After a whirlwind 24 hours in Chicago, Maya and I hopped on a flight to Boston in true “plane, next place, no sleep” spirit. We wouldn’t have had it any other way, as we were both giddy with excitement to meet some of our new Kindness in Community Fund friends at BAGLY and Breaktime who were planning a joint open house event for local youth the next day.
One of the many beautiful things we saw happen when we began hopping on calls to plan each of our tour visits was that organizations in our Kindness in Community Fund cohort wanted to meet one another, plan joint events, and identify ways to celebrate and support the others’ work. Some of them were already familiar with each other, some were partners and friends already and sought to deepen their relationship further because of this program.
In our work at Born This Way Foundation, we’ve learned it takes a concerted effort from individuals and organizations across sectors to support youth mental health. No one can do this work alone. One of the added benefits of the Kindness in Community Fund, beyond the investment we get to make in free, accessible youth-led and youth-serving mental health programs across the country, is getting to serve as connectors – increasing the awareness and access youth have to resources in each of these communities.
The night of the event, Maya and I loaded up a plastic bag full of toiletries we’d all scooped from hotels over the past week of tour. This has become one of my favorite tour activities – compiling a menagerie of soaps, coffee pods, conditioners, and more to disperse to organizations who need them.
We arrived at BAGLY (one of the country’s first and longest running youth-led, adult-supported LGBTQ+ organizations, founded in 1980!) with the bag of toiletries and a box of Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins in tow. We enthusiastically embarked on a tour of their center which has been providing resources to youth in their community for over 30 years. Our first stop was, naturally, a fierce welcome photo shoot with BAGLY’s first and only Executive Director, Grace Sterling Stowell at the iconic wig wall.
We learned about the many free resources they offer local LGBTQ+ youth including STI testing, drop in social support meetings, gender-affirming clothing swaps, mental health resources, as well as many opportunities to work, play, and meet others while enjoying free Wi-Fi, food, art supplies, games and technology, a library, and more in a safe, cozy space created for and by these youth. I was particularly amazed by their commitment to providing a variety of mental and behavioral therapy programs, all of which are free for LGBTQ+ youth ages 25 and under, and do not require proof of insurance or identification.
Shortly after our tour, the team from Breaktime popped over from their center (just a short walk away!) and joined the conversation. We met Connor Schoen, one of Breaktime’s founders, who shared the story of how he and his co-founder Tony Shu noticed youth at the shelter they worked wanted to find jobs. They learned that stable employment is the most critical factor in achieving stable housing, and since 2018, Breaktime has been working to break the cycle of young adult homelessness utilizing a unique “Liftoff, Launchpad, and Stable Orbit” model of supported transitional employment. This three-tiered program works to support youth and give them access to high-quality, in demand job opportunities while providing them with the skills, financial knowledge, and support necessary for them to acquire long-term stable housing.
Local youth began to trickle in, and we spent the remainder of the evening enjoying pizza, sharing stories, and celebrating the work of these incredible organizations.
I remarked to BAGLY’s Executive Director Grace how wonderful it was for local youth to have a safe space like this, as it would’ve made all the difference for me growing up as a Queer youth in a small town – which, at the time, did not have many resources or spaces for LGBTQ+ youth. Grace shared how her experience as a Queer and Transgender youth in the 1960s led to her activism in the LGBTQ+ movements of the 1970s and ultimate, to the founding of BAGLY. I expressed my gratitude to Grace and her fellow heroes of the early LGBTQ+ movement and vowed to keep advocating for our LGBTQ+ siblings who are facing hurtful legislation and threats to their existence in many states.
Centers like BAGLY and Breaktime are vital to the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth in this country right now. If you are or know a member of the LGBTQ+ community who needs support, I encourage you to locate an LGBTQ+ center near you (you can find a map of centers across the country from our friends at CenterLink!)
Maya drove me to the airport after the event, both of us filled with gratitude for the work BAGLY and Breaktime will continue to do in Boston. As we continue on the road, we’re excited to see how even more organizations in cities across the country can join forces to provide youth with even more safe spaces and urgent resources – ultimately working toward our goal of a kinder, braver world.