Thursday, August 14, 2014
What if you could go back in time and talk to yourself when you were in high school? Knowing what you know now, seeing all that has changed since then, what advice would you pass down to make those awkward adolescent years just a little easier?
Just ask Melissa Moore, Wando High School graduate and executive director of We Are Family, a local organization that provides support and resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex (LGBTQI) and straight ally youth right here in the Lowcountry. Every day, Moore works with kids of all ages to foster healthy self image and help them navigate the confusing and often times painful process of growing up.
Founded in 1995 by Tom Myers, the father of a gay son, We Are Family has been helping local youth for almost 10 years, providing a much needed support system for the young LGBTQI community.
“If I had known about We Are Family back in 1995, I would have really benefited from it,” said Moore. “I was in school at Wando and there really wasn't anything. And that's when I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation. I accepted that, okay, I'm attracted to other girls, but I didn't have any role models. No one was out of the closet in school. There weren't any Gay-Straight Alliance groups. I didn't have any teachers that were openly gay, so it was kind of an isolating, lonely time.”
Over the years, We Are Family has transformed from an adult leadership organization, holding lectures and presentations at churches and community centers, to a youth-led, adult-supported model. We Are Family holds SafeSpace community meetings every Tuesday that provide a safe, structured environment for kids and teens to discuss any issues they are currently facing. The organization also features a Youth Advisory Board made up of students who regularly meet with Moore to discuss important topics and plan how the organization can address those issues, which can be anything from body image and mental health to conflict resolution and dealing with bullies.
“The whole idea behind that is that nobody knows better what young people need than young people themselves,” Moore said. “It's also about helping young people take on leadership roles and learn to work in groups. It's important that when you are trying to help a population of people that they be directly involved in the programming and leadership.”
Moore says the organization tries to mix up the types of programs offered by the organization, providing a mix of both fun and serious events.
On top of group meetings and discussions led by a licensed therapist, We Are Family also hosts a city-wide scavenger hunt and thrift store fashion show. The program is currently collecting school supplies for underprivileged kids who are HIV positive.
And while We Are Family provides support for LGBTQI youth throughout the tri-county area, the organization's East Cooper efforts hold an added importance for Moore.
“The Wando Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) started because we had a student who started coming to SafeSpace who said 'I want to start a GSA' and we were there to support that kid,” Moore said. “It's a renewing feeling to help kids at my alma mater. To help kids not have to go through the things that I had to go through coming up. It feels like I've come full circle. ... I feel like I'm making real change in the place I grew up.”
For more information on We Are Family and to learn how you can join, volunteer or contribute, visit the organization's official website at www.waf.org or contact Melissa Moore by phone at 843-637-9379.
Dustin Waters is one of our staff reporters and the staff copy editor. Follow Dustin on Twitter @MNreports for more news updates.