Your job title:
President & Executive Director
Your organization name:
Ali Forney Center
When was your organization founded?
In what city, town, or region are you located?New York, NY, USA
In what city, town, or region is your organization headquartered?New York, NY, USA
In which countries does your organization currently operate?
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
I am applying to elevate the profile and impact of the important work we do and the issues of parental rejection, homophobia, and transphobia resulting in LGBTQ youth homelessness. If selected as a winner, I will use the funding to launch the nation's first social enterprise led by homeless LGBTQ youth (with a focus on transgender youth who experience unemployment (and other detriments ie. identity-based violence, substance use, poverty, homicide, and suicidal ideation) at much higher rates) building career development pathways and opportunities for this very vulnerable population. Introducing this very critical opportunity responds to a number of barriers this population faces and further supports community development and awareness of this issue.
Tell us about YOU:
I am a first-generation Afro-Cuban-American whose family fled communist Cuba. Due to my parent's immigration status, language barrier, mental health, and substance use, I lived largely unstably housed, in the foster care system, and at the mercy of nonprofit organizations. I am a product of many nonprofit and social services agencies.
My purpose was designed for me in this upbringing, in fully committing to helping others like me who as children lived at or below the poverty level, experienced the traumas of lack of access to food, and/or have been abandoned/neglected/rejected/abused.
My vision is to create systems of self-sustainability for homeless youth across the US and around the world. Supporting providers through technical assistance and hands-on training on how to care for this population and developing enterprises that create pathways to independence and foster environments where youth design a life of their choosing.
My goals are to 1) further the footprint of the work we do 2) raise awareness 3) train and support providers around the globe on this issue 4) further housing and support models designed for this population and 5) introduce a variety of enterprises to help this population thrive.
Pitch your organization.
AFC was founded 19 years ago in response to the lack of safe/affirming shelter/services for homeless LGBTQ youth following a number of murders, overdoses, and suicides. Tragically, the issue has only worsened - largely due to increasingly harmful homophobic/transphobic rhetoric around the globe (likely due to the emergence of LGBTQ rights/visibility). In the US LGBTQ youth are 8x more likely to be homeless. They are 8x more likely to experience HIV infection/substance use/violence, homicide/suicide. There are an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 unaccompanied homeless youth in the US. Statistics around the globe reflect similar staggering numbers with higher occurrences of homelessness among LGBTQ youth.
Contributing factors are rooted in homophobia/transphobia due to religious belief. In the US other factors include poverty, social-economic status, race, political affiliation.
AFC is an 18 site shelter program and Drop-In Center operating 24/7/365 offering: 1) clinically based services to address mental health issues related to family rejection and street homelessness (trauma/violence/survival sex), 2) serving 300,000 meals/yr, 3) offering 100,000 clinical services, 4) STD/substance use treatment and care 5) career, education, and financial literacy training/support, and housing across NYC. We work with 40 providers around the globe to develop these services in other parts of the world.
Describe what makes your work innovative.
AFC's model is uniquely designed to respond to the needs of this population in being designed in a culturally and linguistically competent manner.
Programs are centered around the voices of this population through a number of ongoings (meeting monthly) client and resident advisory groups largely incorporating the "consumers" of these services in the design of services. Additionally, 90% of AFC's staff (myself included) represent the community in 1) race (90% of staff are people of color/90% of the youth we see are people of color) 2) experience with family rejections 3) experience with homelessness 4) experience with survival sex work 5) experience with substance use 6) living with HIV.
Above all, our model is clinically design centering mental health services and modalities to support this population and we offer youth space and structure around designing a life of their choosing providing them with the tools they need to rebuild their lives, to exit poverty and homelessness including career and educational services.
It is important to note that housing is the greatest barrier to engagement in care around these services. AFC's housing first model and progressive design helps to mitigate this barrier while youth wait for shelter/housing.
How and why is your organization having an impact on humanity?
AFC is effectively changing how homeless youth are seen, supported, empowered, and cared for. Our model disrupts the racial and social-economic norm that exists in social service systems. Moreover, we are working with communities around the globe to fully center and punctuate the need for these services. We are prioritizing the need of our youth and not the needs of the people of power and privilege.
