Posts Tagged ‘Youth Outlook’

I make lots of references to the folks I work with on both my personal and my work Facebook pages, often talking about them in terms of being “the dream team” and how proud I am of them and of our work together. I make jokes about how we’re never the team where the boss is trying to catch someone doing something wrong, because I know as sure as I’m standing here that when I see them, I will catch them all doing something right. Being the team leader, I appreciate some moments to consider how I can better do my job, to make them as proud of being involved in our work as I am.

As I pondered approaching holidays last month, I was feeling particularly pleased to be associated with our team. I’m sure some holiday sentimentality figured in there, but I wanted them to know they aren’t JUST the Youth Outlook senior staff. They are unique individuals who bring their own talents and interests to our table, building a powerful team with diverse skills. So…in good Brene Brown and John Maxwell fashion, I decided to let my appreciation of them as people, not employees, show and I shared my thoughts, putting Vulnerable Boss right out there on the line.

I don’t know if you’ll ever meet all of the team. Some of my blog readers live on other continents. But maybe after you read, you’ll know them just a little bit better the next time I talk about them.

A Christmas Note to Youth Outlook Dream Team

Do you know the story about “You were always my favorite?”

The way it was told to me, a mom leaves her children a note to read after she dies. Each note starts with the line, “You were always my favorite because…” and she goes on to tell them why each was her favorite. At the end, the note specifies that they should not tell their siblings what they just read, thereby ensuring that each child went through life believing that they were their mom’s favorite.

On the way back from Orlando, I started thinking about our dream team and how important the role is that each of you plays in elevating Youth Outlook (youth-outlook.org) to being this exceptional organization. I think I was reading something about how, in some organizations, ridicule is used to control people and keep them in line. And I thought, wow, how horrible…how do people live with that? And I was feeling most fortunate to have our dream team. I was going to send you all a Christmas card but then the story about “You’re always my favorite because…” occurred to me. As I reflected on it, here’s what it turned into.

Yes, of course you’re my favorite.

Andrea, you’re my favorite because you embody self-care. What you have done in your commitment to derby right down to the leg you broke in what…97 places???… and the demands that I know your Big Girl job has tossed your way, our new vision for youth leadership, and your more recent adventures in getting into kick-boxing inspire me every time we talk and make me want to take care of myself too.

​Carolyn, you’re my favorite because you embody welcoming change and challenges in both your professional and your personal world. You are shaking up structures and systems across the state, and I predict that soon it will be across the country. Your welcoming change and challenge is rivaled only by your ability to make those around you feel incredibly cared about. I admire your courage and your willingness to think and then rethink and then think some more, and then act on those convictions with kindness.

Kim, you’re my favorite because you embody diplomacy and objectivity, approaching all situations with a calmness and a thoughtfulness that is uplifting. I’ve seen you reframe questions and concerns in staff meetings and trainings to introduce new possibilities without judgment, and when at all possible, with a mix of humor that often leaves me in a heap on the floor. Sometimes, even when you don’t mean to. Sometimes, because you don’t mean to.  That I can say to you, “Oh my—we’re having a Brene Brown conversation!” and you know exactly what I mean and both us dissolve into laughter, that’s an awesome connection.

Carrie, you’re my favorite because you embody fearlessness. You walked into a brand new job with a brand new agency in a strange city, then carried the main role for an event you’d never attended, and then led our charge into our new model without hesitation.  Your adventures in running, your role play persona at volunteer training and your “mom stories” about your boys further prove it—there is nothing you won’t challenge yourself with, no job too tough.  Your ability to dream goes hand in hand with your ability to risk wisely and you are a leader in every sense of the word.

Peter, you’re my favorite because you embody creativity. You bring color and energy to your work and apparently even when we’re talking about life handing us lemons, they’re fabulous lemons and we should all keep that in mind. I look forward to your posts about which project happened at group, or over the weekend, or at the summer art shows because your work just brightens our Youth Outlook world in so many ways.

Karol, you’re my favorite because you embody survival. You served in our military at a time it could not have been easy to be yourself. You started a drop in center in the middle of a cornfield where it also could not—and at times is STILL not—easy. You put yourself way out there in places and times where it might be more convenient and (perhaps?) less hurtful to do something else—but you don’t let yourself be ruled by that. You share yourself not just through Youth Outlook but other LGBT arenas too, and you never speak of yourself as a role model for survivors but you are and I want you to know I think of you that way.

