Mini Case Study: Community helps SMYRC avert collapse
Like the youths it serves, the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) often finds itself living close to the edge. Through its 11 year history, it has had to scramble continuously to keep the money flowing and the doors open, explains project coordinator Mo Kenny. Once, SMYRC, which provides safety and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth in Oregon, had to relocate in a matter of days because its office roof was on the verge of collapse.
But the biggest threat to SMYRC’s survival occurred two years ago, when, in addition to the normal funding shortfalls, struggles with unsupportive families and ongoing battles with school bureaucracy, the group’s beloved eight-year executive director departed, and its parent company and major funder, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, nearly went bankrupt.
“It was scary,” Kenny recalled. “We had no one at the helm.”
There were many fractious meetings and lots of frayed nerves. But SMYRC’s staff did not panic. Rather than jumping to hire a new director, they decided to reaffirm their core value: commitment to the community. During the search, the youths who frequent the center were invited to join the interview and selection committees, ensuring that their voices would remain central to the hiring process at every stage.
The response made all the difference. SMYRC’s community kept the organization alive, as volunteers, friends and allies stepped up to keep the work going – doing everything from interacting with youths at the drop-in center to folding pamphlets for training programs. For many years, SMYRC had come through for its clients. And now they came through for SMYRC, demonstrating the true nature of community.
Together, staff and clients selected a new director: Favor Ellis, a 10-year veteran of homeless youth services in Portland, who immediately found herself in the unenviable position of filling much-loved shoes while contending with SMYRC’s uncertain finances.
Sensing SMYRC’s family feeling and the community’s anxiety, Ellis decided that it would be wise to proceed slowly and with great sensitivity. So she refrained from offering ideas or plans. What did she do?
“I listened,” recalled Ellis.
That process led to the recognition that the community was SMYRC’s greatest asset. Ellis and the SMYRC staff embarked on an ambitious outreach campaign to re-introduce themselves and their work to the neighborhood and to raise awareness about the safe space that SMYRC provides.
Ellis also spearheaded new fundraising initiatives to ensure there were no interruptions in the schedule of the youth drop-in center. “Our community’s very generous, but it doesn’t have a lot of money,” she said. She has been aggressively pursuing new sources.
In the end, Mo Kenny credited SYMRC’s survival to the three C’s: “creativity, commitment, and community.”
Photo: PDX Pixels