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Director departs South Bay queer youth agency

by Heather Cassell

Adrienne Keel, left, the new head of the LGBTQ Youth Space, stands with former director Cassandra "Cassie" Blume. Photo: Jo-Lynn Otto
Adrienne Keel, left, the new head of the LGBTQ Youth Space, stands with former director Cassandra "Cassie" Blume. Photo: Jo-Lynn Otto  

For nearly a decade, Cassandra "Cassie" Blume has worked on behalf of Santa Clara County's LGBT youth as the director of programs at the LGBTQ Youth Space in San Jose.

Through the past decade of tremendous change, she's helped develop young community leaders, offered them a place where they can feel safe, and helped them take care of basics like charging their phones or getting clothes.

On April 21, she quietly stepped down from her role to pursue new goals professionally and personally.

Two days later, Adrienne Keel, the program's outreach manager, stepped into the position as director of LGBTQ programs of the Family and Children Services and Caminar for Mental Health in Santa Clara County, which oversees the space.

"I've been pretty invested in this work for a long time," said Blume, a 35-year-old queer woman. "It's my first role out of college and it's just grown, and I've got to grow with it, but now it's time for me to step aside."

She felt that now was the right time to step down with a strong staff, funding, and community support in place.

"It also feels like a good time to hand this over," she said.

Yet, the decision wasn't easy.

"I really miss it tremendously," Blume told the Bay Area Reporter after just coming out of a staff meeting last week. "This [is a] big change for me. It's going to be, personally, not easy, but I have the comfort of knowing how great the team is here and how much wonderful work lies ahead. So, that's going to ease it, but it will be hard for me to go. I really have an enormous amount of appreciation for folks here."

Keel, a 31-year-old lesbian, said she would also miss working with Blume, but was also excited for the future.

"I'll absolutely miss Cassie's guidance. She's a wealth of experience and strength that I constantly am trying to pull from," said Keel. "I'm really looking forward to developing my own professional skills and also helping folks develop their professional skills."

Michael Hutchinson, executive director of the Santa Clara County Region of Family and Children Services of Silicon Valley, expressed his sadness about Blume's departure and his confidence in Keel taking over the leadership of the LGBTQ Youth Space.

"It's a loss, a loss for FCS, it's a loss for the community," said Hutchinson, adding. "We're happy for her in terms of being able to pursue something she really wants."

At the same time, he was excited about Keel stepping into Blume's shoes.

"We feel very lucky that we have a Adrienne," he said. "We're really fortunate in that we're not going to really, like, skip a beat or anything in terms of keeping the Youth Space and the programs where they're at. We can continue to operate the same way and in the same direction and keep the quality."

Empowering youth
Blume started working with queer youth at the Billy De Frank LGBT Community Center soon after graduating from college a decade ago. She immediately identified a diverse range of needs of LGBT youth in the South Bay that they weren't receiving.

In 2008, an opportunity arose when two county agencies, focused on youth and mental health, received funding for an LGBT youth program.

Blume became head of the program and began creating inclusive services to meet youths' needs, especially transgender and nonbinary young people.

In the spring of 2009, the Youth Space opened its doors on First Street in downtown San Jose welcoming LGBT youth to drop in to hang out, get some food, use the computers, and also to receive health care, counseling, and leadership skills.

"Young people in general have a really diverse range of needs across all of Santa Clara County," said Blume.

Long before gender-neutral bathrooms in public buildings became state law, the space offered safe bathrooms and support for transgender and nonbinary youth.

Last year alone, the space provided a safe place for 400 LGBT youth in Silicon Valley who utilize the drop-in center, and 50 young people received counseling.

The space operates with nine full-time and three part-time staff members and many volunteers. Its annual budget is $878,649, according to Blume and Maryanne McGlothlin, director of grants and communications at Caminar. The agencies didn't disclose Keel's salary.

Blume said that her biggest accomplishment was helping develop future LGBTQ leaders.

"Without question the people who have come through, especially young people who have gotten involved and taken on leadership positions here," said Blume about the youth who have taken on important positions at the space. "So many of our staff are people who started as young participants, and I got to see them really become leaders of the community over time."

New chapter
Seven years ago, Keel came onboard as a part-time outreach coordinator before becoming the full-time outreach manager.

Monday marked her first day taking the helm to lead the space into its next chapter.

She's fully aware that while there have been many positive changes within the past decade for LGBT youth, there is still much work that needs to be done in the South Bay.

"It's great. It's phenomenal," said Keel about the progress during recent years that has led youth to come out at younger ages.

At the same time, said Blume, "The more visibility there is, the more you realize how deep the needs are. So there is actually more work to do and we recognize what's going on."

The first big event Keel's helping the youth produce is the second annual South Bay Youth Pride on May 12.

Keel is set on continuing to bring the space's resources and support to youth who don't have the ability to get to the space. Her bigger plan is to provide off-site counseling by the space's therapists to youth throughout the county.

"It's not realistic for all young people to get here, right, for a variety of reasons," said Keel, who has already started some off-site services at local high schools. "Equipping stakeholders in communities, or in schools where kids already are, to do this work is really important to me."

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  • Anonymous, 2018-04-26 20:53:26

    At FCS, we are sad to say farewell to Cassie as a colleague, yet know she will stay in touch and be a treasured ally of the programs. We honor her leadership and contributions. Congratulations to Adrienne!

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