Posts Tagged ‘community’

I just watched a very poignant clip of Ellen interviewing Oprah about the 1997 coming out episode (The Puppy) on the Ellen Show. That episode aired in April 1997 and I started work at Youth Outlook in October 1998. I found it difficult not to tear up while Ellen and Oprah talked about both the episode and the backlash following. Ellen’s show was canceled. Laura Dern couldn’t get work for a year after playing her role. Oprah got hundreds of messages telling her to go back to Africa.

As a community, our fight is far from over and some of these messages have made an ugly reappearance recently. While listening to Ellen and Oprah, though, I was reminded of one thing—one primary feeling—of “the old days” that I rarely speak about to anyone, and at THAT time, I never spoke of.

I was afraid. I had reason to be.

When I moved to IL in 1998, I had been out for several years, sported a crew cut and Harry Potter glasses, and had a rainbow in the back window of my car. I was settling into my gender neutrality, having fun with my “boi” playfulness, and I was accustomed to a different atmosphere after living for twelve years in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement, and around Syracuse, hovering in or near academic circles of radical feminism. It was a great place to live and a great place to come out.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from IL. I hoped for Chicago overflow, similar to NY overflow, to which I attributed much of the free thinking I encountered in Syracuse. That’s not what I found.

In past blogs, I have mentioned the resistance I met in my efforts to form connections to some of the high schools.  That was rough. I was both irritated and embarrassed to meet other social workers who denied the existence of LGBT kids.  Countering the belief that kids were too young to know who they were (although most of the folks who maintained that could handily tell me at what age they’d had their first heterosexual crush or when they knew for sure that they were cisgender) was an uphill challenge, but it did not compare to the covert and cowardly threats I endured as the first employee of the first not for profit that specialized in working with queerlings in the western suburbs.

The timing of this was important. By 1998, services had existed within the Chicago city limits for years. There were potlucks, a sports association, bars, youth groups, churches, and medical clinics specific to LGBT people in Chicago. In the western suburbs, there were only the daring PFLAG groups.

Then I arrived. It was my job to make connections within our communities, to be a visible face of this new agency. To be publicly queer.

That part I had no problem with. I’d been publicly queer for a while.

Just pause for moment and think about the things Ellen describes and picture how that would have gone in towns and cities in DuPage County, IL.  Name calling? I certainly got the name calling. I got the slurs hurled from passing cars, most often “Faggot” which I have always found odd. I usually want to refer people to Urban Dictionary for the correct slur to hurl, if one is going to hurl slurs at all. Female bodied queer people are not generally called faggots, but I may have to re-evaluate that based on the frequency with which it was used at that time.

As the agency’s single employee and being who I was, I was particularly aware of the hostile environment. It’s a safe assessment that the early board members were also aware and to some extent, felt compelled to keep the kids hidden for their protection (except the kids weren’t interested in being hidden).  Many of them had lived here for years. They knew what to expect.

It was a bit of a surprise on the day a board member asked me to attend a county meeting and afterward, she called me to ask one question. “Do you have to look so….butch?”

At first, I was confused. I had sat next to her in the meeting. I had worn a blue silk shirt and black pants. She had also been wearing a shirt and black pants. I cast around for an answer, feeling vaguely insulted, when I realized she was referring less to WHAT I was wearing and more to HOW I was wearing it. My clothing was not that much different from hers. But I have a stance, a presence, that leaves little to imagination about what my orientation might be.  She had already told me that she could not come out.

We ironed out that she didn’t actually have a problem with the clothing I’d been wearing. She had a bigger issue with the fact that it was 1998 in suburban Illinois and I was identifiable as queer. When I pointed out that being identifiable as queer wasn’t really a bad thing for someone who was running an LGBT focused agency, the conversation came to an awkward stop and never arose again.

I could manage the questions about being out. On the other hand, the death threats put me on edge. It was the anonymous voicemails left about how the building we were using would be set fire to because we were all going to hell anyway. It was the creepy demands to “make sure you tell all those kids the truth—that they’re all going to hell for being disgusting little perverts” and the parents who cried and shouted at me that I could not tell their kids that they were good human beings that  left my sleep ragged.

Those were the days of Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps picketing churches that were becoming open and affirming and the funeral of Matthew Shepard, carrying signs that declared “Matt Shepard Burns in Hell” in front of his already traumatized and horrified family. As an agency, we had to be ready for anything that might be leveled at us, any day of any week. We learned to live with the fear. We wrote guidelines for how we’d handle if we ever needed to evacuate our borrowed spaces on short notice and we coached the kids on what to do if they ever found themselves confronted with a line of protestors carrying vile signs.

