“Never in my entire life have I had the opportunity to meet people like me. This group has given me a lot of support and shown me that it’s normal to be the way I am.”
Robert, Member of Affirmations Youth Leadership and Development Program
Ferndale, MI (June 2021)—Growing up, we all want to fit in. We all want to be a part of a community. Statistics show LGBTQ+ youth are marginalized significantly more frequently than other youth. What’s more, LGBTQ+ youth, particularly minority youth, face greater rates of discrimination and unemployment compared to their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts.
Affirmations provides a welcoming space where people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, expressions and cultures can find support and unconditional acceptance. Its new Youth Leadership and Development program, supported by a Walters Family Foundation grant, combines career-based development and life skills to prepare vulnerable and at-risk youth for the workplace and the future.
“The youth in our program are just discovering themselves. They have a lot of awkwardness and fear — the feeling of not being seen or heard, or just difficulty making friends,” says Justin Bettcher, Development and Community Engagement Coordinator. “We help them to gain social skills, connect with others and feel empowered.”
The Youth Leadership and Development program spans 16 weeks and is currently in its third cohort with 27 students. Youth learn things they aren’t taught in school: from building resumes to budgeting, financial aid tips and interviewing dos and don’ts. They also learn social skills in six key areas: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem-solving and critical thinking.
Speakers from organizations like PNC Bank, Comerica, the ACLU and United Way are invited to give students insights into future careers. Many of these speakers identify as part the LGBTQ+ community and provide inspiring examples of what the students can achieve.
“We are empowering these youth to push through the boundaries they've been told they can’t overcome,“ says Bettcher. “We're helping them realize that they are capable of so much more than they ever dreamed.”
Affirmations has served youth that had to drop out of school due to bullying and harassment, and youth struggling with marginalization due to the intersection of being a person of color, LGBTQ+, and socioeconomically disadvantaged. For many of these youth, traditional avenues for education and learning career skills are not successful.
Jack, a youth in the program says, “I’m able to be more myself. I’ve also developed skills necessary to succeed in life, such as how to save money and be a good member of my community."
Jack is just one of many who has found a new lease on the future through the Affirmations Youth Leadership and Development Program.