Out on the Lakeshore’s decision to launch youth programming began with a lot of listening. Out on the Lakeshore (OOTL) board members and volunteers spent many hours listening to students and parents talk about their experiences and needs for support. Again and again they heard stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) students being bullied and harassed and of students and families seeking a safe place to gather and find resources, support and community. While many valuable resources are available online and through social media, students and parents needed help connecting in person. They wanted to meet and talk with others who are navigating similar journeys and to do so in a safe and supportive space. While in some ways these are very basic human needs, they are needs that were not currently being met for LGBTQ youth and their families in our community.
“The youth programming came as a response to what we were hearing from community members, parents, families, and most importantly, youth themselves,” said Amy Bade, OOTL Board Member. “We knew that if we could provide a safe space and opportunities for young people to connect with each other, that we would be offering this community something it didn’t have yet for LGBTQ kids.”
In addition to input from community members, the data around the challenges LGBTQ youth face made this programming an urgent priority for OOTL. LGBTQ students are at higher risk than their heterosexual peers for low selfesteem, bullying, depression, homelessness, and suicide. Research collected by the Trevor Project, a national hot-line for youth suicide prevention, shows that they are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.
In the face of these difficult realities, connecting with a caring network of support can make a critical difference for young people who are struggling with these issues and OOTL is committed to providing that caring network of support for local youth. With the help of a $75,000 grant over three years from CFHZ, OOTL has launched new programming for LGBTQ youth, their families, and allies. This includes weekly support group meetings, a mentoring program, an anti-bullying campaign, and daily drop-in hours.
OOTL is also partnering with other local organizations to deliver collaborative programs and serves as a resource to schools, student groups and other youthserving organizations as they seek to better serve the needs of LGBTQ youth and their families
While many of the conversations are serious, there is also time for students to simply have fun together. Whether participating in a book discussion, going bowling, or meeting students from across different school districts, all of the youth programs serve as a reminder for students that they are not alone and that they have a place at OOTL and in the Holland/Zeeland community.
“Simply providing a safe space has had a profound impact,” shared Reverend Jen Adams, OOTL Board Chair. “We constantly see the immediate look of relief from kids that walk in. You quickly realize the hurt they’ve experienced. Finding a safe space and a community is life changing for someone who hasn’t experienced that before.”
Originally featured in the Community Foundation’s 2019 Spring Newsletter.While this was written by CFHZ’s Communications Associate Lina Pierson in 2019, we believe that stories of generosity are timeless and always relevant.
To learn more about Out On the Lakeshore visit outonthelakeshore.org