Middle and high school LGBT youth will now have a new after-school program geared specifically toward them at ARTS/West, an opportunity that has not existed for those students before, organizers say.
PRISM, an after-school program sponsored by ARTS/West, the Ohio University LGBT Center and United Campus Ministry, provides a space for LGBT youth to feel safe and participate in activities from arts and crafts to music said organizers. Tessa Evanosky, event coordinator for ARTS/West, spearheaded PRISM after another after-school program she led, Athens Rock Camp for Girls, geared towards girls and gender non-conforming youth, ended because of funding issues.
“We had about five kids still participating, and I was staffing the program by myself,” Evanosky said. “I still really wanted to serve those kids and also see who else we could be serving.”
Evanosky then emailed delfin bautista, director of the LGBT Center, Loran Marsan, visiting assistant lecturer of women's, gender and sexuality studies, and Jolena Hansbarger, event coordinator for ARTS/West. Together they came up with the idea to create an after-school program for LGBT youth.
Lacey Rogers, assistant director for United Campus Ministry, would join, and the five of them developed staffing, programing and resources to create a space for those LGBT youth.
“I am hoping that it'll counteract the sort of majority life of heteronormativity that most of these students are immersed in on a regular basis,” Marsan said. “I'm hoping that it will give (students) access to self-expression in a space where it's OK, and they don't have to worry about expressing feelings about being queer or trans or bi or any of those things, so they can use that space to really sort of flourish in that way.”
The program held its first meeting Jan. 10. Evanosky said about 10 students attended who were all different ages and came from different schools.
All of the funding for the program has been reliant on donations. Examples of donations range from as big as ARTS/West donating the space to the program to as small as snack donations from Athens residents.
Evanosky said the organizers are just looking at this year for the program and may look into grant writing if the program continues into next year.
The ARTS/West building, 132 W. State St., is centrally located and close to Athens Middle School, 51-55 W. State St., so Evanosky hopes that will help make the program accessible to students. But she is concerned that it could be more difficult for students from more rural areas of Athens or other districts to make it to the program.
"We are going to work with people, and if a parent calls and their kid really can't get there, then we're going to do our best to help them find the opportunity to help them get there," Evanosky said.
bautista, who uses the lowercase spelling of their name, said the whole concept of the program was to find ways to fill in some of the gaps in terms of services and resources in Athens. While the LGBT Center is open as a resource to residents as well as students, bautista said it can be daunting for residents who are not OU students to use the LGBT Center.
“I remember after the Pulse shooting a high school student reached out to me saying that they didn't feel safe, (and) that they needed a space where they could come and vent and feel supported,” bautista said. “With that in the back of our minds, (we wanted) to do something that is accessible to young folks as well as the wider community.”
Most of the response from residents has been positive, organizers said. There have been a few negative comments from Athens residents, but in general, residents have been supportive and have offered donations such as snacks or books.
Evanosky has encouraged residents who would like to support the program to provide gift cards for Kroger, JOANN Fabric & Craft Stores, Walmart or other stores the program can shop at for snacks and supplies. Donations can be dropped off at the ARTS/West building.
PRISM meets at ARTS/West Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.