The board of directors of homeless LGBT youth organization Lost-n-Found Youth have removed the group’s co-founder, Rick Westbrook, as executive director and demoted him to director of outreach. The surprising move led to a flood of criticism on social media Monday.

Rumors of the change surfaced online Monday afternoon and the backlash grew throughout the day, with Lost-n-Found Youth’s board of director’s releasing a statement Monday night confirming the leadership shakeup. In addition to the new position for Westbrook, former chief operating officer Clayton Skinner is now director of operations, and Brittany Garner is the new director of programs.

After noting Westbrook’s accomplishments with the organization as well as the group’s growth, the statement reads, “One thing is certain – the critical mission of LNFY is bigger than one individual. It truly does take a village to keep our young people safe and off the streets. As the co-founder of Lost-n-Found Youth, Rick started us on this journey to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in our community and we will never lose sight of his vision. That’s why he will remain with LNFY; his salary and benefits are unchanged. In his new role, he will continue engaging the community and the youth to ensure we have the funds to operate and serve the needs of our LGBT youth.”

Westbrook declined to comment on the move when reached by Georgia Voice on Monday afternoon. And Lost-n-Found Youth board member Jesse Peel hinted on Facebook Monday night that the decision will be reconsidered at a board meeting later this week. Supporters of Westbrook have arranged a meeting at Lost-n-Found Youth on Friday night to share their voices, and the following image began circulating on social media Monday afternoon in the wake of the news.

rick

Move comes as $1.1 million capital campaign starts

Westbrook has been the public face of Lost-n-Found Youth since its opening in November 2011, especially as the group began to attract national attention in 2014. The move also comes just as the group begins a long-awaited $1.1 million capital campaign to build a new facility. Westbrook had been a driving force behind the move and told Georgia Voice of his frustrations with the city of Atlanta’s permitting process in an interview from last November. The group announced earlier this month that permits had been acquired and a contractor had been hired. The new facility at the corner of 5th Street and Juniper Street in Midtown Atlanta will hold three times as many beds as the current shelter in the West End, plus add office space and a drop-in center.

Georgia State University released study findings in May saying that over 950, or 28.2 percent, of the 3,374 homeless and runaway youth in the metro Atlanta area self-identify as LGBT.

Here’s the full statement released Monday night by the Lost-n-Found Youth’s board of directors:

On Thursday, August 18, the Lost-n-Found Youth Board voted to reorganize the leadership structure into three new roles to create more efficiency and effectiveness in our operations. Rick Westbrook assumes the title of Co-Founder and Director of Outreach. Clayton Skinner, formerly Chief Operating Office, is now Director of Operations, and Brittany Garner is the new Director of Programs.

Brittany Garner, who possesses a Masters in Social Work, will oversee the programs of the organization that involve counseling and treatment. Clayton Skinner, an attorney, will oversee the operations of the organization focusing on budgets, requisitions, strategy, policies and procedures.

Rick’s notable stewardship of LNFY and steadfast dedication to the metro region’s homeless LGBT youth is unquestionable. He has been the driving force for much of this organization’s development and has drawn much needed attention to an issue that had largely gone unnoticed.

Over the years, the role of Lost-n-Found Youth has significantly grown and expanded. Sadly, we have seen an increase of LGBT youth on the streets. We have witnessed the life altering devastation of getting kicked out of a parent’s house simply because of your sexuality. LNFY social workers have been on the front lines to stop suicide attempts and get people’s lives back on track. We have helped hundreds of young people who were left homeless and abandoned by their families with nowhere to turn for guidance and assistance.

To meet the growing and diverse needs of our community, we have grown and expanded as well. In addition to the new leadership roles, we’ve hired four new house managers who are all trained social workers. We recently kicked off a new $1.1 million capital campaign for the Juniper Street building. This 5,900 square-foot youth center and transitional housing facility will triple our capacity to help local youth get off the streets.

One thing is certain – the critical mission of LNFY is bigger than one individual. It truly does take a village to keep our young people safe and off the streets.

As the co-founder of Lost-n-Found Youth, Rick started us on this journey to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in our community and we will never lose sight of his vision. That’s why he will remain with LNFY; his salary and benefits are unchanged. In his new role, he will continue engaging the community and the youth to ensure we have the funds to operate and serve the needs of our LGBT youth.

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