1. AFC is led in racial and social justice values - these values allow us to authentically service this population and dismantles systems of oppression people of color/people living in poverty are subject to.
2. AFC has developed a robust technical assistance model to engage and support providers around the globe on introducing and furthering LGBTQ housing and supports.
3. AFC has partnerships with airlines and hotels that allow us to travel to introduce our programs and services.
4. AFC is developing a second entity to address our international technical assistance work and staff allowing us to help programs/shelters incorporate this work while serving as legal and fiscal sponsors (in Warsaw Poland for instance in order to incorporate as an LGBTQ youth shelter it was vital to have an affiliation with AFC for approval).
Select the key characteristics of the community your organization is impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your organization address?
Which of the following categories best describes your work?
Please write in the category that best describes your work.
Homelessness Solutions and Supports
How many people does your organization directly serve at present? How many do you anticipate serving in one year?
Local: 1,200 currently, and 2,400 in a year (this number is much higher for our international and national impact work, but it's not direct services in most cases).
Describe your impact goals and how you plan to achieve them.
AFC measure progress in three ways, one through dedicated program evaluation, compliance, and outcomes measurements led by our evaluation team. The second way is through external evaluation and outcomes partner, including research studies, that are third-party led. And, the third is through consumer outcomes and survey methods, engaging the community who benefits from services to understand our impact. At the core of this work we measure mobility towards and progress of key goals reducing poverty, addressing food insecurity/lack of access to food, good health & well being (centered in mental health for teens and young adults), access and engagement in education (especially through the lens of LGBTQIA+ inclusion), decent work & economic growth, and reduced inequalities. This work is also centered around key partnerships to offer comprehensive, wraparound, and community-inclusive services.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and how do you plan to overcome them? How would winning the Elevate Prize help you to overcome these barriers?
Our greatest barrier is sustainable funding, especially in light of the funding challenges the pandemic has presented. At the core of the funding issues we face is that AFC maximizes resources to benefit the population we serve, investing very little in administrative overhead and fundraising expenses. This challenge has created a unique opportunity for us to build resources and revenue streams in the most cost-effective way possible. Among the approaches we are adopting, we are seeking 1) seeking to introduce a social enterprise model that will allow our youth culturally competent and inclusive career paths while generating funds for our program and; 2) to convert our real estate model to ownership opportunities - AFC currently rents 17 of its 18 sites in NYC, directing over $1M a year to rents. We are seeking to move to an ownership model allowing those rent monies to pay mortgages and ultimately (once mortgage are paid) be directed to our program services. Accordingly, we seek to further develop a social enterprise in partnership with leaders in this space and to further a real estate acquisition plan of work. These two vital approaches will revolutionize the way AFC operates and is sustained.
How would you leverage the larger platform, audience, and brand recognition as an Elevate Prize winner to further advance your impact?
Awareness, education, and building community is vital to our success. There is a lack of understanding and awareness around the issues of family rejection, LGBTQIA+ youth homelessness in the US and around the globe. Having access to a larger audience with dedicated marketing and branding strategies, that we historically have not been able to afford as we've needed funds to support our youths, will have a transformative impact not only on the Ali Forney Center and the important work we do, but on our community, our LGBTQIA+ movement, and on society. Because family rejection rooted in LGBTQIA+ identities is so unfathomable, it is crucial that we are able to create an awakening of consciousness around this issue within the LGBT community and among our allies. We believe this will ultimately be the greatest impact we can have.
What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?
Although we are one of the most diverse LGBTQIA+ agencies in the country with 90% of our coworkers sharing lived experience with the community we serve (60% Black, 30% Brown), in our leadership, we recognize that in spite of this we have to work doubly to further this work. In early 2020, when our new ED was appointed, we launched a racial equity committee that meets twice a month and is charged with a plan of work that has over 100 recommendations for change that we are fully invested in. Flattening hierarchies, committing to transparency, increasing pay scales, developing leadership, professional and personal growth opportunities, introducing staff support funds, creating spaces for staff to come together (Black Affinity Groups, Staff Workgroups, etc) are among the key changes we have made since the change in leadership.
