In 2014, Carol Sarosik and her partner Shelley Padnos left an LGBT philanthropic conference inspired to pool financial resources together in their hometown to make an impact in the local community.
That passion and drive manifested itself into the Our LGBT Fund, a field-of-interest fund at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, which joined fellow local philanthropic efforts with a focused attention on what many consider to be hidden issues.
The primary focus for Our LGBT Fund is to fight homelessness in the LGBT community.
“When LGBT youth are not accepted by their families, they have to resort to behaviors that can take them down a wrong path,” said Sarosik, who serves as chair for Our LGBT Fund. “They have no support and have no place to go and obviously that can lead some to use drugs, prostitution and suicide.”
Our LGBT Fund hit a milestone to close out 2015 when it announced its first grant of $20,000 to a collaborative program involving Arbor Circle and the Lesbian Gay Community Network of West Michigan (The Network).
The collaborative program is called Safe and Supported and works to identify LGBT youth who are in need of care. The program will provide care in the context of their families, cultures and faith communities.
Our LGBT Fund received three proposals for its inaugural grant, and Sarosik said the collaborative element of the Safe and Supported proposal was a factor that really spoke to the grant committee.
The grant for Safe and Supported will likely be the only major investment for the fund over the next year, Sarosik said. The fund currently totals $374,000 and the goal is to tip the scales of $1 million over the next three years.
“I think we’ve always said that if we can reach a million dollars in the next three years, that would be incredible,” she said. “We have a strategic planning session in February where we will be figuring out how to bring more money in to support the issue. In the meantime, as the organizations that do exist for LGBT services gain strength, obviously people will donate to them, too.”
SAFE AND SUPPORTED
The concept of Safe and Supported came together relatively naturally for The Network and Arbor Circle, which already had a strong working relationship.
Mike Hemmingsen, board president of The Network, said his organization routinely refers individuals to Arbor Circle’s The Bridge program, which is designed to provide support and shelter for youths.
“On top of being an honor as one of the first organizations selected to receive the funds, it’s really going to do a lot more for our homeless youth,” Hemmingsen said. “It is actually going to allow The Network, in partnership with Arbor Circle, to offer case management right here on the premises.”
The efforts are aimed at addressing the glaring statistic that roughly 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT.
Safe and Supported wants to address the symptoms of this epidemic and also get out in front of it.
“The big thing about the grant proposal we wrote is that it is focused on two main points: directly addressing those experiencing homelessness right now, but also focused on the prevention side of it,” Hemmingsen said. “It gives us the ability to work with families and youth to prevent the homelessness.
“I think, in general, there are several programs out there to support youth homelessness. Shelley and Carol have done an amazing job to allow additional funding for The Network to focus on it. It’s definitely needed. It’s known across the nation as a need that must be addressed.”
While Our LGBT Fund has taken up the battle against homelessness, Sarosik said it will have the flexibility to address other issues in the LGBT community, particularly as the fund matures and resources become more abundant.
“As it grows, I think that we will see our focus turn also to the aging LGBT population,” she said. “There is great concern about our aging population — for those individuals who really have no education or are at the mercy of caregivers who may or may not be empathic in regards to the LGBT community. It’s important for (caregivers) to get education and training, as well.”
KALAMAZOO FUND EVOLVES
Over the time that Our LGBT Fund was taking form, another long-standing fund focused on LGBT issues was making changes to reinvigorate its mission and efforts.
The LGBT Equality Fund at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has been around for 15 years, designed to advocate for the LGBT community, promote social justice, support LGBT activities and celebrations, and strengthen organizations that serve the needs of LGBT community members.
Early on, the fund maintained a small advisory committee that found itself going through the motions of working with the same stable of LGBT organizations. Then, roughly four years ago, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation shook it up, bringing in Jon Hoadley of Badlands Strategies LLC (who’s now a member of the Michigan House of Representatives) to pin down the needs of the community and the fund.
“About four years ago, a few people got together and said, ‘You know, we’re out there saying this is one of our chief priorities at the KCF, and we’re applying some of this work to the other grants we make, so we should really be doing something more about this,’” said Jeanne Grubb, a member of the foundation’s donor relations team that’s worked closely with the fund.
The end result has been more outreach, not just for funds, but also for grant proposals and building a stronger network within the community.
“Of course, it’s always good to have more financial resources than less, but as you do this work — not just work in the LGBT community, but in all areas where you are trying to make an impact — it’s not just about the money,” Grubb said. “It’s so much more difficult than that. It’s about building relationships and changing attitudes. It’s helpful to have money to pull people together.”
The LGBT Equality Fund is worth about $1 million, according to Grubb. It typically makes anywhere from two to five grants per year. It has issued $460,000 in grants between 2000 (the year it formed) and 2013.
“We certainly have had more giving to the fund than prior to (the revitalization effort),” Grubb said. “That has been helpful. I think that will always be a work-in-progress. It’s important to be visible about making an impact in the community.”