Two local organizations awarded big grants
by Heather Cassell
The holidays came early for Brown Boi Project and Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, two groundbreaking queer youth organizations in the Bay Area, as both were awarded large multi-year grants.
The Brown Boi Project in Oakland, which works to develop leadership of self-identified masculine of center young women, trans, straight, and queer men of color, will be aided by a $100,000 grant, to be given out in $25,000 installments annually for the next four years. The grant was provided by the Queer Youth Fund, a donor advised fund of Liberty Hill Foundation.
Meanwhile, Bank of America is banking on queer youth with its prestigious Neighborhood Builder Award, which invests in neighborhood organizations, and is, for the first time, going to an LGBT group, LYRIC, which is located in the heart of the Castro. It will receive a $200,000 grant distributed over the next two years, along with leadership training for two of its management team members from Bank of America's Neighborhood Excellence Initiative.
LYRIC Executive Director Jodi Schwartz called Bank of America's selection of LYRIC "a pretty bold decision." This was the fourth time LYRIC applied for the grant, Schwartz said.
"I think it's a partnership decision between the actual corporation itself and the community," said Schwartz.
This year was a banner year for the bank's Neighborhood Builder Award and the LGBT community. In addition to LYRIC's grant, a panel of community and corporate leaders also honored community members with Local Hero awards. Three of the five people selected are out LGBTs: local charity fundraiser and Bay Area Reporter social columnist Donna Sachet; Pamela H. David, executive director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund; and Toan Lam, founder of Go Inspire Go. Each received $5,000 to give to an organization of their choice.
David, who is also the co-chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's board of directors, was instrumental in securing a home for LYRIC in the Castro nearly 20 years ago, and continues to support the organization, she and Schwartz said. It is why David was overwhelmingly chosen by LYRIC to receive the Local Hero award, said Schwartz.
"We wanted to acknowledge the work that she's done," Schwartz said.
"All of us were young once, and even though we think it's easier now, coming out is still coming out," said David about the importance of LYRIC.
David was going to give LYRIC her grant, but changed her mind when she learned that the organization was selected for the top prize. Instead, she granted the money to NGLTF to train the next generation of queer activists, she said.
Sachet designated her gift to the San Francisco LGBT Community Center for its 10th anniversary and Lam granted his gift to Hands on Bay Area.
The goal of Bank of America's Neighborhood Excellence Initiative is to invest in local organizations demonstrating a track record of success in their field. This is in addition to the $3.6 million the bank has invested in San Francisco's community organizations since the launch of the initiative, according to bank spokeswoman Gina Spatafore.
Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, a San Francisco community center, was also honored with the $200,000 Neighborhood Builder Award grant and leadership training.
Oasis in hard times
The grant is a welcome respite for LYRIC, which has weathered the economic crisis that drastically reduced its annual budget from $1.3 million a few short years ago to $970,000 in 2011, said Schwartz. LYRIC continues to serve up to 400 queer youth and does outreach to an estimated 1,500 annually with a variety of programs.
LYRIC creates safe environments inside and outside of school, building strong networks and opportunities, such as the organization's internship program; mental and physical health care initiatives, a place to socialize, and more, said Schwartz.
The organization's biggest challenge in recent years was cutbacks of public funding, said Schwartz, who estimated that LYRIC receives less than half of the government funding it once did. Schwartz and her team decided to retain the whole of LYRIC's services, but drastically scaled back. For example the internship program used to hire between 60 to 70 young people annually and pay San Francisco's living wage. Now the program only hires 20 youths a year, Schwartz said.
Additionally, the organization has been under a salary freeze for the past several years. LYRIC is also restructuring its funding strategy through broadening its community support by reaching out more to its alumni, LGBT corporate employee groups, and faith-based organizations, for example, and developing a grassroots fundraising model where everyone in the organization is responsible for raising funds.
"We feel that is important for youth and staff, important for everyone, to learn new skills," said Schwartz, who believes that when one person steps up it creates a ripple effect that inspires other people to get involved. "We are asking every single person to be a leader in LYRIC in their community. When you empower folks to be a part of the mission, a part of the vision, [and] more than a sum of our parts, people want to be a part of growth and success."
LYRIC is more than a safe haven for queer youth in the city. It is also a training ground for tomorrow's leaders.
"I really love working in high schools. I didn't have a particularly good high school experience," said West Kogut, a 19-year-old queer/trans guy who is a second-year LYRIC intern. As an intern Kogut primarily runs the Transmagic peer support group and does community-based education workshops in local schools.
Studying human sexuality and American Sign Language at Berkeley City College, Kogut, who moved to the Bay Area from Connecticut about a year and a half ago, hopes that by speaking and working in high schools he will "encourage other high school students not to bully and harass, but be open and accepting."
Now that he has found LYRIC, he can't imagine life without the organization.
"I love LYRIC so much," said Kogut, who credited the organization for helping him build his confidence and skills. "I don't know where else I would get a job or find community. It's my favorite place to come every day. I wouldn't want to work anywhere else right now."
East Bay organization
Across the bay in Oakland, the Brown Boi Project is also building tomorrow's leaders.
Founded in 2009 by B. Cole, who goes by Cole, the organization focuses on leadership training of queer, transgender, and straight youth of color who identify as masculine of center.
Brown Boi Project has trained 82 youth leaders under the age of 35, with its core ages between 14 and 24, within its first year and a half of existence, Cole said. The young leaders from 30 states congregate at the project's headquarters in Oakland three times a year to attend weeklong training workshops. The project also published a health guide for masculine of center individuals this past summer.
"It's the best job that I've had in my life," Cole told the B.A.R. during an interview for the Butch Voices conference in 2010.
The $100,000 grant, which was awarded this past summer, but only recently announced, will help the project's leadership design more programs to support young leaders in the Bay Area and around the country, Cole said. More specifically, the grant will be used to allow young leaders to attend up to 45 training retreats, support interns working in community-based organizations around the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and promote the project's model.
"Each year, I am awed by the extraordinary courage and abilities of the young people in organizations awarded Queer Youth Fund grants," said Weston Milliken, co-founder of the Queer Youth Fund, in a blog announcing the 2011 awards. "These young leaders are helping to advance full equality for all Americans and it is an honor to support their passion for social justice work."
The Queer Youth Fund has given more than $3.5 million in multi-year grants (up to $500,000) dispersed over a five-year period to LGBT youth-led organization promoting queer youth, equality, and justice since its establishment in 2002, according to the blog post. The fund has been housed at Liberty Hill since 2003.
"It's going to be exciting as we step into this coming year to start laying the groundwork," said Cole, excited about the "huge opportunity to build and strengthen" the organization.
Other grantees included the Colorado Anti-Violence Program in Denver; Make the Road New York in Brooklyn; the Theatre Offensive in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Three Wings in Seattle.
LYRIC youth intern West Kogut, left, and Executive Director Jodi Schwartz accepted the organization's Bank of America Neighborhood Excellence Initiative award at a recent ceremony. (Photo: Courtesy LYRIC)