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Safe Space in Jamaica to expand services for LGBT youth in southeast Queens

Safe Space in Jamaica to expand services for LGBT youth in southeast Queens

New York Daily News 12/22/2011

By Sam Levin

The nonprofit group Safe Space recently received a grant from the New York Community Trust that will help them expand its clinical services in southeast Jamaica, especially for LGBT youth.

The nonprofit group Safe Space recently received a grant from the New York Community Trust that will help them expand its clinical services in southeast Jamaica, especially for LGBT youth. Outreach specialist Cassildra Aguilera (standing) makes safety kits for HIV prevention with Shanice Harris, 19, (center, right) and Shaliek Lee, 22 (center, left).

A safe haven for hundreds of lesbian and gay youth in Queens will reach more students thanks to a new grant.

Safe Space NYC, a nonprofit group that works with southeast Queens youth, is adding two new full-time staff members and expanding its clinical services for LGBT youth with support from a one-year grant of $120,000.

“LGBT young people are in this community and they need community support,” said Cassie Aguilera, an outreach coordinator for Safe Space.

“They come here because they feel they can be themselves.”

The financial boost comes from the New York Community Trust, which has helped fund the Safe Space for decades. The grant supports a new youth specialist and a new social worker.

Through these staffers, Safe Space, which helps 1,500 to 2,000 youth a year, will expand its workshops and counseling. Of those youth,

about 500 identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-gender. The grant allows the group to serve a larger number of LGBT youth and provide more therapy services to them, officials said.

“This grant is about providing a real bridge to clinical services so that kids can overcome the barriers to achieving success,” said CEO Christine Molnar.

“Southeast Queens is one of the most underserved neighborhoods in the city,” said Roderick Jenkins, program officer with the New York Community Trust.

The grant allows Safe Space to offer “one-stop shopping” for therapy and counseling, he said. “It makes a huge difference.”

Youth in Jamaica who come from communities where there’s a strong stigma against homosexuality may face depression, homelessness and domestic violence, organizers said.

“Safe Space is one of the greatest places in Jamaica,” said Shanice Harris, 19, an openly gay student who has been getting help from the group since 2008.

“There’s a lot of kids that come here that really need somebody to talk to,” said Harris, of Jamaica, who is now a peer educator.

Nigeria T., 17, also a peer educator, said she was often taunted in Jamaica for being a lesbian and wanted to find refuge somewhere.

“It’s a safe space for me to come and talk,” she said. “They gave me opportunities.”

For Jamaica resident Shaliek Lee, the group helped him come out of the closet at age 20.

“Safe Space was like a family with open arms,” said Lee, now 22, and a group facilitator. “Safe Space gave me a voice.”