Right on the Money: Collaborations Can Broaden Your Reach and Help Save Resources

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Young people collaborating on a tech project; image courtesy of WOCinTech Chat

The Homeless Youth Resource Center, a Family and Youth Services Bureau grantee in Salt Lake City operated by Volunteers of America Utah, is always looking for ways to serve youth better. So when a 2005 survey of young people at the center revealed that a large fraction of regular visitors identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, staff members had a moment of self-examination.

Collectively, they had almost no expertise on the specific needs of homeless LGBTQ youth, says Zach Bale, the resource center’s director.

A desire to learn more led Bale and his colleagues to the Utah Pride Center, a social service agency for LGBTQ people. Because many young people were already using the services of both centers, “We knew it’d be beneficial to have a link between our staffs,” Bale says.

The resulting collaboration has helped both organizations save money and resources, bolstered their existing services through an increased volunteer force, improved their word-of-mouth marketing and created a more extensive and accessible support network for homeless youth in the area.

“I don’t think any agency can exist in isolation—collaboration is what allows us to help our youth,” Bale says. His experience bears out some useful advice for creating successful, long-term collaborations:

Listen to youth. After learning that so many youth in the program identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, Bale’s staff asked youth, “Who do you trust? Where do you go?” Many young people mentioned the Pride Center.

Locate gaps in your services. A partnership with the Salt Lake City school district, which sends a representative to the drop-in center once a week to give youth advice on attaining a GED, came out of a recognition that youth “weren’t going to schools themselves, but they’re coming to our center,” Bale says. “So we put someone from the schools right in here.”

Train each other’s staffs. In addition to training Bale’s staff to better address the specific concerns of LGBTQ youth, Pride Center staff have ridden along on street outreach shifts. “We teach them how to reach kids on the street, and they teach us how to really connect with LGBT kids,” says Bale.

Share staff and supplies. Having friendly staff in multiple locations means a higher comfort level for youth, whichever facility they visit. “When youth are in our facility they feel comfortable talking about who they are,” Bale says. “And when they see staff members from other places at the [resource center], they’re more inclined to feel comfortable at those places as well.” Furthermore, when staff at the resource center’s weekday drop-in program need an expert opinion or an extra tent to give a homeless youth, there’s a good chance that someone from the Pride Center is nearby.

Look for new communities to reach. In a welcome but unforeseen consequence of their relationship with the Pride Center, the resource center has experienced increases in volunteers, donations and visibility among advocates for the rights of LGBTQ people. “There are very few agencies in any city that provide resources to these youth,” Bale says. “So we’ve been opened up to a new type of volunteer—people who now see that we recognize LGBT youth as a big part of our community.”

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