Verbal harassment. Death threats. Protestors. I was afraid. I had reason to be.

I did my job anyway, sometimes watching over my shoulder in dark parking lots and often enduring strangers’ comments that if I would just be open (to people of the opposite sex, to someone’s god, to psychiatric help, etc.), that perhaps someday I, too, could be as normal as they were. Oh, and by the way, which church did I belong to? I learned to fend off married women’s passes in public restrooms and to allow the slurs from passing cars and people in crowds to roll off me like water off a duck’s back.

I couldn’t exactly reach out to Ellen in those early days but I do owe many thanks to the Chicago women who supported me, those who understood that you live with the fear and you do it anyway. I just entered year 20 of my job and some of those early memories don’t get trotted out into sunlight very often. The Ellen interview sparked quite a few of them. ( These days, I’m more likely to be focused on what’s coming next week or next month, and less on what it was like to be a public queer in 1998.  Wow. We really have made history.

And yes, thank you for asking–I did have to look this…butch…while I was doing it. (And can you believe it–she hadn’t even seen me wearing a tux!)

Dedicated to my colleague and friend, Jessica Halem, who will probably never know how much of a sanity saver she was.


“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”    ~Maya Angelou

I’ve done a lot of reading and attended some trainings over this winter on the topic of trauma and trauma informed care and here’s what I have learned so far. When someone is in the middle of a meltdown, the thinking part of their brain stops working. No lie. The science is there. Kids, teenagers, all of us. It just stops. Decision making skills? Out the window. Language? Gone. Nothing above the brain mid-line is in gear–only the parts that can feel and act—or react.

This new learning caused me to notice the questions that we ask of people at those times. I’ve done it in my job over the years. “How can I help you?” ‘What do you need?” The questions are innocent, an outpouring of our desire to support and assist people we care about. They can’t engage in those questions with us, though. Their brain has turned off. They can’t answer a question like “What do you need” when they can’t access the upper part of their brain where language lives. We are asking them to do something with us that they are literally unable to do.

I am reminded of a Ram Dass book one of my graduate school instructors shared with us that talked about the helplessness of the helping professional. That book was written before we even knew any of the neuroscience that is driving our understanding today. Back then, it just resonated with me that sometimes the most important thing you could do with someone in crisis was to honor them by witnessing their pain. Just be with them. I have carried that message throughout my career.

Working with LGBT youth, sometimes the most important thing we can do is to honor them by witnessing their pain. We, as the agency staff, have no access to their family home. We have limited access to their school, and then only by invitation. We meet kids in tremendous pain who are being verbally and physically harassed, assaulted, threatened…kids are dealing with trauma on a frequent basis.

Neuroscience is also telling us now that people who experience trauma in childhood (abuse, neglect, parental mental illness or addiction, sexual assault, witnessing domestic violence, natural disasters, and a few others) develop cognitively in a different way than do people who do not experience trauma. The more trauma, the more different the brain and the more likely for health and mental implications in adulthood. The science is fascinating. Take a look at a quick, easy and interesting overview by Dr. Nadine Harris Burke.

I wouldn’t have to scan the brains of some of the LGBT kids we work with to know that there are some differences in development going on there. We know there’s been an uptick in harassment and assault in the last couple of years ( We know there’s been, at best, benign neglect of their needs, and, at worst, open hostility toward LGBT students, especially trans students.  We also already know that LGBT youth make up between 20% and 40% of the kids who are homeless and on the streets every year, particularly high on the T, most particularly on trans youth of color. Newer research tells us that LGBT kids also comprise about 20% of youth who are incarcerated.  (Should we place bets on how many of those kids were homeless before they were locked up?)

Those are some mindblowing stats when you take into account that we make up…what….maybe 10% of the general population? Conservative stats say 5%, but let’s be generous and say 10% for the hell of it.

Now let’s add one more twist. Where’s my bugle? This information should come with a bugle blaring to announce its arrival. According to Dr. Caitlin Ryan, researcher at The Family Acceptance Project, and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the leading trauma experts in the world, all is takes is one person.

You read that right. All it takes is ONE person who hears, one person who witnesses, one person who honors and believes to begin to relieve some of the effect of that trauma. That’s one school counselor. One school nurse. One social worker in individual session. One mom. One brother. One neighbor. One volunteer at Youth Outlook or Big Brother/Big Sister. One person who is safe and trustworthy and respectful can provide an opportunity for rewiring a brain that has been traumatized. One person can be the protective factor that stops a desperate kid from making an attempt on their own life.