Nancy Carlson, you’re my favorite because you embody lifelong commitment to social justice and the spirit of giving. When I think of the thousands of people whose lives you have changed by your work through Rape Crisis and now through Youth Outlook…many of those people who will never meet you in person but whose lives are changed because of you…I marvel at being able to work with such a powerful activist.

Heather, you’re my favorite because you embody the spirit of adventure. From stripping paint to tie dying tee shirts to recruiting new volunteers, you approach everything as if it is the most magical thing ever, and we’re all going to have a good time doing it. I know that a year ago you couldn’t have imagined what 2017 would bring, and I hope it has impacted your life as wonderfully as you’ve impacted mine and Youth Outlook’s.

Denise, you’re my favorite because you embody persistence. It is never easy to get a new suburban program up off the ground. You’ve already determined that whatever it takes, you’re going to give and that shows through every time we talk. You’re always looking for the next opportunity to share us, the next place to get word about Youth Outlook out, the kid who just needs a friendly shoulder. Your heart is huge and I’m glad it’s on the dream team.

Marcus, you’re my favorite because you embody living authentically. From your stories about being a minister’s kid to your flip-flops in February to walking into the Sikh temple last year and saying out loud, “I needed to see you, can I hug you?”, you show us every day how to be the best versions of ourselves by being real, open, and loving and I so appreciate you.

I am surrounded by heroes every day because you’re here doing this job with me. As I said, I thought about sending you Christmas cards, but it’s my 20th Christmas at Youth Outlook so I thought something a little different was in order.

Just so you know, you’ve always been my favorite.

With warmest regard and gratitude,

Nando

PS  Don’t tell the others.

PPS  I wish you amazing holidays. As I signed off a recent blog post:  whatever your holiday, whatever your traditions, whatever your holiday traditions, may you celebrate in peace and kindness and may the people whom you love light up your path for our coming new year.

creative-desk-pens-school

 

This week I started my 20th year in my job running Youth Outlook where I (do my best to) support the drop-in centers and other services that we offer.  That’s a long stretch of time, especially when I stop to consider that when I started working here, most of you drop-in center kids weren’t even born yet. Matthew Shepard was murdered that week. We were looking forward to a new show called Will and Grace that actually had openly gay characters. Kids were wearing bell-bottom jeans and some cell phones still flipped. Can you believe it?

We’ve done a lot of work since that time. There has been an entire generation of young queerlings who came before you and paved the way, people whose courage and persistence was—and remains– nothing short of heroic. I feel like I need to speak up this week, though, because we’ve just been hit with several positively vile things, despite all of that hard work we’ve put in.

You are coming out at a time when we thought we had made the world a little bit better, a little bit safer for you. Now I wonder if it feels like we offered you a world with an illusion of safety and now that you’re coming out, these positively vile things are dropped on your heads. I wonder if it feels like the world offered you a place to sit and the last nine months have wrenched that chair out from under you.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said it’s okay if you want to serve your country and a few weeks ago, our elected officials announced a ban on transgender individuals serving. That is and will be argued, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed, but it does not change the fact that we are going to argue your right to serve your country. Right in front of you. Again. It does not change the fact that trans people who are serving right now have been put on notice that they are not worth being allowed to wear that uniform.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said you’re safe at your job and no one can discriminate against you simply for being LGBT. I’ve said that very statement to a number of Youth Outlook kids over the years. “You’re safe. You have a right to ask for a job there. Go git ’em!” Then a couple of weeks ago, our elected officials announced that they think it’s okay to fire someone simply for being LGBT.  That is and will be argued, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to argue your right to hold a job and not be discriminated against in hiring and termination practices and in benefits administration. Right in front of you. Again. It does not change the fact that people will be fired in the interim and they have been put on notice that their skills and talents are not welcome in certain settings.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said you have inherent value and you are important link in our interconnectedness. Then just a few days ago, our elected officials announced that the US voted against a United Nations resolution calling for a ban on executing LGBT individuals. Truly, truly unthinkable. We stood with countries who want to kill you. We did that. That is and will be argued, and even now the White House is attempting to “clarify” what it meant by voting NO, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed. But it doesn’t change the fact that we just made a huge public statement about our representatives’ profound contempt for queer lives. We did that. Right in front of you. Again.

