ALSO Youth to Launch New Program in Venice

By : Krista DiTucci
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Venice and North Port LGBT youth will soon have their own ALSO Youth branch, making LGBT support and services more easily accessible.

Courtesy of a $5,000 grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the ALSO Youth Venice Satellite Pilot Project will kick off September 4, 2015. Since 1992, ALSO Youth in Sarasota has been providing peer support services, educational programs, advocacy and referrals to LGBT youth ages 13 to 21.

Donna Hanley, ALSO Youth executive director, says the satellite project came to fruition because many youth in the area had difficulty getting to Sarasota. She says ALSO Youth staff members are not allowed to pick up youth due to liability, so they must find their own transportation. Additionally, some youth have not come out to family members at home and, thus, cannot ask for rides.

“We feel very excited about the opportunity to offer LGBT services to rural areas,” Hanley says.

Although the project is young, Hanley says she has identified the need for several years. Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice and the True Colors Gay Straight Alliances in North Port initially approached Hanley to inquire about collaborating services. The church was able to provide a space to use, but because the space was not located on a bus line, youth would still encounter transportation difficulties.

Hanley says about two months ago, Sue Stewart of the Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast invited ALSO Youth to do a cultural sensitivity training for the staff. After the training, Stewart mentioned the Girl Scouts’ house in Venice as a potential option for servicing youth south of Sarasota. Hanley visited the space and thought it would be a good fit. The property sits on about an acre of land on East Venice Avenue directly on the bus line.

“It’s been a community effort,” Hanley says. “We exist at the generosity of others. It validates the work that we have been doing and also our future.”

The facility will be open to youth every Friday from 2:00 to 5:45 p.m. Henley says the structure will be modeled after the existing program in Sarasota. However, she has not yet determined which activities and services to implement. Henley says the Venice program will be somewhat different from Sarasota since youth only meet one day a week instead of four. She says she will most likely wait until the youth start attending to determine what they need most.

“It will grow into what it needs to be,” Henley says. “If you build it, they will come.”

Henley says the biggest goal is to provide a support system for LGBT youth because ALSO Youth is often the only place they feel safe to release emotional issues.

“We have seen youth transform from being shy and withdrawn to completely confident,” Henley says. “We had a youth who came out as transgender right in front of us, and the mother said her child would never have had the courage to do that without ALSO. I see the empowerment when they have a safe, nonjudgmental place to express themselves.”



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