LGBT young people are a target population for CHRIS Kids, and are represented throughout the agency’s programs. The state frequently sends gay and transgender youth to CHRIS Kids, where the staff — which includes several openly gay employees — receives specific training on LGBT issues, Colbenson says.
“We have had gay kids in all of our programs all along because there are a lot of gay kids in the foster care system that weren’t safe, and because we are a place that really demands respect in terms of how people treat each other,” she says.
Colbenson estimates that about 20 percent of young people in CHRIS Kids’ programs self identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The agency used to run a specific Rainbow Project, but last year combined it into the TransitionZ program, which helps youth ages 17-24 prepare to be self-sufficient, successful adults.
The 44 young adults who live in CHRIS Kids’ apartment homes receive not only housing, but individual assessments, counseling and other services to help them make the transition to living independently. All are required to work to prepare them to be on their own. The agency has also included a gay-straight alliance program, with a new session to start in late fall.
LGBT donors are crucial to the success of CHRIS Kids, especially because the agency sometimes misses out on other sources of support because of its unapologetic policy of inclusion, Colbenson says.
“Frankly, we don’t get some other donors because of our stand, but we don’t deny who we are and how we serve people, so our LGBT donors and supporters are critically important,” she says.