Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
The San Diego LGBT Community Center is reaching out to South Bay San Diego youth with a new center in Chula Vista. After two open houses on Feb. 7 and 11, the grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at its new facility on Feb. 16 from 1-3 p.m. The event will be the last time that the public will be invited to see what the South Bay Youth Center (SBYC) offers. After the ribbon cutting, the SBYC will serve as a drop-in and recreational center for youths ages 10-24 and their families only.
Rick Cervantes, The Center’s director of communications and marketing, said that since 2012, the demand for LGBTQ youth services increased by nearly 70 percent at The Center in Hillcrest. The Center’s commitment to addressing those needs drove the urgency to expand its services in South Bay, he said.
“We want to make sure that the next generation of our youth have the resources so they can be healthy and thrive,” Cervantes said. “There is a lot of bullying, hate, discrimination, so they experience higher levels of stress and they are five times more likely to commit suicide. We heard about youths that would take three different buses to get to The Center in Hillcrest to attend the Youth Center. So for us to be here is important.”
Cervantes said they modeled the SBYC after the Hillcrest Youth Center — one of the first national LGBTQ drop-in and recreational spaces for juveniles. The SBYC is unique in that it also offers support and programs for their families as well.
Cervantes said to start, the SBYC will be open for three days a week with program services and a by-trial basis will increase programs, days and hours as they determine what it takes to meet the needs of South Bay.
“We are going to have gender identity groups, arts and crafts, a computer lab, movie nights, pizza and nacho nights, tutoring, ‘Common Ground’ groups, discussion groups,” Cervantes said. “And because of the fact that we know about youth security, we are going to have a therapist on hand.
“It’s an important step for The Center as we grow our services,” Cervantes continued. “We are here to fill that need here in South Bay, so folks and youths don’t have to travel up to Hillcrest. The great thing about our LGBTQ community is that we are not only in Hillcrest, we are everywhere and here in the South Bay, we want people to know that our presence is here.”
Lucero Camarena, transgender youth services navigator at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, works directly with young trans people in helping them navigate their own transition with support services and their overall health within the community. She said that there will always be staff members present to ensure the individuals are protected and safe.
As a trans woman of color, she said that representation in South Bay is imperative due to its demographics. The SBYC reflects that diversity in its choices of art and the various pride theme flags. Throughout the SBYC is a series of portraits titled the “Change Makers” series.
“Our Change Makers series of portraits of LGBTQ leaders is here to show clear representation of LGBTQ of color because we find that representation really does matter in how we can imagine the possibilities for our youth,” Camarena said.
On a tour of the space, Camarena said that though the SBYC is new, it is ready to go and has a lot to offer. The facility is equipped with a computer room with programs and printers for homework and Camarena said they will also provide tutoring services.
For some fun, there is a media and entertainment lounge that allows individuals to play on consoles they might not have at home. In the library, they are collecting books with youth-centered literature, while also providing LGBT literature appropriate for all ages. There is room for private discussions, rooms for open discussion and also a wellness space to encourage healthy living. There is an arts and crafts room with art supplies — even a sewing machine.
“My favorite room is here, the clothing room,” Camarena said. “You can come in here and explore different gender presentations or try things to see what they deem that makes them feel more comfortable. They can also take the clothes home if they like. We accept clothing donations, and youth are growing at different rates. It is really helpful for them to have an additional resource for clothes.”
Camarena said every day, Monday through Friday, SBYC will have discussion groups. The two discussion groups are Common Ground, where participants can bring up their highs and lows of their week, build community and connect. The other group, Gender & Identity, is facilitated by Camarena.
“I get to connect with other trans youth, empower them, give them insights and resources, but also, they are able to share these things between themselves,” Camarena said, referring to her discussion group. “It is really a wealth of knowledge that we are trying to establish and connect. Everyone’s transitioning looks different. There is always a space for them at The Center.
“In our bathroom, we have a lot of products that they can use or take home,” she continued. “We carry menstrual products, sanitizers, toothbrushes and a gamut of items that youth might need who might not have the means at home to have these products. Both are gender neutral to ensure that the trans and non-binary folks feel comfortable and inclusive.”
SBYC is equipped with a kitchen and lounge space with fresh food in the fridge, cold beverages and food. A pantry also offers food to take home.
“Some of our youths are facing food insecurity and homelessness. We want to make sure that they have those needs met,” Camarena said.
Cervantes said having these resources in one place is going to increase visibility and help in South Bay.
“A few months ago, we found out about a LGBTQ youth that came to the South Bay Clubhouse at Chula Vista High School,” Cervantes said. “The youth came with family and had recently come out as trans, so it was the first time the family was experiencing anything LGBT. They started joining regularly and this youth was shy and timid. But we also had the Mi Familia meeting in the Chula Vista Library, so through the clubhouse, they told mom that they also had a program for her also.
“The Center being down here already, you could see that connection of lives we were touching,” he continued. “After a couple of weeks, the youth was happy, more outgoing and confident. And the mom, just learning from other LGBT families on how to love and support your child, that is one of my favorite stories to hear, because they are stories that really touch people’s lives.”
The SBYC serves individuals 10-24 years old, with different weekdays devoted to different age ranges. Wednesdays are dedicated to ages 18-24, Thursdays are dedicated to ages 14-18 years old and Fridays are dedicated to ages 10-13. The SBYC is funded by grants but also relies on donations from the community, which are essential, Camarena said.
She added that there are some permanent items they are still looking for such as a cardio machine, game consoles and more computers. Ongoing needs include keeping the pantry filled with nonperishable food items, arts and craft materials of all types for youth to stretch their inner creativity, books for ages 10-24 (including LGBTQ literature), and clothing. Individuals will be able to use all of those items at the SBYC and have the ability to take them home — as many young people come from limited resources, some even homeless.
“As the needs grow, the SBYC will assess and expand as necessary as they move forward,” Cervantes said. “Our needs might change on a day-to-day basis.”
The SBYC is located at 1180 Third Ave., Suite C1, Chula Vista. For more information about the SBYC, its programs and services, and how to contribute, email SouthBayYouth@TheCenterSD.org, or visit bit.ly/2MZxkFq.
—Albert Fulcher can be reached at email@example.com.
(Photo by www.CanStockPhoto.com)