Wow. Think about the power you have to affect a kid’s life. Not just their life right now, but if you listened to Dr. Burke’s TED talk, you know it’s the power to affect a kid’s life throughout the life span. It’s not about the question at that moment of crisis: “What do you need?”  or “How can I help?” Remember, in meltdown mode, none of us can actually process that question.

Thirty years into this, although I see what Ram Dass meant, I don’t know that I would limit my description of this as helplessness when we watch someone hurt. It has honor. It has meaning. True enough, we may not be able to stop it from happening, but being there with someone while he/she/they hurt, holding space for them to have their experience safely, has the potential to change cognitive wiring. We can get to those pesky questions later. First, we just have to be. We are amazing critters—both what we are as individuals and what we have the ability to do for one another.

Yes, Dr. Angelou. I agree. When we know better, we do better.

Childhood Trauma Family Courts - 2015

We All Win

Posted: February 12, 2017 in Blog
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I’m not much of a morning person. There may have been hypothetical occasions, even, when there may have been hypothetical house rules about talking to me in the morning. Maybe. But let’s be real. I don’t make much sense in the morning, so how much of a conversationalist could I be?

Today was a bit different. This morning, I voluntarily got up early on a Sunday to join my neighbors at our first neighborhood coffee gathering. I even got up a little earlier than I needed to, just to make sure that I DID make sense, should anyone feel like conversing with me.

It’s been such a weird couple of months. It feels like we are often all walking on eggshells with each other. I have experienced fear for the first time living on my street when my neighborhood was menaced this fall by a young guy driving a pick up truck with the word REDNECK emblazoned across the rear window and flying a confederate flag over the bed. I live in a diverse neighborhood. It feels like the entire country has become a dog fight, with minority populations being used to bait people into statements and acts that used to horrify us and now have become common.

It is not okay to live in fear. It is not even a place I wish to visit.

I have walked in my neighborhood every day for almost fourteen years, most days twice, with 2 dogs pulling in different directions on the ends of their extendable leashes. I know lots of my neighbors by sight, and some even by name well enough to stop and chat on warm summer mornings. People know me. There are waves and calls to say hi, or to wish me a good holiday in the Christmas season.

There was talk, even before the eggshell-walking started, that we were all quite attached to our neighborhood. People ask after each other. “Have you seen…”  and  “We should have them over…” Someone put up a Facebook page named after our neighborhood so we can communicate with each other.  Last year, some practical joker stacked my recyclable bin on top of the garbage bin and left them that way, ensuring the waste management people would just drive by. I was recovering from knee surgery and navigating the house on crutches. There was no way I could go move the recycle bin, which stands almost as tall as I do, into its correct position. So I posted on our neighborhood Facebook page—“Hey, if anyone is home this morning, can you give me a hand?”  It took less than a minute, and a neighbor popped over, put the bins in their proper locations and popped back into their own house.

On that afternoon when I first saw the pick up truck with the flag slowly cruising my street…no, he was not driving, he was cruising, looking for someone or something… it immediately worried me. There’s an elementary school on the corner, attended primarily by brown and black skinned children. There’s a Muslim family up the next block and the mom walks her daughters to and from school every day. My next door neighbors are Latino. The new neighbors in the corner house are an African American couple. I wondered who would not be safe—who was being looked for.

At first, I was concerned about posting anything to the neighborhood Facebook page. What if some of my neighbors supported the guy in the pick up truck with his flag? Was I going to draw attention or perhaps hostility for speaking up? As the only genderqueer person on this street, I did have to wonder about my safety, too. I can’t imagine that my neighbors don’t already know who I am…but was I crossing a line by speaking up and saying that the pick up truck and the message of the flag were making me uncomfortable?

When I heard that the pick up truck had been spotted on a couple of other nearby streets, I realized I couldn’t let it go. Was I ready to defend my space? Was I ready to speak up for my neighbors? For the little kids walking back and forth to school? I had to.

I posted to the Facebook page: Just want to make you aware…I know many of you have kids…we need to keep our neighborhood safe.  I waited, apprehensive. The comments that followed were warm and appreciative. Everyone who answered understood my point about neighborhood safety and agreed.

A few days later, I was out walking the dogs and the neighbor who wears a burqa passed by to go pick up her girls. Ordinarily, I smile and wave but I don’t go close enough for conversation to anyone with the dogs on their strings. I don’t assume everyone will like my dogs as much I do.  That day, I reeled the dogs all the way in and approached her.

