded on January 22, 1987, The Center For Youth and Family Ministry in memory of David Huglen Strommen, one of the sons of Dr. Mert and Irene Strommen. David’s life was tragically ended at the age of 25 when he was hit by lightning while leading a high school youth group outing in the mountains of Colorado. At the time of his death, David was a student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Strommen family had a dream of developing a center to nurture youth and family ministry, to create critically needed new approaches to youth and family ministry, and to train and equip leadership for this ministry.

The vision of the Strommen family was to take the best of research, put it in a strong academic setting, surround it with the strength and foundation of a theology of the cross, and instill an evangelical spirit of ministry to help congregations strengthen families to nurture faith. Because Dr. Strommen was an Augsburg College grad, he found the first home for the Center for Youth and Family Ministry on the campus of Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN.

Dr. Strommen began as the Executive Director of the Center. As with Search Institute, he kept the Center going through sacrifice, prayer, and good grant writing. Lutheran Brotherhood was extremely helpful with initial grants. Many people stepped forward to help the Strommens fulfill this vision, including nearly 50 partner congregations, Richard and Barbara Nelson, and many other concerned individuals who gave financial gifts to make the Center a reality.

In 1989, the Center for Youth and Family Ministry changed its name to Augsburg Youth & Family Institute, to develop a closer relationship with the college. By 1996, that name changed again to the Youth & Family Institute of Augsburg College to avoid confusion with Augsburg Fortress Publishing and, again, to attempt to connect more closely with Augsburg College.

As the Institute grew, Dr. Strommen sought to retire as the director and brought in gifted and creative people like Paula Mott-Becker, Karen Folks, Dr. Curt Paulsen, Cathy Paulsen, and Dr. Chuck Bruning, who served as directors or key leaders in the early years of the Institute. Pastor Paul Harris, Dr. Roland Martinson, and others on the Institute Advisory Council supported the Institute during some very challenging years from 1987-1994.

Dr. Strommen dreamed of a major in youth and family ministry at Augsburg College. President Charles Anderson of Augsburg College gave support for a Masters in Leadership, with a focus on youth and family ministry. Although that program was small, it did take steps toward Dr. Strommen’s vision.

The Institute remained a largely unknown organization by leaders in youth and family ministry in North America. To create greater visibility, in 1994 the Institute’s Board, with the blessing of Dr.Strommen, worked with the Minneapolis Area Synod and called Dr. Dick Hardel to serve as the Executive Director, with the charge to give creative life to the Institute and make it known to congregational leaders and youth and family ministry leaders throughout North America.

The Institute stayed focused on what God was a blessing and moved from survival mode to rapid growth. With more than 20 years of working in the parish as a pastor in youth and family ministry and three and a half years working in youth and family ministry as Assistant to the Bishop of the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA, Dr. Hardel brought with him the research, experience, and knowledge of youth and family ministry to begin an undergraduate major in youth and family ministry. He designed and taught the core courses and, with the help of wonderful friends in the Religion Department, they built an excellent major in youth and family ministry. Dr. Hardel led the Institute from being grant-based to being financially supported by sales of services and resources, and gifts from donors.

After a few years of rapid growth, The Institute grew in staff to carry out its mission flowing from Dr. Strommen’s vision. Lyle Griner, Dr. David Anderson, Phil Fandrei who later left the staff to join the Institute’s Board), Richard Jefferson and Marilyn Sharpe joined the staff.

With the growth of the Institute also came difficult growing pains and transition of staff and location. For the Institute to grow as God had given it a vision, it was determined that it would be best for both the college and The Institute to move from the campus and operate as an independent non-profit corporation. So on January 1, 2003, The Youth & Family Institute started a new venture in fulfilling and growing the mission of the Institute from the vision God had given the leaders.

A new location was found at Martin Luther Manor in Bloomington, MN, a new logo was developed, and a focus of living well in Christ was expressed. The Institute received support from the leadership team of Martin Luther Manor.

A new Board of Directors was established, with Pastor Glenn Seefeldt serving as chairperson, together with Nancy Going from the Religion Department of Augsburg College; Phil Fandrei from SeaFoam; Dr. Roland Martinson of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.; Dr. Steve Arnold, Dean of the College of Vocation and Ministry at Concordia University in St. Paul, MN; and Tammy Devine, Diaconal Minister, and Parish Nurse at Martin Luther Manor.

The Institute outgrew its space and moved again in January 2006, to a new site in Bloomington that allowed us to have a “walk-in” bookstore and enhanced meeting space. The Institute continues to grow while remaining close to its vision of passing on the faith and living well in Christ.

Passing on Faith from Milestone to Milestone,
The Youth & Family Institute

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