In a year or four or six, you will leave your teenaged selves in the dust and go on with your lives in whatever is left of the world. You will be the next round of heroes because we will need you to clean this mess up. Since I’ve met you, I have no doubt you’ll do exactly that, as scarred as you will be from this viciousness.

It hardly seems fair, does it? It is a colossal universal joke. We told you the world was safe, then in almost the next breath, politicians advocated to take away your right to serve your country, to be free from discrimination, even to be a living, breathing being on the planet, while you listen to them debate your value—while you listen to them debate your right to exist. When this hateful bubble implodes, as we know it will, you’ll be here to take us to the next steps of our humanity, bearing your scars like badges.

It is unthinkable to me that we ask such a monumental task of you. If we could clap our hands over your ears or cover your spirits with our spirits, to keep you from having to absorb this vitriol, please know we would do that.

You will be the heroes. It is unthinkable to me that you wouldn’t be.

Until then, you have my hands and you have my heart~

Nancy

hands and heart jpeg

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!

We.

Create.

Community.

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.

yoga

 

 

Dear School Administrators,

I’m about to share with you an idea that is so radical, it might make your hair catch fire when you read it. Ready?  Here goes.

It is not the responsibility of the teenagers with whom you cross paths  to educate you about their gender identity. I know this is a crazy idea, but there are adults in the world who would be glad to have those conversations with you–other real adults who are also school administrators, lawyers and docs, who have spent a great deal of time learning about sexual orientation and gender identify development. Some of the Youth Outlook kids like speaking up but (and I know you’ll find this hard to believe) there are some 13 and 14 year old kids who feel sorta….you know…put on the spot when called upon to educate grown people whose motivations and goals are not quite clear and the kids don’t feel quite supported.

Okay, now put out the fire on your head and consider this. There are agencies that focus their work on supporting LGBT children and youth. They have attorneys on staff that have tracked the legal issues across the country and can give you the most up to date information available.  First, check in with Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (www.illinoissafeschools.org).  They do amazing work with school policy and gender issues.

I know this hard work. Here. Put a little aloe on that burn. Now consider this. There is a growing number of school administrators who have already undertaken some education on the topic of gender identity, bathroom and locker room issues and have arranged for training for all of their staff. At this point, schools are even arranging education for parents who want to understand more. How do I know this? Because I’ve met them in person. They’ve come to trainings offered by Youth Outlook (www.youth-outlook.org), or they’ve scheduled Youth Outlook to come to their school for a presentation. Talk to them. They are a wealth of information about how they did policy changes, guidelines and training.

Back in the late 90s when Youth Outlook was just getting launched, school representatives told me ALL THE TIME that there were no gay kids in the suburban schools. I half expected it from the admin folks but I’ll admit I found it embarrassing from other social workers. Then, time went by and I kept bringing the topic up and more kids came out and GSAs took root. High school representatives stopped arguing about whether or not they had gay kids. They KNEW they had them. Those wild and rascally gay kids were everywhere!

About 5 years ago, I started pointing out that we weren’t talking about only gay kids any more and we weren’t talking about just high schools. By then, we were talking about middle school kids coming out and many, many more issues related to gender identity. And over the last few years, trans, non-binary and gender fluid kids have been coming out in droves.

Guess what our next challenge is going to be?  Can you connect the dots? Right.  Here. You need a little more aloe on that. The next trend is going to be elementary aged kids coming out as the whole range of L, G, B, P and T/non-binary.  The middle schools are still doing what the high schools did back in the 90s. “Oh, we don’t have kids like that here!” Imagine, if you will, what the response is going to be when the elementary aged kids start coming out in the same droves that the middle schoolers are right now.

So, back to my original point.  It’s not the responsibility of those kids to educate you, no more than it is the responsibility of trans teenagers to educate their doctors about trans health needs. There are trainings all over the country now. There are local organizations specializing in supporting LGBT+ kids. I encourage you to find us. We can help you, because it’s our mission to help them. Inviting a 14 year old to meet with the school attorney to explain gender…strikes me as a power play and the first thought that comes to mind, “Hey, pick on someone your own size.”

Really? Is this the first time someone has said that to you?

I know, I know! But don’t worry, I think your eyebrows will grow back. Take this aloe plant with you.  We’ll talk again soon.

aloe-vera-plant