January 6, 2017
Van Heart faced the same quintessential adolescent struggles as his fellow teenagers. Was he well-liked? Were his grades good enough? Was he really prepared for life after high school? But Van’s stresses went beyond the conventional teenage experience. “I had just come out as a trans guy to my parents and at school and had been out as bisexual for a few years,” he said.
Like many young people challenging traditional gender boundaries, Van’s biggest struggle was finding the kind of support he needed in his school and at home. While he explains that his parents were not especially hostile about his transitioning, he found they often didn’t quite understand it. “They never used my preferred name or pronouns, and my mom would still try to get me to wear dresses,” Van remembered.
As he grew lonelier with each passing day, it became apparent to him that he needed an outlet. People who could truly understand his situation. So, he checked out the United Way-supported Indiana Youth Group (IYG). From the moment he walked in, he knew he had found his safe place. A place where he was supported, heard and understood.
A member since 2011, Van has utilized and grown from so many of the services that that IYG offers, from finding a place to express his passion for art in the ArtReach program to leaning on the gender variant group’s weekly meetings when he and his then-partner needed support. “Now, I go because I have so many amazing, amazing, AMAZING friends there in both the youth and staff,” Van smiled.
And the more support IYG gave to Van, the more he gave back. He began helping around the center with small projects like painting the gazebo. Now, he volunteers his voice on the youth council. “I enjoy the council because I love being able to change things I see that don’t work or are unfair to anyone,” Van said. “IYG is important to me because of all the lives I’ve personally seen it touch. I’ve seen kids who were on the brink of suicide be brought back and made the happiest kids alive. I’ve seen kids who were addicted to harmful drugs kick addictions and stay sober. I’ve seen kids who had severe eating disorders overcome them and get healthy again. I’ve seen kids who were homeless be taken in by other youth, or helped to find a home with the help of the staff. IYG has helped me realize that it’s the family you choose that matters.”
Because of IYG and United Way, Van had the support, friendship and guidance he needed at a critical time in his life. Because you, Van had the chance to become the strong, confident and caring person he is today.
Note: United Way fights for the education, financial stability, health and basic needs of everyone in our community. Indiana Youth Group is a United Way-supported agency addressing one or more of these priorities by providing safe places and confidential environments where self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are empowered.