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Inside Out Youth Services has grown, and the work continues 

Queer&There

click to enlarge ALISSA SMITH
  • Alissa Smith


When Inside Out Youth Services, a local organization that provides a safe space for LGBTQ youths, won the Indy’s legacy Inclusion award in 2018, the nearly 30-year-old organization had only two staff members, but big plans for its future. In just a little more than a year, that staff has grown to a contingent of 10.

“As far as I understand it,” executive director Jessie Pocock says, “Inside Out struggled for a long time for multiple reasons, including the climate was homophobic. I mean, let’s just be real, … funders were not funding queer agencies; they were afraid to.” But the world has changed, and Pocock, who became executive director less than two years ago, has been proactive in securing support.

“The first thing that I did was listen. Like what is happening here at our community center? And what do we need? And what is the data showing that’s impacting our youth? And then the second component was generating programming to meet those needs. And the third was going out and asking everybody to invest in it,” Pocock says.

Inside Out now benefits from nearly $200,000 in multi-year program funding from the state, including $130,000 in grants that have never before been awarded in El Paso County. And a two-year grant from the Colorado Health Foundation has funded a part-time clinician to offer therapy in the space. In addition to all that, two $50,000 grants from Center Link (a national network of LGBTQ community centers) has partly funded suicide prevention programs and, at long last, enabled Inside Out to hire a development director.

This director, Joy Armstrong, is the newest addition to the Inside Out crew, having recently left the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, where she was the curator of modern and contemporary art.

Armstrong says: “My background coming from the museum and spending my whole life in the arts, and [my being] passionate about various nonprofits and animals and kids and social justice — I think that all of this really feeds into my desire to give back into the community in a really authentic, meaningful way.”

Her goal is to continue generating funds through private donations, affinity groups, corporate sponsors and a yet-to-be-determined new signature event, held annually in addition to the organization’s Ally Up Breakfast.

All manner of funds will help Inside Out continue to grow. “We’re getting to a level where we maybe meet a quarter of the needs of our youth community, OK?” Pocock says. “… When we have zero suicides in our county, Inside Out will have done their job. Yeah, we are not there yet. … But we are finally getting investment at the dignifying level that we should have been getting 30 years ago.”
Among the grant-funded programs: A Trusted Adult training program, professional development for school district staff, comprehensive sex education courses and more.

Additionally, they have recently hired multiple “peer program assistants,” youths who are paid to help their fellows in the center. These program assistants have met youths on their own level and formed the Youth Advisory Committee, which influences important board decisions and big-picture plans for the future of the organization.

But even more is happening beyond Inside Out’s center of operations on Wahsatch Avenue.
Inside Out’s outreach educator Tyescha Clark says that the LGBTQ 101 and 102 classes (which help students and teachers understand the LGBTQ spectrum) are booked through the end of the year, with more school districts and classrooms on the waiting list. “It makes me excited because it means that our community at large is actually looking for this too. So there’s a need.”

Along with Alexander Wamboldt, Inside Out’s school coordinator, Clark has worked to make Inside Out’s programming accessible everywhere in the city, and accessible to communities of color and the differently abled.

Wamboldt, in addition to helping schools with “hotspotting” (identifying problem environments and offering suggestions for improving safety), has reached out to faith communities to help support queer kids in churches across the county.

Clark says: “I love that our mission is dual-purpose of both creating the safety and the inclusion here in the space, and creating it outside as well.”

Each member of the Inside Out team agrees: They want and need to do more.

“I think the goal of every nonprofit is to work itself out of a job, right?” asks youth program manager Candace Woods. “And we should be working so that all of Colorado Springs is safe and inviting and welcoming and inclusive of all of our youth, so that we don’t have to exist anymore.”

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