THEN & NOW: UYWI A LIVING TESTAMENT TO “WHOLE PERSON” MINISTRY
Jeremy Del Rio, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Thrive Collective
I was eight years old, walking the streets of New York beside my parents and two younger brothers to bring the love and freedom of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen. I was barely a teenager before preaching my first sermon. As a “PK” (preacher’s kid) ministry isn’t new to me.
While I was familiar with ministry, my encounter with Larry Acosta and the UYWI movement helped me live out my freedom. UYWI helped give me the fuel to create spaces where my peers and I could share a sense of our mission, purpose, and values.
UYWI taught me how to build curriculum, lead strategic conversations, and bear my heart authentically. I’m in a community of people committed to growing, learning, and loving together. Of all the things I’ve learned from UYWI, the community is by far the greatest contribution UYWI has made for me.
My encounter with UYWI happened in the early 2000s: I first met Larry around 2005 while on a conference call with a prominent organization leading a focus group. We discovered we had a lot of friends in common, including some NYC leaders who’d been a part of the Hispanic leadership in our area.
One of my first chances to lead at UYWI was during the RELOAD Conference. John Lewis was directing the conference. They allowed me to teach a workshop and create a curriculum. It was a privilege to do so and was a testament to how UYWI cultivated the character and competence in me to lead a change in my community. I’m so grateful for that experience.
What I loved about UYWI is they placed not only an emphasis on my leadership skills, they put more of an emphasis on me as a person. UYWI motivated me to focus on my spiritual, emotional, and physical health so that I could sustain what God was calling me to do in His Kingdom.
“While I was familiar with ministry, my encounter with Larry Acosta and the UYWI movement helped me live out my freedom. UYWI helped give me the fuel to create spaces where my peers and I could share a sense of our mission, purpose, and values.”
One of my most memorable experiences with UYWI was leading a learning community with Larry in 2010. The experience taught me how to lead with vulnerability. Larry affirmed my calling by including me to lead with him, but he also stretched me. Larry allowed me to grow without fear of failing. One statement Larry often said was that we should see “beyond the kimono.” He wanted us to be vulnerable and let our brothers and sisters see our struggles and difficulties.
Because of my early training with UYWI, I’ve created Thrive Collective. Thrive Collective mentors urban youth through arts & sports in public schools around NYC. We provide safe spaces for urban youth to create, lead, and grow authentically.
The success of UYWI is a byproduct of intentionality. UYWI’s commitment to innovation in ministry has built solutions for indigenous leaders.
UYWI’s nimbleness of adapting to online spaces is worth celebrating. I believe, if we’re really about youth ministry, then we must exist in the same spaces youth are in. I love that UYWI embraced the digital world because it helped leaders connect with our youth during the pandemic.
When the pandemic hit, UYWI showed up prepared. Immediately they rolled out digital services that taught us how to “do community” without physically being “in community.”
I appreciate that NXT LVL Coaching is available digitally or in person in specific locations. The Certification Program now has an online cohort and meets in person in Los Angeles, Houston, and New York. These programs have been pivotal for my community of leaders.
I’m not only connected with UYWI on an organizational level; but we’re connected on a life level. UYWI provides a place I can vulnerably connect with diverse urban leaders from around the Country.
For decades, UYWI has communicated in words and deeds that the whole person matters. Ministry is not just about religious exercises or spiritual discipline. It’s not just about safe places to process pain. It’s about serving and loving God with our whole heart, mind, body, and soul and we do this as a community.
For over two decades, UYWI has taught me many lessons and I will continue to carry them forward.
“The success of UYWI is a byproduct of intentionality. UYWI’s commitment to innovation in ministry has built solutions for indigenous leaders.”
You make a difference in the lives of urban youth across the country looking to their youth leaders and mentors for wisdom and direction in a season when authentic leadership is scarce at best.
“Empowering people to achieve their dreams and transform their culture and communities”
- Del Rio's mission