Originally published February 16, 2012 in PQ Monthly.
By Erin Rook
Portland’s Q Center welcomed a new family member Feb. 1 when it officially took the Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) under its wing. The merger, which transfers the administration of the youth organization’s programming from Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, promises to bolster both SMYRC’s organizational resources and Q Center’s youth programming.
When talk of a merger first began over a year ago, SMYRC was in a precarious position. Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare wanted to relinquish its role as program administrator and use the building SMYRC occupied for other purposes.
SMYRC responded by forming an advisory council comprised of youth and adults to explore its options. While the council considered a number of solutions — including incorporating as a 501(c) 3 non-profit — it ultimately concluded that Q Center would be the best fit.
“Everyone came to the same conclusion — that this is the home where they need to land,” says Q Center executive director Barbara McCullough-Jones.
Q Center is doing its best to make that landing as smooth as possible. As a result of the merger, SMYRC’s program coordinators will work full-time instead of part-time and will be joined by a third hire, thereby doubling Q Center’s full-time staff. The youth will also get a new drop-in/resource center site at 2406 NE Sandy Blvd, Suite 100, due to open by mid-March.
Program coordinator Bree Abby anticipates that the benefit to SMYRC youth will extend beyond concrete additions such as staff and facilities.
“I hope that SMYRC being under the Q Center umbrella will allow us to fundraise and provide outreach in a way that we have not had the organizational capacity to do previously,” Abby says in an interview on the Q Center blog. (She declined an interview with PQ Monthly). “I also imagine that this merger will expose SMYRC youth to even more supportive, positive LGBTQ adult role models, found by GLSEN [the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network] to be one of the largest protective factors for at-risk youth.”
While most of SMYRC’s programming will take place at the Sandy Blvd. site, McCullough-Jones says that some services for older youth will be provided at Q Center, in cooperation with the We Are Here program.
Between the two sites, Q Center will continue to offer the services youth have come to expect from SMYRC: a drop-in/resource center for LGBTQ youth ages 12-23, a cultural-competency training program called Bridge 13, the Washington County Pride Project, and counseling services.
These offerings serve two purposes. They fulfill the specific requirements of the county grants as well as the larger mission of SMYRC.
“The Multnomah County contract is premised on addressing [academically] at-risk youth as defined by Multnomah County,” McCullough-Jones says, explaining the programmatic focus on graduation rates, academic success, and career readiness. “In terms of compliance that has to be what we do and say.”
But that doesn’t mean SMYRC is limited to those goals. Ultimately, McCullough-Jones says, Q Center and SMYRC are committed to working creatively within the youth empowerment model to support the youth they serve.
The active involvement of the youth is one of things that makes SMYRC so special, according to Abby.
“Having worked with youth previously in settings where they were often mandated to receive services, I had a lot of experiences with youth clients who were understandably disengaged or resistant to working with me,” Abby says in the Q Center interview. “Coming to SMYRC was like coming home in that all of the youth accessing our services are highly motivated to be here and very engaged.”
McCullough-Jones says that while Q Center tries to “err on the side of self-determination to the point where safety issues come into play,” the center is not philosophically opposed to engaging with police — a point of contention for members of the community opposed to Q Center’s cooperation with the Portland Police Bureau in the formation of Q Patrol.
“It’s still a work in progress,” McCullough-Jones says. “We’re signed and all one family now, but it’s still a process of blending cultures, families, policies, ways of making our way through the day. Ultimately, strengthening the program is what it’s all about.”