Community foundation’s LGBT fund issues first grant

The $20K will be used to address suicide and homelessness among LGBT youth.

December 18, 2015
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The Grand Rapids Community Foundation recently announced its Our LGBT Fund has awarded its first grant — worth $20,000 — to benefit Safe and Supported, a project co-created by Arbor Circle and the Lesbian Gay Community Network of Western Michigan, also known as The Network.

“It’s a family acceptance project. It’s to help youth who are coming out and are facing resistance from their families,” said Roberta King, vice president of PR and marketing at GRCF.

This is the first time Arbor Circle, a provider of mental health counseling, substance use treatment and family development programs, and The Network, a Grand Rapids nonprofit focused on LGBT issues, have worked collaboratively on a project like this, King said.

Safe and Supported follows an evidence-based therapeutic program focused on The Family Acceptance Model, which is designed to prevent health and mental health risks for LGBT youth, namely suicide, homelessness and HIV.

“What stands out most to us is the common goal between Arbor Circle and The Network of preventing LGBT youth homelessness through family and crisis intervention,” said Carol Sarosik, chair of Our LGBT Fund committee. “This grant will help strengthen each of the project partners’ area of expertise and reduce the barriers for LGBT youth who are seeking support.”

The project is designed in the context of helping LGBT youth find support within their families, cultures and faith communities, a problem bigger than many realize. A sizable number of the homeless or runaway youth in Grand Rapids are part of the LGBT community. They find their way to HQ, which serves as a drop-in center for local runaway and/or homeless youth between the ages of 14 and 24, said Andy Soper, who is both chair of the board for HQ and director of mobilization at Mars Hill Church.

Soper recently spoke with the Business Journal regarding HQ’s one-year anniversary and said about 27 percent of the youth that have been helped in the last year were LGBTQ.

Arbor Circle has spent decades working with runaway and homeless youth, many of whom are LGBT, and The Network also offers a variety of support groups and services for LGBT youth and families.

Collaboration almost seemed inevitable.

“We are excited about the partnership with Arbor Circle. Through our collaboration we will pursue the best ways to prevent LGBT youth homelessness through family acceptance and support services,” said Mike Hemmingsen, board president of The Network. “The Network looks forward to increasing its services to the LGBT youth in our community.”

The financial provider of the project, Our LGBT Fund, is a field-of-interest fund with a mission to create a friendly and healthy environment in West Michigan for members of the LGBT community.

The fund, whose initial focus is on helping West Michigan’s LGBT youth, was created in August 2013 with a matching gift of $100,000 from West Michigan couple Shelley Padnos and Carol Sarosik. According to GRCF, more than 250 people have made contributions in support of the fund.

King said although gay marriage is now legal in the United States, it may take time for some West Michigan families to accept an LGBT family member. GRCF would like to see the fund reach $1 million — a goal she doesn’t think is unattainable.

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