“Have you seen the pick up truck?”

“Yes—and there’s another one just like it further up the street.”

“I don’t know what he’s doing…”

She nodded. “I’m not sure why anyone with those beliefs would move into a neighborhood like ours.”

“You know if anyone bothers you while you’re walking by, you can turn up my driveway—just come right to the house and ring the bell.”  I didn’t need to tell her where I lived. She’s been walking by while I mow the grass for at least two years.

“Thank you. I will remember that.”

“Let your girls know, too. We can’t have this in our neighborhood.”

She continued down the street.

So enough with the eggshells. This morning, I got up early and took my slightly incoherent, gender neutral self over to my neighbors’ house and we gathered with several other families to have coffee and danishes. I don’t know what the political stances of most of those people might be. I don’t know what religious affiliations most of them have. It didn’t matter. We had coffee and talked about spring, and gardening, and house projects, and our pets. I learned about growing mushrooms and that alligators and crocodiles have different temperaments and that most of my neighbors want to keep chickens and bees. Who knew?

We reclaimed our neighborhood and celebrated each other simply by having coffee. Our differences were minor in comparison to the myriad of things we wanted to talk about, standing around on a Sunday morning as kids ran through the kitchen and the dog wanted his belly scratched. In the words of my neighbor Greg, who is a math teacher (something I will never be able to relate to!), “Let’s keep this street and city full of love.”

Indeed, Greg. We all win with that outlook. I’ll get up early for that any day.



Last night, my agency held its annual gala, four days after much of the LGBT world was shot through with a bolt of fear that brought some of us to the verge of physical illness. On Wednesday, I was in meetings marked by stunned silence, abject fear, and immutable grief. The questions everywhere I turned were, “How do we do this?” and “How do we keep our kids safe?” which were valid questions while sitting in meetings where we were exploring trauma informed care for LGBT youth. Now we were also concerned about the trauma that we, as adults, might experience or be exposed to.

On that wave of wild emotion, I needed to prep comments to welcome our guests to our fundraiser, Dare to Dream. Just a week prior, we might well have exploded into the room still celebrating the World Series win. Suddenly, our annual affair was daunting like never before. One hundred and fifty people were going to gather for their first LGBT event, just four days after our country elected a new administration that includes a rabidly anti-LGBT vice president, who has referred to same sex couples as a sign of societal collapse. It’s a formal event. It opens with a welcome. I sat with that challenge for three of the first four days, wondering how I’d even sound coherent, let alone encouraging, to a group of people worried down to their socks about our newly acquired rights.

It was humbling. As I pulled some new facts together, it was also frightening. I wrote the welcome four times before the spirit of my former mentor welled up in me and my thoughts shifted from, “Oh, how the hell?” to “Oh, hell no.”

Tonight, I offer you this—my only welcome address to our annual gala fueled by the attitude, “Oh, hell no.” I wish you were there with us!

Good evening. Welcome to Dare to Dream 2016. Thank you for being here with us, especially this week.

I thought we’d be having a different conversation tonight, one that might touch on our expansion and our new opportunities.  While all of those things are still true, still important and still worthy of discussion, another topic has become even more worthy of our focus. In light of this week’s outcome, with the knowledge that in just 24 hours, hotline calls from suicidal LGBT kids across the country spiked to the point that the Trevor Project could field only about a third of them, we can and we MUST talk about community tonight. 

Youth Outlook, out here in the shadows of a large urban area with thriving LGBT culture, is known for its ability to create community where none previously existed. In meetings that I attended and conference calls in which I participated this week, nothing spoke more urgently than fear and the primal drive LGBT people and other marginalized people are experiencing to find a sense of safety.  I cannot stand here and promise that all will be well over the next few years. No one could. What I can promise you is that Youth Outlook will NOT stop. We will NOT surrender our rights to safety and connection. We will NOT slink away or look elsewhere when the emotional and physical safety of our kids is threatened, or when our kids are again at risk of being forced through conversion therapy to “fix” them. They are not broken. THAT is not what we came together to do. It brings to mind my favorite line from my favorite movie, Jurassic Park, “Creation is an act of sheer will.” 

We will NOT stand by while walls are built. We have been doing this almost twenty years. Youth Outlook has already raised an entire generation of young people who will dismantle that wall, repurpose into a place where we can go for brunch, and fly a rainbow flag off the top of it!




