Robert Peraza was no stranger to working with young adults when he was recently promoted to the role of Youth Services Manager at The Center (in his previous role, he co-facilitated the Vegas Mpowerment Project, which focused on 18 to 30-year-old men) but the QVolution youth program, with its younger 13-24 audience, comes with its own challenges and needs. Robert shares his observations of the program’s past and present and his wishes for the future of QVolution.
Since you have recently assumed the role of Youth Services Manager, what are your observations on QVolution at the the time you took over?
It seemed that many of the youth were well-informed about social justice and proficient with the language to describe the institutions of oppression (sexism, racism, heterosexism, ageism, cissexism, classism, ableism, faithism, etc.). However, it seemed like there were very few opportunities for them to apply these skills in community-based organizations that work towards dismantling oppression. This is an ongoing concern and a significant inclusion issue, as sometimes as adults we can be very dismissive of the perspectives of the young.
Part of activism and advocacy is self-advocacy and self-care. An alarming number of LGBTQ+ youth are insecurely housed, are unemployed/underemployed, or are facing significant barriers to accessing healthcare systems (especially mental health and preventative care services). For them to be the most effective change agents they can be, our youth need to be able to thrive. There are many services available for the 13 to 24 year old demographic. It is often a matter of ensuring the providers are prepared to meet the needs of queer and gender diverse youth, and then making sure youth are aware of the services and prepared to access them.
What challenges, if any, do you find yourself facing with the program? Likewise, what positives have you experienced in these past few months?
It is so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to protect our youth so much that we inadvertently harm them by not partnering with organizations that can meet their needs better than us due to capacity constraints.
Most youth-serving organizations genuinely want to assist youth, but have outdated training on gender, sexuality, orientation and identity. My responsibility is to educate leadership and find those staff at those organizations that can champion for LGBTQ cultural competency internally.
A significant positive trend I am seeing is that our youth are becoming much more eager to partner with other programs internally at The Center (i.e. Women’s Programming, Trans Programming, HIV Services, Senior Services), and we’re seeing more youth becoming volunteers internally. Sometimes, we adults promulgate the myth of youth apathy by treating it as a bygone conclusion and not asking youth to partner or be involved.
Our Volunteer Coordinator, Nicol, has also helped me identify volunteers with ‘hidden’ talents that lend themselves to activities and workshops for our youth. For example, our volunteer Frank is a retired chef, and he is now teaching a monthly cooking class for our youth where they are learning a valuable life skill.
How has the program changed since you became Youth Services Manager, either through your own efforts or organically?
As The Center as a whole evolves from being primarily social/support group oriented to doing more direct human services work, so is QVolution.
We are weaving more developmental programming in with our social activities, using a sandwich method:
Youth enjoy some unstructured socialization with their peers on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6pm to 6:30pm, followed by educational programming (Comprehensive Sex Ed, Financial Literacy, or Social Justice Workshops, depending on the month) from 6:30pm-7:30pm. Then, after a 15-minute break, we usually have a group recreational social activity until 9 p.m., such as a game, discussion, arts and crafts session, movie/tv show viewing, etc.
This approach “sandwiches” educational programming in between the opportunities for peer socialization and support that draw the youth to The Center. Youth also receive incentives for their participation and completion of the Sex Ed and Financial Literacy Programs.
What evolution do you hope will happen with the QVolution program as time goes on?
My aspiration for Qvolution is sustainability, in two areas:
- A program model that is sustainable in staying consistent with community needs and, where appropriate, funding trends. It is imperative that we find ways to prepare and network our youth while educating employers on inclusive policies and practices for trans* and gender non-conforming youth. It is also absolutely essential that we address the HIV, mental health, and housing insecurity disparities facing LGBTQ+ youth.
- Sustainable relationship-building with our youth. How awful would it be for a youth to turn 25 and discover that there is no longer anything of value for them at The Center? We are exploring ways to develop additional “Bridge” programming to keep young adults connected to The Center. “Bridge” programs work best with a built in overlap of age frames to allow a transition period between them trying out a new group and aging out of Qvolution.