What a pleasure to feature this organization. As soon as I visited their website and saw their home page banner with the words "SAFE. SUPPORTED. CELEBRATED." my own heart warmed with a welcoming pride. I am grateful there are organizations like this striving to support our young communities, to encourage inclusion, diversity, and love. Because I truly believe whatever ails our world today the answers are going to come from love, not hate. Bless this organization for all that it is currently doing for the families in Illinois, may their message spread far and wide. I love the fact that the organization has been able to pivot during COVID19 and still help members of it's community via virtual meetings and support groups. - WELL DONE!!!
ABOUT YOUTH OUTLOOK
As the only not-for-profit dedicated to working with LGBT youth in the wester suburbs of Chicago, Youth Outlook has grown from a small grassroots organization with a single drop in center to a social services agency with programs in 6 counties. Our drop-in centers meet the social, educational and recreational needs to LGBT youth ages 12 through 20. Although we've seen some changes in support for LGBT issues in the suburbs over the years, we still serve many youth who are unable to come out to their families or, if they are out, they live with families who may be unaccepting of or even outright hostile to them.
Since COVID-19 shelter in place directives became active, Youth Outlook has worked to transition our services online, to make virtual drop-in center space a reality. While we never intended to be a virtual organization, we have maintained a virtual presence since mid-March for both our youth group members and their parents, and it is our intention to remain available online until we re-open in person, in Phase 4 of the state's plan.
Going virtual did present challenges: it required youth to have their own laptop or phone to be able to participate. It also demands a level of privacy in order to maintain the confidentiality of the group members. But we found some positives as well. Going virtual allowed youth to "attend" a drop in center with another location. We combined groups that met on the same evenings when we started, as we adjusted to the new format. The combinations allowed for youth from one county to meet youth who met at the same time in another county, which could not have been possible in person. Naperville youth met Ottawa youth. Sterling youth met Elmhurst youth. Elgin youth met DeKalb youth. Going virtual removed our geographic restrictions, widening each youth's social network in ways we didn't expect. We found the same thing with our parent groups, where Naperville parents met Palatine parents.
As we move forward, we would like to continue some aspect of the virtual services we've created even after we return to meeting in person. This new format will lend itself to our youth leadership work, pulling youth leaders from all 6 counties to be able to work more as a team. Our next challenge is to create some of our training in the virtual world, so we can continue to support our surrounding schools when school reconvenes.
Our early board set out to open one drop-in center in DuPage County. We had very modest aspirations. We're now in 6 counties, with 8 drop-in centers for youth, parent education programs, HIV prevention programming, a youth leadership development project, healthy relationship programs, and a thriving professional development program.
Every kid needs their group of friends during middle and high school--it's one of the springboards to being a healthy adult.
Whenever we work with a school, we encourage them to examine their policies and to build new policies related to supporting trans and non-binary students. If there are no trans or non-binary students at that particular school, it's only a matter time. Set up the policies before the students start asking. Don't wait until the students arrive at your school. If you wait until they arrive, you're already too late.
BIG THANK YOU TO Nancy Mullin, Executive Director of Youth Outlook for providing this information on the organization.