N.J. youth agency looks to match LGBT adults, teens

N.J. youth agency looks to match LGBT adults, teens

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Crossroads Programs was founded in 1978 to support and empower young people who have been abandoned, abused, homeless or at-risk and now the New Jersey-based organization hopes to inspire the LGBT community to help.

Crossroads Programs implemented Discovery Project in 2006 to help find foster homes for LGBT youth and is redoubling its efforts with an information session geared toward LGBT-headed households later this month.

Crossroads director of development and communications Lydia Cipriani said that Discovery Project grew from the high volume of youth the organization encounter who were marginalized because of their LGBT identity.

“A high percentage of LGBT kids were running away or homeless because they were rejected for their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she said.

And, when the youth entered the foster-care system, they were often met by families who were not accepting of their LGBT identity, said Crossroads CEO Michael Snyder.

“There were a number of LGBT youth who were not feeling safe in traditional foster care,” Snyder said. “So we made it our mission to create a safe space and support youth in their development by recruiting families who would provide a loving, supportive home. These kids need to know that they are loved and cared for and if they have that supportive environment, that is just one less thing they have to deal with.”

Discovery Project normally serves up to 10 youth per year, who usually are 15 or 16, but who range from 12-21.

To become a treatment foster parent, individuals must go through an interview, home check, trainings and licensing and be inspected by the state. Crossroads also offers additional training on LGBT issues.

The agency conducts reference checks on the prospective foster parents and also looks to ensure the family can financial support a child. While the family is reimbursed up to $75 a day for their participating, Snyer noted fostering is not a salaried job.

Program director Kerri Durkin said the youth who go through the Discovery Program are normal teenagers.

“They are just like any other kid in the program except they are dealing with something additional. They have the same problems and emotional issues,” she said, noting it can be difficult to find people who understand the added pressures LGBT youth are facing. “It is an ongoing challenge with treatment and foster case in general with this population.

LGBT adults, Cipriani noted, are a natural match for the program, as they’ve likely faced some of the same issues the youth are dealing with.

“We want to find people who understand them and who will provide the tolerance and sympathy they need,” she said. “Historically, the LGBT community has come together for causes that are important to them and provide a lot of support.”

Crossroads will host an information session from 6-8 p.m. June 26 at the Collingswood Community Center, 28 W. Collins Ave., in Collingswood.

For more information, visit www.crossroadsprograms.org.

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