Venice, Fla. — Advocacy-Leadership-Support-Outreach, better known as ALSO Youth in Sarasota, is a non-profit that provides peer support services, educational programs, advocacy, and many other services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning youth ages 13 to 21.
The program was created in 1992 and since then has created a safe environment for kids to explore and understand who they are without judgement, and after nearly 25 years in Sarasota ALSO is expanding south to Venice.
“We want to make sure that this ALSO is the same kind of culture that we cultivated in Sarasota,” says Molly Swift, ALSO Youth’s Sarasota Program Coordinator. “The program is entirely designed by the kids.”
The group for ALSO Youth Venice meets in a space provided by the local Girl Scouts troupe. As the group grows, Swift hopes that they can expand to include as many activities and services as they provide at the Sarasota center.
“Right now it is only a weekly thing here, as opposed to the Sarasota center where we are open four days a week, so we don’t know what it will look like because it is very unique from what we are used to,” Swift says. “What’s really cool though is for the first time we are now open in multiple locations.”
The Venice group had their first meeting Oct. 2, and will meet every Friday from 2- 5:45 p.m. The services provided by the new center will vary just as they do in Sarasota, based on the needs of the kids.
“I don’t ever want to feel like we are forcing something on any of the youth, so we survey the youth regularly to make sure our programs are relevant, interesting and needed, but if a youth doesn’t want to participate, then they are welcome to opt out at any point for any activity,” Swift says.
To hold true to that promise, one thing that ALSO has done is bring on someone who has been right where they are. Sarah Rickner grew up in Northport and is the new ALSO Youth Program Coordinator. Rickner will be working partly in Sarasota and will organize and run the Venice center.
“I went to school in Venice, the same school that a lot of these kids go to,” Rickner says. “Going there and being trans and bi and not having any of these resources available to me locally when I was their age, I jumped at the opportunity to come and help.”
Along with the new center in Venice, ALSO is starting a peer support group for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth. Unlike the support group for ages 16+ at ALSO’s center every Saturday, this group will be for youth ages 13 to 16, but will accommodate for children younger than 13 with parent/guardian approval.
“ALSO Youth wants to respond to the great needs of young, gender-nonconforming and trans youth in the Sarasota area, by setting aside an hour for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth to meet and find support among their peers,” ALSO Youth said on their Facebook page.
The first meeting was Oct. 1 and will meet every Thursday from 5- 6 p.m.
“The group is still in its early stages and will hopefully develop as need is assessed through youth and parent/guardian surveys,” ASLO Youth continued. “In the meantime, we only intend for this time to be a peer-support hour, which is guided and facilitated by ALSO Youth staff and qualified volunteers.”