A New Safe Haven for Youth in Madison County
It’s Wednesday and BRiDGES is holding its monthly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual or allied LGBTQIA youth support group at its headquarters in Madison County. Laughter instantaneously fills the room while conversations are sprinkled in throughout. For many of the young people that frequent the center, today is a day to be carefree in a space where no judgement is passed.
Associate Director Maureen Campanie can’t help but crack a smile, too, on days like this.
“Knowing that we play a small part in brightening their day, helping them to know they are cared about and providing a place for them in our community is so rewarding,” said Campanie.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicide attempts among LGBTQIA youth in grades seven through 12 is twice the rate of their heterosexual peers. Other studies have shown a high rate of bullying and substance abuse use among LGBTQIA youth as well.
“In Madison County, there are very few supportive services or educational awareness initiatives supporting the LGBTQIA community,” said Campanie. “There is limited awareness of the hardships and issues they and their family members face.”
Knowing there was a lack of support services for these youth in Madison County, Campanie and her peers decided to act.
With the help of a Community Foundation grant, BRiDGES formed the Madison County LGBTQIA Network in 2017 to provide resources and tools to the community to provide support where gaps exist, raise awareness of common issues and reduce community member isolation. During the Network’s first year, more than 100 local service providers, parents, community members and school faculty were trained in topics including Safe Zones, working with LGBTQIA youth and LGBTQIA 101. Information sheets were mailed to doctors’ offices and schools throughout the county and a support group for youth aged 13-21 kicked off twice-monthly meeting-ups in Oneida.
In the future, BRiDGES plans to train and work alongside school districts, EMTs and first responders to develop a list of allies who are able to provide emotional support and additional aid to those who need it.
These teens face a unique set of challenges: limited access to affirming medical providers, an absence of knowledge among service providers of their unique needs and a lack of awareness among teachers and parents. But there is power in numbers. The BriDGES Network joins ACR Health, CNY ALCOR – an alliance of LGBTQIA college and organization representatives – the New York State LGBT Network and a cohort of therapists and support staff from Syracuse University to advance their collective mission.
For Campanie and the staff at BRiDGES, the most gratifying part of establishing this Network is the additional awareness they are creating.
“As a result of this initiative, more people are starting their own support groups in schools and other gathering places,” said Campanie. “We are truly making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children.”
In addition to its LGBTQIA Network, BRiDGES provides services to residents of Madison County who are affected by addiction and the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other substances. It is a leader in the delivery of prevention and intervention programs that promote change and build healthy communities. Learn more at www.bridgescouncil.org
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