Say that with me.

WE. Create. Community.

After last evening, I am convinced that we can continue to hope. The true leaders aren’t sitting in D.C. They were sitting in that room with me, laughing, crying, cheering, and loving, as I went through mental social work yoga poses from Upward Facing Executive Director pose, to the Do More with Less Bend Over Backwards pose known to most fundraising teams, and finally into the Not For Profit Warrior pose. There was an awful lot of love and compassion showing for people reputed to be the indicator of societal collapse.

Oh, hell no. C’mon. I’ll see you on the mat.




On the Red Carpet

Posted: October 11, 2014 in Blog
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Last night, we convened the 7th annual Dare to Dream event, the major fundraiser for Youth Outlook. It was the first time in several years that there were no accidents or suicides among the youth served in this agency on which for us to reflect. Last night, we wanted to play.

As usual, I drafted some welcome comments for the program booklet and gave it a new twist, using quotes from Oscar nominated and Oscar winner movies to tie to our theme, A Night at the Y’Oscars. The creative geniuses that design the theme and decorations this year were at the top of their game, as always on this evening. The entrance to the event was taken over by red carpet and red velvet ropes along the Walk of Fame of all of the previous Dare to Dream honoree names imprinted on gold stars.

And as usual, I gave the “state of the agency” address, geared to the many newcomers this year and told them a bit about our evolution. Then I put on my best game show host attitude and challenged the “audience” to play along with me, naming the movies from which those quotes I’d found came.

To those of you who played along with me last night, a big thanks! For the folks who weren’t there with us, maybe I’ll see you next year! And now…without going to IMDB, how many of the quotes following can you place?

I have occasionally compared Youth Outlook’s growth to a scene in Jurassic Park. Do you remember that scene where Dr. Grant holds the baby velociraptor in his hands when everyone first tours the facility, and the tiny raptor looks at him and “meeps”? It’s adorable. An hour later, a grown up version of that same animal is on a quest to eat everyone in sight and it’s no longer adorable. She doesn’t even give the characters a fond, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” before biting into them. I joke with new volunteers that once upon a time, Youth Outlook was this cute little agency, looking around DuPage County innocently and meeping. And now, sixteen years later, although Jurassic Park did not make it to the Oscars, this agency is definitely on a quest!

Our quest just this year: to expand services to a growing number of trans* and gender variant youth through our Transcend programs; to develop a new service for the supportive parents of our youth; to develop and launch a network for professionals working with LGBT youth in Kane County; and to hire some assistance for the agency’s only full time staff person. (“I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about THAT tomorrow.”) I am convinced that at some point, one of the board members is going to announce with a catch in his voice, “I think we need a bigger boat.”

It is such a gift to be part of an agency working with LGBT youth at this time in history. It is such a gift to be part of growing toward new services that we identify are needed as trends change nationally. Some youth come to our programs from schools that have evolved from a culture of how dare you be here to “You’ll find there’s room for all of us here.”

And so we grow. We nurture youth who have come to find a place to call their own space. The trend we see of more supportive parents, which prompted our decision to launch our new parent group, to help with learning a new language, to help with breaking through old binary thinking, calls to mind the idea that “There will be generations because of what you did.”

In a world that tends dangerously toward an eye for an eye, we must consider the concept that “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” We all need hope. We all need a sense of safety and a sense of peace to grow. Personally, “I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible.” At Youth Outlook, I find that on a daily basis: the hope, the safety, the peace. Our youth mature and move on, then return and become volunteers. “There are no goodbyes for us, Charlie. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.”

Whatever our quest, whatever we are inspired by, I must not neglect to tell you about the element of humor that runs through everything we do. Dare to Dream is often a somber affair. Tonight, we shall play. Starting with this writing, I invite you to feel the humor and the warmth of the community, the excitement of the quest. Just please don’t ask the silent auction team about me standing over them as they worked to get ready for tonight, repeating, “It puts the lotion in the basket or it gets the hose again.” Yeah. We can just skip that part!

And now, because I MUST make this a public request…an open request to the Youth Outlook youth: “Please promise me you’ll survive. That you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now…and never let go of that promise.”


As a final note, to the youth leader I spoke with after the game show ended, I meant what I said. Promise me. You are needed here, on the red carpet and everywhere else. Promise me now.


