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Saturday, December 11, 2010

How One NYU Student Is Helping LGBT Homeless Youth

By Brandon Miller -

One New York University student is doing something extra special this holiday season. Instead of planning a vacation or shopping for scores of presents, sophomore Jesse Rueckert is tackling the issue of LGBT homeless youth. And he's doing it at a critical time, just weeks after the New York Department of Housing announced that it would be slashing funding for youth homeless shelters in the city.
Rueckert put together Project Safe and Warm, a program that distributes holiday gift bags for youth involved in the Ali Forney Center's housing programs. The Ali Forney Center is the largest organization dedicated to providing housing and support for homeless LGBT youth in the United States. Rueckert is working with the NYU Civic Team to make a couple of dreams come true.
"We were just discussing how we could quickly and directly meet the needs of the LGBT youth homeless community. We have our campus community and a lot of resources at our disposal, so we decided to try and center [them] around the holiday season, which is a really tough time for a lot of the youth that the center serves," Rueckert says. "The amount of support we've received in just this short time has been enormous. This is definitely an issue our campus is really attuned to and that really touches the heart of the NYU community."
Rueckert and a team of workers will collect items in residence halls on campus. Things like gift certificates are being sought, but also basic items like toiletries -- little things people with homes can take for granted.
"This is a very difficult time of year for our clients. It means a lot for us to see members of the community like Jesse working to support our young people in this time of need," says Will Fisher, the Ali Forney Center's director of communications and special events. "Many of these young people don't receive gifts for the holidays because they've been rejected by their families, so they don't have many people in their lives who have the capacity for giving."
According to statistics at the Ali Forney Center, 40 percent of homeless youth in New York City belong to the LGBT community. And with the recent cuts to homeless youth programming, services to those 40 percent (as well as all homeless youth in New York City) will suffer.
For many of these young people, there's not much to look forward to during the holiday season. Which is why Project Safe and Warm is so awesome. It's not only going to help people in need, but it's a prime example of how youth can help other youth in need. Talk about the concept of paying it forward.


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