LYRIC marks 25 yearsof helping youth
by Seth Hemmelgarn
As a San Francisco nonprofit that helps youth get into housing and jobs marks its 25th anniversary, its executive director said that many of the people her agency works with annually face the same economic challenges as adults in the Bay Area.
Asked about the biggest need for participants, Jodi Schwartz, who heads Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, said, "Housing is really at the top of the list," along with employment, and health and wellness, particularly mental health. Schwartz referred to these areas, all of which the center provides assistance with, as "the three legs of the stool."
"If any one of those things isn't being supported, the lives of our young people are off balance," she said.
In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the agency provided direct services to 1,254 people. Just over half of them were 17 or younger, while the rest were 18 to 24. Most of the clients were "extremely low income," according to LYRIC.
The center recently has been one of the organizations placing youth in a new South of Market neighborhood housing site. Even with that space, however, there continues to be a strong lack of housing for youth.
"We got five young people into this permanent housing site specifically for transition-age youth," Schwartz, who's been at the nonprofit for more than eight years, said. She couldn't remember another new housing site for that demographic opening "the entire time I've worked at LYRIC. This is the first time, and we're talking about five."
The nonprofit hires more than 100 young people a year, where they spend time "learning how to work." That includes practicing skills that may seem obvious: "showing up, filling out a time sheet, [and] working on projects," said Schwartz.
"A lot of these young people just don't have any of those basic skills or anyone in their lives who can help them get those skills," she said. She pointed to a sector that's provided benefits for some in the city when she said, "While we have this growing tech field in our community, the level of expertise that those jobs demand, our young people are not ready for."
"Overall," said Schwartz, since LYRIC began 25 years ago, "What we've seen is the issues faced by LGBTQQ youth in San Francisco have gotten much more complex." The housing, employment, and other hurdles that youth and others in the city face "are getting more challenging," making things even tougher with young people's "unique needs."
She said LYRIC has responded to the changes by broadening the services it provides, including building its team of youth advocates to work with people as young as middle school students.
EdianBlair Schofield, 18, one young person the nonprofit's worked with, said the agency is the "savior" of many youth who've experienced trauma.
"Without LYRIC I wouldn't be where I am right now," said Schofield. "I wouldn't be this active leader ... I wouldn't be educated and aware of the social justice issues."
Schofield, who's been involved with LYRIC since 2012 and is a queer educator there, identifies as queer, agender, and gender fluid.
Schwartz said the nonprofit's emphasized working with transgender youth, who are especially at risk for suicide attempts, homelessness, and unemployment, as well as youth who are queer and undocumented.
Rather than try to take on all the work, LYRIC collaborates with other agencies, including the San Francisco-based Larkin Street Youth Services and Justa Causa, a Bay Area group that works on policy campaigns, civic engagement, and direct action.
Schwartz said she doesn't see the agency making "huge changes."
Like many local nonprofits, LYRIC, which gets much of its money from the city, has faced stiff funding cuts in recent years. But Schwartz said more stability in the city's budget has meant good news for her nonprofit, which has a budget of $1,288,608. Schwartz's salary is between $93,000 and $95,000.
"I think as the city is rebounding, we've been able to bring our funding levels back up to where they were" six to seven years ago, she said.
"We're pleased about that," said Schwartz, "and we're very grateful to our city partners, whether it's the mayor's office, or the Board of Supervisors, or city departments that continue to champion the work of LYRIC and see us as a critical partner."
Despite the city support, the nonprofit has put "a lot of emphasis" on increasing support from individual donors, said Schwartz.
People can become a LYRIC Champion by providing a recurring gift of $10 a month or more. If the group raises $12,500 in new pledges, a donor has committed to match it.
LYRIC will hold a 25th anniversary open house from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 17 at 127 Collingwood Street. The theme is "LYRIC Youth: Queering Our History, Defining Our Future."
The free event will include food and a retrospective organized by the agency's interns. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information is available at www.lyric.org.