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  • Teens Connect Truly Sparkles!

    Dec 23,2016

    Among the many programs that JFS Orange offers is a program, “Teens Connect.” It is there that we partner with GSA’s throughout the county, supporting youth who identify as LGBTQ and their allies. What are GSA’s? They are after-school clubs; GSA stands for “Gay Straight Alliance.” We are proud to have the support of the Orange County Youth Bureau and during 2016, the Tompkins Charitable Gift Fund. With funding through these sources, graduate level interns, social workers and expressive art facilitators work in area school districts. During the fall months, we facilitate teens in an art project that ultimately will be shown in two venues: in their local high school during “No Name Calling Week” in January and then at the FDR Museum and Library. The Hyde Park exhibition occurs in the spring, along with art pieces of teens throughout the Hudson Valley. The local teens have a chance to work individually, with a group, and then have the experience of being part of something larger.

    As much as I can, I like to get out in the field. I love to see our work in action. What an honor it was to see some of the pieces and talk with the teens. The project that one group created was boxes. The outside and inside of the boxes represented different parts of themselves. (The other group is working on accordion books.) I asked some of the youth, what they got out of the project. Here are some quotes they offered:

    C, “It was a great experience. I am an ally. I have a lot of family members that are part of the LGBTQ community. Doing this work was a way for me to give back to a community that I strongly support.”

    J, “I liked the creative aspect; we got to be expressive. I painted my box all black on the outside, because I seem to hide my feelings. The sparkles on the inside represent the people in my life. They give more light to my life.”

    B, “Doing this project helped me to understand more about myself because I had to express my emotions physically instead of keeping them inside. It was interesting to see how different all of our boxes were. It’s fun to see what they represented.”

    W, “I was trying to represent me- cool on the outside and really weird on the inside.”

    A, “I put a lot of random pieces all together and it fits. It explains who I am. My outside just shows the way I look; the inside shows my authentic self.”

    R, “I especially liked the beginning because we all started with the same materials and we all came up with something different. It was so interesting.”

    B, “It was fun! It was a different way to express myself. I pretty much used what I found and connected to. I wish this club were more well-known.” [At that time, I informed B. that their spring project would be to organize a conference; my sense is their club would then become more well-known!]

    J, “I thought it was fun and I enjoyed doing it. I really like to make things and I like myself. Since this is art, it was right up my alley. In addition, I really like working with my friends.”

    At a time that the LGBTQ population is marginalized, it is more important than ever to create a safe space for self-expression and support. Working with the GSA’s is another way that we put our mission into action: “Jewish Family Service of Orange County empowers all people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength.”