Additionally, in early 2020 retained the services of two key external consultants who supervise this work and have full domain over leadership in this area. One is a racial equity consultant, the other is a gender equity consultant.
At the core of this work, for us, is the need to center, prioritize, and hold space our essential workers who keep our programs running 24/7/365.
How are you and your team well-positioned to address the problem you are solving?
I have been in the nonprofit space my entire life, first as a client from the age of 4 and subsequently working for the program I grew up in at age 14. I know firsthand the impact this work has on the lives of those in need, I am a product of this work born at the intersections of poverty, parental mental health issues and substance use, food insecurity, living unstably housed, and being an immigrant and a person of color. I have worked in almost every aspect of nonprofits, largely focused on serving young people who are abused/abandoned/neglected by their parents, like myself, and the thousands of youth we serve. This is true for our leadership team as well. Through this, I've understood two key things which I infuse into our work and my leadership. 1) It is vital to center the voices of the people you are serving (no matter how old) and 2) It is our job to help young people heal from their experiences and to provide them the tools they need to build a life of their choosing. AFC honors this through Client Advisory Boards and youth-specific program design approaches.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
1. When I formally became the ED in early 2020, we had very little money in the bank, we couldn't make payroll, we had no line of credit, and we could not find a bank to offer us one due to our poor finances and cash flow issues. Prior to 2020, AFC had historically run operating deficits and struggled with cash flow (largely due to delays with reimbursements from government). I committed to fixing the immediate cash problem and also addressing the state of our finances, launching a robust plan that incorporates our leadership team, our board of directors, and external entities focused on our finances. Today, we are cash positive and have a line of credit, and endowment in development to ensure our viability.
2. The murder of Goerge Floyd and Breonna Taylor were especially heavy for us at AFC, simultaneously, we were named Grand Marshall's for 2020 Pride, we were conflicted feeling pride with our LGBTIA+ identities while grieving as people of color. To work through this, I relinquished our title and gave our space/airtime to Black Lives Matter. I also committed all pride money raised to fund a DEI role and to benefit our staff support funds.
Have you been featured in any documentaries, television shows, or live speaking engagements? If so, please share links to any available content.
COVID and Homeless LGBTQ Youth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUfNM-qdVj4
NYC Pride 2021 speech: https://youtu.be/G-76r8wumvENYC Pride 2021 broadcast: https://youtu.be/btvnzUQp8qU
PVH 2021 panel: https://youtu.be/VLWjLFBw50A
APAT 2019: https://youtu.be/OgXJJPDcnq8
APAT 2018: https://youtu.be/IPjqaeUWZUE
Honoring Lady Gaga and Her Mom
If selected as an Elevate Prize winner, how will the funding help you achieve your goals?
From a financial perspective, the funds will directly benefit our sustainability efforts, particularly that of model replication, and social enterprise development. From a partnership perspective, this award will help us further our branding, marketing, business development, and human capital priorities. We are a very lean organization that prioritizes its services, the staff who do this work, and the young people in our care. Having your partnership and support in these areas will have a systemic impact on our mission, and the important work we do.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
AFC partners with over 100 organizations in NYC this includes other shelters, youth community services providers, dental, vision, legal, benefits connection, immigration services providers, and more. In most cases, the partners are on-site with our teams providing support and care for our clients or on-site providing support and care for our staff. Some of our partners include:
Center for Antiviolence Education
Hellen Keller Institute
Tribecca Film Festival
Sex Workers Project
Lawyers for Children
The Hetrick Martin Institute
Department of Education
Harlem Children's Zone
Montefiore Adolescent Clinic
Columbia University School of Social Work
New York University School of Social Work
Fashion Institute of Technology
Gods Love We Deliver
Museum of Modern Art
The Keith Haring Foundation
Jewish Child Care Agency
Black Lives Matter
Human Rights Campaign
In which of the following areas do you and your organization most need support?