‘TIS THE SEASON for gratitude and giving. It is so easy to get lost in the concerns and overwhelming to-do lists of the day that I sometimes forget to pay attention to the wonders in my life and to what really matters. Life is full of gifts, and it is only when we practice gratitude that we can truly receive the gifts in our life.
One of the most powerful gifts of all is when we are aware that we impact others in a positive way. I love hearing from youth, volunteers and staff about how much more they get back than give up through their service to others. Youth engage in opportunities to educate others, carry out programming and create an atmosphere full of fun, recreation and laughter. As executive director of Kaleidoscope Youth Center (KYC), it is a gift to be serving LGBTQIA youth every day.
If you ask the youth who participate in our activities about their KYC experience, you’ll hear about comfort, community and the ability to fully be and fully express themselves. They are likely to mention the center’s welcoming environment, where they get a break from rude questions about their sexual orientation or gender identity. They will note the importance of resources, such as a computer center for doing homework and job searching. The youth see KYC as a place where people understand them. The themes of KYC being a home and a family come up in every discussion I’ve had with youth about what matters most about the KYC experience. Of course, they also mention the food and fun the center offers!
There is so much fun going on at Kaleidoscope. From my third floor office, I hear the youth engaged in games and recreation, art projects, performances, book clubs, meals and food preparation, dancing, singing and discussion groups. When I join them in the center or at the Other Prom, the Columbus Pride events or on a field trip to Lazer Kraze, their energy, joy and gratitude are contagious.
The fun is so contagious that participation is skyrocketing. This fall the number of visits to the center nearly quadrupled visits at this time last year. This unprecedented growth means up to four times as many bus passes, groceries, supplies, volunteers and emergency resources are needed to operate the center. We are seeing similar increases in the need for crisis support and intervention, as well as for material assistance, such as winter coats and accessories, hygiene supplies and other basic needs.
Unfortunately, not all of our work involves having fun. LGBTQIA youth face a range of issues including housing insecurity and homelessness, bullying and harassment, family rejection or difficulties, poverty, racism, transphobia, homophobia, bi-phobia, ableism, unhealthy relationships, HIV and STIs, loneliness and isolation, suicidality, self-harm and mental health issues.
This year we are celebrating 20 years of Kaleidoscope offering LGBTQIA youth a safe space and caring community of peers and adult mentors, referrals, educational opportunities, discussions about healthy relationships, HIV and STI prevention/testing and social events. One youth said that LGBTQIA youth “need somewhere to feel safe, loved and happy, and KYC is the place to do it! Here, you can fully be yourself.”
KYC is also working to create safe and empowering spaces in schools. Our Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network reaches out to students and staff in schools across central Ohio to support GSA club development and activism. Students and staff are provided support, training and resources, and then they give back to each other through KYC’s GSA Network, becoming trainers, and sharing challenges, successes and best practices.
Giving any way that you can is such a gift. The young people of KYC are grateful for the gifts from our community, and they give back generously in return. If you haven’t already, please join us! The return on investment of time, money, material goods and kindness is the gift of a positive and loving impact on others and ourselves that is beyond what most of us can imagine.
Learn more: KYCOhio.Org
Amy Eldridge has served as the executive director of Kaleidoscope Youth Center for three years. She graduated from OSU and lives in Eastmoor. Amy was introduced to nonprofit work, lots of lesbians and activism in the 1980s. Amy cut her activist teeth at the feminist collective, Women Against Rape. She worked as The Columbus Foundation’s grants coordinator before leaving to parent two children and start CORI Care, a business providing supportive living and ancillary services for people with developmental disabilities, which she co-owned with her former wife. Working at Kaleidoscope marks a return to her nonprofit organization roots.