At Inspire Community, we envision our community to be a place for all Muslims to interact and celebrate each other.
The team at Inspire Community MN include Shannen Espelien, Francesca Pagan & Sarah Alfaham. We are moving forward in creating a solid infrastructure so that this programming is sustainable and long term.
Need to contact someone at Inspire Community? You can do so here!
The People Behind Inspire Community
Francesca is an experienced educator, classroom teacher, and community organizer with a passion for equity in education. She has a BA in Psychology and did her master’s work in Education and Special Education.
She began teaching in New York for students with emotional disturbances and autism. In Maryland, she led an early-childhood education program for young Muslims ages 1-5. It focused on Islamic education and literacy through play, socialization, reciting and memorizing surahs of juz amma, Islamic etiquettes and dua, familiarity with stories of the prophets, fine motor skills, and artistic expression through crafts. She organized monthly community dinners at the masjid, led an all-Muslim girl scout troop, and organized child and youth-focused adventures like group trips to indoor moon bounce parks, trampoline parks, rock-wall climbing, and zip-lining.
After moving to the Twin Cities, Francesca completed the Community Equity Program at the Wilder Foundation in St. Paul, where she learned how to affect change in Minnesota to increase equity and decrease inequity for diverse communities through organizing, advocacy, and lobbying the state legislature. She noticed a dearth of vibrant and engaging programming for the Muslim community in the South-metro. She co-founded Inspire Community through which she helped organized the Ramadan and Eid card exchanges, hand-delivered Eid al Fitr gift baskets organized the Eid al Adha in the park celebration, and led a toddler storytime and craft in the park series.
Recently, Francesca campaigned for a seat on the Eden Prairie School Board. Her campaign focused on closing the achievement gap with research-proven best-practices and ensuring everyone in the community had a seat at the table with qualified people who represent the diversity of the community. She brings these same values to her work with Inspire Community.
Sarah graduated from the University of Toledo with her Bachelors in History and Communication with the intention of working as a journalist. She then decided instead of telling others’ stories, she wanted to be a part of the story.
Sarah completed her Master of Social Work at the University of Michigan studying Management of Human services within Children Youth and Families.
Back in Toledo she worked as a social worker at a Head Start program focused on high need families. As part of her position, she provided parenting workshops focusing on the achievement gap, and creating family programming that values peer support. Sarah also worked at a recovery center coordinating youth group-support therapy.
Finally, Sarah’s background studying foundational Islam consists of the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM) program, which focused on Islamic Studies from an academic perspective and a critique and understanding of navigating Islam in a secular society. She also participated in the Rihla program, focusing on the spiritual sciences of Islam. Sarah also completed a course on convert care and creating third spaces through the Ta’leef Collective, a Muslim-run third space concept based out of the Bay area and Chicago.
Sarah got married and moved to the Twin Cities in 2018. She began working as the Fiscal Sponsorship Manager at Propel Nonprofits where she supports new organizations and communities to start nonprofits through resources and best practices.
Sarah brings her passion for creating safe welcoming spaces to Inspire Community. This includes constantly learning about how to be anti-racist and implementing anti-racist practices in her daily life, working to uplift marginalized groups particularly from a macro lens, and most importantly, youth empowerment. Sarah believes in taking up space in her most authentic self and values mental health wellness. She also appreciates art, photography, soccer and boxing.
Born and raised in Minnesota, Shannen is a lifelong learner currently studying the Islamic Sciences at Mishkah University and previously earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology. Shannen has a long history of being awarded leadership roles from her restaurants, retail, and managing a department of technicians at a local Internet service provider. Through her time in management, she gained numerous accolades from her staff and superiors about her mentorship to those she oversaw, and her ability to defuse stressful situations.
After being laid off in the recession of 2009, Shannen started her homeschool journey, and at the same time took her skills and experience to the volunteer sphere in numerous ways such as teaching Islamic and computer classes, leading halaqas, speaking at interfaith events and training others to do so, assisting in office and technical work at various masajid, and co-leading multiple homeschool co-ops and scouting groups in the south metro.
Shannen now has 4 daughters, mashaAllah, and lives with her husband in Savage, MN. She currently spends most of her time homeschooling and supporting the homeschooling community through consultations and conducting Homeschooling 101 sessions each year. She continues to volunteer as an occasional speaker at interfaith events, assist in teaching an Islamic Studies class at the local women’s prison, and assist in teaching, curriculum choice, and office work at a private school.
Shannen hopes to use her knowledge of what Minnesota has to offer and her love for Islam in her work at Inspire Community to reach parents, families, and people who are new or renewed in their Islam. Her personal mantra is to just keep taking one step forward, no matter how slow or how small. In addition, she uses her technical experience to help Inspire Community work efficiently behind the scenes.
Shannen has a passion for environmentalism, intentional parenting, Islam as understood by the classical scholars, and nurturing continued growth in children and adults. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, knitting, quilting, and generally avoiding housework.