JustUs ATL enabled him to meet other youth he could relate to and put him on a path to ensure others will always have a place to go.
“I had so much despair after I got fired,” he said, explaining how JustUs ATL gave him a much-needed outlet.
“We [queer young people] need all the help we can get. There are gay bars, but if you are younger than 18, what do you do?” Berlin asked.
“There really is no outlet for LGBT youth. So it is important to provide that outlet. We are a one-of-a-kind organization and one of the most important in Atlanta,” he said.
Year-end goal to find own space
JustUs ATL celebrates its one-year anniversary on Saturday, May 25, at the Rush Center, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. This is an all-ages event and includes a dinner buffet. Alcoholic beverages will be available for those 21 and up. There will also be speeches and performances from youth and a meet-and-greet for teenagers.
JustUs ATL members will unveil their strategic plan at the celebration.
The plan includes a year-end goal of securing funding to afford their own space, said organizer Chris Kontopidis.
The Atlanta chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence recently awarded JustUs ATL a $2,000 grant. At a town hall meeting a year ago, JustUs ATL founders said they wanted to buy a space for approximately $42,000 with a $2,000 per month mortgage. They had hoped to do so by September 2012.
No specific fundraising goal has been revealed yet. Konotipidis said the group wants to secure enough to buy or even rent a space.
“We want to have a check-in center where youth can come and be safe and comfortable that they don’t have now,” Berlin said.
Currently, JustUs ATL meets at donated space from Positive Impact’s MISTER Center and at the Rush Center. Discussion groups are JustTeens for those 13-17 and JustYouth for those ages 18-28. There is also the popular TransIt! group for those who are transgender, gender non-conforming and/or gender-questioning youth ages 13-28.
“Basically we want to discuss how we plan to expand,” Kontopidis said. “We want to have a physical location.
“What’s already happening is we hold weekly groups and rotate topics,” Kontopidis added. “We have a volunteer counselor who facilitates the groups and offers group and one-on-one counseling. What we’d like to offer is three sessions a week and also one-on-one drop-in hours three times a week.”
JustUs ATL is expanding its mental health services and providing internships and leadership training. The group also plans to offer resources online and establish a hotline.
“I want to help make the city a better place for LGBTQ youth and give them something I never had when I was younger,” Berlin said.
Top photo: Lance Berlin (left) and Chris Kontopidis, organizers for JustUs ATL, say the youth-run organization hopes to have its own space by the end of the year. (by Dyana Bagby)