In July of 2018, Hoyleton Youth and Family Services obtained a contract through Illinois’ DCFS for the Wraparound program. Part of the contracted agreement is to host monthly support groups for in-care LGBTQ youth and provide a safe space to learn, mature, and safely be themselves. With the greater part of our mission to empower people to live the life God intended them to live, this is a natural fit for our organization.
The monthly support group is maintained and facilitated by Williams and Associates, a non-profit organization based in St. Louis, MO. Williams and Assoc., according to their website, is an organization delivering programs and services such as health education, HIV/STI prevention, violence prevention, and sensitivity to the LGBTQ+ community. Williams and Assoc. contracts independent facilitators to conduct and lead the monthly support group hosted through Hoyleton.
Haili Loftin, a Service Coordinator for FORWARD Counseling Care, here at Hoyleton, facilitates communication between in-care youth, their caseworkers, and Antwan Chambers, the current group facilitator. While the group is sponsored by Williams and Associates, it is Antwan who connects with youth on a more personal level.
Antwan, a school-based social worker, and a former middle school and high school history teacher, has a passion for helping teens discover who they are and supporting them in their journey. Antwan finds he is fulfilling his personal passion by sharing and empowering these teens others to find themselves. When asked why he changed directions in his career, he states he started to realize education is not the sole contributor to the success of a youth or young person. He realized change starts at home and within the environment of the youth and education is only a component of success. As a social worker, he gets to be a larger part of a solution for today’s youth and the struggles they face, especially in the LGBTQ+ community.
The LGBTQ+ Support group participants fluctuate between 10 to 19 individuals at each meeting. There are only two other organizations that currently participate. It is Antwan’s hope this number grows and awareness starts to spread as restrictions due to COVID start to relax. Currently, this program, hosted by Hoyleton, is the only program of its kind for in-care youth within the state of Illinois.
The monthly group is more than a safe space for youth to engage with one another. Each meeting has a purpose and is designed to provide tools and skills to transition from adolescence to adulthood. Topics are frequently geared around life skills such as managing finances, leadership skills, self-care, responsible sexual health, and others. Participants are always encouraged to ask questions and given the opportunity to guide topics to subjects relevant to current life situations. While the meetings are designed to provide LGBTQ youth-in-care a safe space, it is also open to allies of these young people as well. It is not uncommon for a youth’s caseworker to attend for moral support.
It is important to note, facilitators and caseworkers do not guide youth as to how they should feel or identify. Facilitators encourage youth to speak to a trusted adult or mentor, who is not a family member, concerning guidance in questioning their sexuality or gender identity.
Meetings are reserved for in-care youth referred through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. It is a hope that eventually opportunity will evolve into a broader audience and also spark additional, yet separate, groups to include adults.
As an organization that promotes, diversity, inclusion, equity, and education, Hoyleton is excited for the opportunities to host these meetings and provide safe spaces for tomorrow’s emerging adults. If you would like to partner with us in providing a safe, secure, and welcoming environment to hold future gatherings for our group, please reach out to Haili Loftin at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us directly at 618.688.4727.