How It All Got Started
In roles as a guidance counselor and a school-based mental health provider at Durango High School during the 2014-2015 school year, LGBTQ+ youth approached us. They voiced concern and need for a space they could attend after and outside of school that will accept them for who they are and assist in their growth and healthy development. RYC held focus groups with youth, allies, and family members to gather more information about the needs. One youth reported, “I didn’t even know there was a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) in our school. I am not even sure I would feel comfortable going.” Another youth stated, “I would love to be able to have a place to go and feel comfortable with my peers.” A parent stated,, “Sometimes, I am not sure how to handle as a parent everything my child is going through.” A High School coach remarked, “I have had several students approach me for support around LGBTQ issues stating they do not have a safe place to go to get support and don’t feel fully supported at school or at home”.
We opened our doors for programming on September 15, 2015 with 18 youth participating in our opening night. We currently run three programs each week, with between 8 - 20 youth attending. In addition, we provide one Saturday event per month. There is never a fee of any kind to take part in drop in nights or weekend activities.
We have a strong base of volunteers that show up and make the Youth Center possible, and our Board of Directors, created in 2016, is made up of seasoned non-profit veterans with a passion for our organization.
Our Executive Director is a licensed social worker. While we do not offer direct therapeutic services to our youth, her skills in that area are utilized daily when dealing with youth in crisis. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find youth who are in the throes of homelessness, sexual assault, bullying and substance abuse issues. Often we are the first point of contact for these youth and we are able to help them stabilize emotionally. The Youth Center serves as a safety net for those youth.
The youth find support and guidance from one another, as well as from the volunteers and staff. We offer one-on-one mentorship to those youth who need it, and we have been able to extend this option to youth in the area who are too young to attend our drop-in times. We offer a Queer Sex Ed curriculum as well as a program specifically designed for transgender and non-binary youth as well as their caregivers. Often other professionals join us to present short talks on services or opportunities they provide.
The increase of children under 10 who are identifying as transgender has been a source of concern for the community stakeholders who are uncertain about how to proceed. Roughly 65% of the youth who attend our drop-ins identify as transgender or non-binary, so we are well positioned to provide support to other agencies and organizations.
RYC is becoming the go-to resource in the community for LGBTQ issues. We are routinely approached to give staff trainings or offer guidance one-on-one for professionals in the area who are coming into contact with LGBTQ youth.