Creating Community

Posted: September 11, 2013 in Blog
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The goal of my work at Youth Outlook is to create safe space for LGBT youth. Presently, we do that in a number of ways, primarily through running drop-in centers in various communities, and also through our community education and youth leadership development work. But in 2001, our community education and youth leadership were just getting started and our focus went into the drop-in centers. Our Tuesday night in Naperville has been our biggest and busiest group since 2000. Again for comparison, in 2001 Gay Straight Alliances were few and far between and the Naperville group provided a “home base” for the thirty-plus kids who came in every week, most seeking refuge from still-hostile high schools. Coming to group in our borrowed church space meant family. It meant comfort. It meant, for the first time for many of them, safety.

By the time the chilling silence filled the skies over my apartment just a stone’s throw from O’Hare airport—the second busiest airport in the country–the message came through. “We are doing a special service tonight at church. You can’t meet here.”

I understood completely. The church needed to be a church. But where was I going to find another space to meet with thirty-some kids? Or even twenty-some kids, if some were not permitted to attend? I came up empty. After a couple of hours of searching, I was still empty handed.  Filled with the dark sense that I was disappointing the kids, I notified the staff that we would have to cancel group. We had to cancel safe space on the most dangerous and emotionally stunning day any of us had ever lived through.

Not all of the kids got the message. Arriving at our usual location that evening and expecting to find us there, they found a note on the door that we had had to cancel and we’d be back next week. Alone in our individual homes and towns, the staff and I ducked our heads, overflowing regret that we’d let our kids down, and tried to shut out the repeated images of planes exploding against skyscrapers that kept looping on TV.

But you know…that’s the thing about finding community. Once you have it, you don’t want to let go. The kids who showed up for a drop-in center night only to find a sanctuary full of people they didn’t know walked a few blocks away and held their own impromptu group at a local coffee shop. This was their Tuesday night. This was their group time. This was the comfort they sought all week, and nothing—not even planes exploding against skyscrapers—was going to take this away from them.

Our agency is forged out of memories like this. Less than three years earlier, when we were only a few months old and the signature had not even been set to our 501 C 3 paperwork, Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and hung on a fence post in Laramie, Wyoming, setting a tone for our commitment to safety and community that will never be undermined. The events of 9/11 highlighted for us the need for that safety and community was undeniable.

As we have continued to build upon those two factors as our foundation, we realized that our work has taken on a third aspect, paralleling the same path that our entire nation had to take following that horrific day. We cannot stagnate. We must heal. We must grow. Our kids find healing from the caustic words thrown at them in their homes, in their schools and in their neighborhoods. They must heal sometimes from the physical attacks to which they are subjected. Safety and community give them some of the tools they need to get started. My wish for the Urban Tidepool readers tonight as our country continues its steps in this monumental healing process– if you have endured loss, if you have had to witness or endure violence…Let this be YOUR Tuesday night. Let this be YOUR group time and may you, too, find the safety and community you need to speed your healing. 


At work, I’m gearing up for our next round of volunteer training. Despite the fact that this process chews up a number of weekends per year, which I guard fiercely on an average day, getting the new volunteers ready to go to work remains one of my favorite things about running an agency. And not just because on Day 1, I ask everyone to close their eyes, make an animal sound and wander around the room until they find their “herd”. (Yes, I really do that and there’s a practical reason for it that I’ll explain if you decide to go through training.) Every six months, I schedule interviews and go off to meet the new recruits (making me guilty of being one of those pesky gay people who recruits others to the cause!), and when I sit with these folks, the conversation that unwinds is powerful and moving.

People tell me they come to volunteer because it’s their time to give back to their community. What’s so striking about this is that many times, it’s not so much a giving back as it is just a giving. How is it possible to give back something that was not given to you? The majority of the people who come to volunteer with us never had their own youth group, never had a community until they hit adulthood and created it themselves. Some of them have lost family, lost homes. And yet, here they are, offering to help provide it for the kids at Youth Outlook.

Last week I wrote about being able to maintain a sense of wonder or reclaiming it if you’ve lost it. This ability to give from nothing could fall in the category of those things about which to wonder. I am in awe of the people who dedicate their time week after week to building community for our kids, to demonstrating support and respect when those are so hard won in other places. I am also aware that service heals, so that volunteers who spend time building community for our kids ultimately build community for themselves with all of those other people who are doing the same thing, a ripple effect across multiple generations.

Our next training is in September. So I recruit. You bet I do. I recruit warriors without guns, who lead with their hearts, who love without reason and give from their souls. These are the people who change the world. And if you ever get recruited, you’ll see I also have a gay agenda for all three days of training.

Hey, where’s my toaster oven?


Drop Falling into Water