by Allie Fireel
Before COVID-19 hit Possibility City, The Louisville Youth Group was undergoing a transformation that would help the 30 year old group expand their staff, budget and most importantly their mission; giving LGBTQ+ youths and young adults a safe, encouraging atmosphere to understand and explore their queer identity.
The group’s transformation ground to a halt as COVID-19 shut down public gatherings and meetings, which by extension shut down a large number of funding streams for non-profit organizations. Things are looking up though. LYG’s Federal funding through the Payment Protection Program finally materialized, despite that programming’s problems at the national level.
LYG Executive Director Jason Peno spoke with Queer Kentucky about LYG’s growth, the uncertainty during the quarantine, and their hopes of getting back to bettering the way they work to serve Louisville’s queer community.
Before Peno joined LYG officially, he had been involved with the org as a volunteer.
“I took over about two and a half years ago… it was definitely operating as a grassroots organization,” said Peno.
Nonprofits are a lot like icebergs, with the “forward facing,” or public aspects showing a fraction of the work it takes to create and nourish the nonprofit’s mission. When Peno joined the org officially, a lot of the work was done by two part time paid workers who theoretically only worked 30 hours a week.
“The amount of programming, and community outreach, and education, and fundraising was definitely well beyond that (thirty hours).”
So getting the funding to pay staff members a fair wage was at the top of Peno’s to do list, as was creating more official policies, and more internal structure. Those policies and structures would in turn help the staff- still small but mighty- to their jobs even better.
Finding that funding can be tricky. In the nonprofit world funders are often giving for a specific program, or a particular building project.
“We were fortunate in (Peno’s) first year to receive a grant from an organization called Centerlink which is a national organization that supports LGBT youth centers throughout the world. And it was a capacity building grant,” said Peno.
In other words, the grant helped pay for the nuts and bolts of running LYG; finding and hiring two new staff members; raising money; creating helpful infrastructure, policies, and procedures.
With a more robust organization, LYG was starting to grow it’s programming. They were not only providing services for queer youth, they were also running outreach programs to teach adults how to help the LYGBTQ+ youth in their lives.
This growth came to a near standstill when COVID-19 halted LYG’s in person programming
Peno and LYG staff have been working to make their programming social distance-able, but it’s tough. Though attendance at virtual meetings for the youth is growing, numbers are still smaller than pre-COVID get togethers.
In addition to a halt in programming, the funding LYG had worked so hard to gather was suddenly unavailable. Most organizations stopped awarding grants, or making donations.
“We had about a month and a half where we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Peno and the LYG staff redoubled their efforts in an attempt to move out of what he called “a dark zone.”
Enter the Payroll Protection Program.
“We had our PPP application (filled out) the night before they opened up…a month later we still hadn’t heard anything back.”
When they finally heard they’d been approved, the news offered only a temporary suspension of tension and anxiety.
“We heard it was approved, but it was the day before the newspaper article that said they were out of money came out. So we were being told we had money waiting, but we weren’t hearing anything.”
Then last week the loan came through. Peno signed the paperwork, and the funds were deposited into LYG’s bank account early this week.
Other funds have become available as well, through The Community Foundation of Louisville’s One Fund.
Despite large donations, Peno reminds that the funds for running any large organization come from the same place, or more accurately, from the same people. Whether the nonprofit calls these folks their “members” their “parters,” their “subscribers,” or their “stakeholders,’ it all means the same thing; Nonprofits are supported by the community they in turn support.
“That’s the most important giving,” said Peno.
The PPP loan, The Community Foundation of Louisville’s funds, and community support have provided LYG a way forward and a whole lot of hope, but the Louisville Youth Group isn’t out of the woods just yet. To join community efforts to keep supporting our queer youth, and to learn more about LYG visit them online.