BREAKING: Resource Center Dallas to take over Youth First Texas on June 1

yftResource Center Dallas will assume all programming from Youth First Texas on June 1 as a result of an agreement reached between the two organizations, according to a release from RCD this afternoon. 

This will ensure a continuation of programming for LGBTQ youth, which was in doubt earlier this year after the previous YFT board had dwindled and remaining members either resigned or were removed.

After RCD assumes YFT programming, YFT will become a program of RCD. Programming will continue with YFT’s current staff and volunteers at its present location at 3918 Harry Hines Blvd.

Our strategic vision is to expand programs for seniors, families and youth,” RCD CEO Cece Cox said in the release. “As Resource Center Dallas nears its 30th anniversary, we are eager to take on the new challenges of serving our community’s youth and plan to work with the youth to develop additional programs and services. We will build upon the significant foundation and broad community support established by Youth First Texas over their 13 years of service.”

Richard Gordon was one of YFT’s first board members. He returned to the board in January to become interim chair after all previous board member resigned.

I am confident that the LGBTQ youth of North Texas will greatly benefit by the Center taking on the programming offered by Youth First,” Gordon said. “After extensive review and discussion, it was decided that this move to the Center will provide the much-needed stability and support that our LGTBQ youth deserve.”

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Youth First Texas chair calls meeting to dissolve board

Chris Cognetta

Youth First Texas board chair Chris Cognetta has called a special meeting of the board for Thursday, Jan. 17 “to consider and act on the resolution to reorganize the Youth First Texas Board of Directors (including removal of all current members of the Board of Directors).”

“It’s time for new leadership to take on the challenges of the next decade,” Cognetta said.

A year ago, a number of YFT directors either rolled off the board or were not re-elected because the remaining members felt the organization needed a more active, working board.

One of the remaining board members, Jeremy Liebbe, expressed concern recently that financial entries were not being kept up to date. He said he pulled some reports off the computer in December and there had been no updates since October.

Liebbe’s term ended in December and he was not re-elected for the current year.

A number of community leaders reportedly expressed their concerns at a YFT board meeting Jan. 8, including Wayne Davis of Dallas Bears, Robert Delgado of the United Court of the Lone Star Empire and Jeffrey Payne of Leather Knights. Representatives from the Dallas Tavern Guild, Cedar Springs Merchant Association and Texas Gay Rodeo Association also attended.

“Our major donors were upset,” said board member David Freudiger.

—  David Taffet

TBRU sells out host hotel in 2 hours

Registration for Texas Bear Round Up is off to a fast start. TBRU 18 takes place March 14-17.

As of 11 p.m. Thursday, only four rooms were left for Thursday through Saturday at the The Crowne Plaza, the host hotel, just two hours after registration began. The hotel is now sold out. Last year, TBRU took 36 hours to sell as many rooms. Organizers assure attendees there are plenty of rooms at the overflow hotels. The host hotel requires a minimum three-night stay.

Early registration ends Dec. 2 when the price goes from $98 to $120.

The overflow hotel is The Park in near Love Field on Mockingbird Lane, The Comfort in on Stemmons Freeway and the Hawthorne Suites on Brookriver Drive, a block from the Crowne Plaza. Shuttles are provided all weekend from the overflow hotels to the host hotel.

Among the Saturday excursions are a trip to South Fork Ranch and a newly added Choctaw Casino trip.

Last year the weekend raised $30,000 for area nonprofits including Youth First Texas, AIDS Interfaith Network and the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund.

—  David Taffet

Youth First Texas’ most popular event of the year, Thanksgiving dinner, is tonight

Thanksgiving dinner at Youth First Texas is usually the busiest day of the year at the agency serving LGBT youth.

The 13-year tradition takes place this year on Thursday, Nov. 15 — which is this evening — at the YFT center at 3918 Harry Hines Boulevard.

“Alumni, youth and volunteers come out the of the woodwork for it,” said YFT board President Chris-James Cognetta.

Doors open at 4 p.m. for food preparation. Dinner begins at about 6:30 p.m. and runs until close at 9:30 p.m. The dinner is free and is donated and cooked by volunteers.

“This may be the only Thanksgiving they have,” Cognetta said of the youth who attend.

He said a number of youth have aged out of the foster system and have no other family.

YFT is also looking for a volunteer to open the center on Thanksgiving night — Thursday, Nov. 22. (If you’re at least 25 and interested in volunteering call 214-879-0400 ext. 203.)

Cognetta said he also plans to have the center open at least part of the day on Christmas.

“Some of our youth get very depressed that day,” he said.

—  David Taffet

Up to 20 LGBT youth served by Dallas agency could benefit from Obama’s immigration order

The rally outside the White House after Friday's announcement. (Via NGLTF)

As many as 20 LGBT young people at Youth First Texas could take advantage of a new immigration policy announced Friday by President Barack Obama, according to YFT Board Chair Chris Cognetta.

Obama announced that the U.S. will stop deporting illegal aliens who were brought to this country as children, and they will be able to obtain work permits.

Effective immediately, the new rule will apply to people who are currently under 30 years old, arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived here for at least five years. To qualify, they must have no criminal record and have earned a high school diploma, be in school or served in the military.

The provisions are similar to those proposed in the DREAM Act that has been before Congress several times but has not passed.

The change in policy could have an even greater impact for gay and lesbian youth. That’s because in many cases, a heterosexual sibling marries a U.S. citizen and can immediately apply for a green card and begin the naturalization process. The gay or lesbian sibling cannot be sponsored by a partner.

—  David Taffet

LGBT employee group at AT&T funds summer GED program at Youth First Texas

Back row, from left: Joshua S. Hampshire, Adolpho Martinez, Celina Blanco, Joy Rasco, Maz-E Magnus, Daniel Hernandez, Argenis Ayala, John Cramer; and front row, Joeii Johnson.

LEAGUE at AT&T, the Dallas-based phone giant’s employee resource group, has given Youth First Texas a grant to fund a summer GED and SAT program. The grant allows YFT to hire a professional teacher to conduct the two one-week intensive series.

“One of our missions is to ensure youth get their high school education and go on to college,” Dallas’ League President John Cramer said.

He said the group raised half of the $5,800 donated to YFT at a brunch. The money was matched by the League Foundation.

AT&T’s Josh Hamilton, who was on hand to present the check to the youth group, runs a job shadow program that brings high school students to the company’s offices to show them the type of work AT&T offers to people with high school diplomas and college degrees. Cramer said the program is designed to encourage students to stay in school and especially show LGBT youth that “it gets better.” Although the program mostly works with schools, Cramer said he wanted to make sure YFT had the same access to the company’s resources.

YFT board chair Chris Cognetta said the money will be used to hire a teacher. Both the GED and SAT camps will run for a week each, eight hours a day. At the end of the GED camp, students will take their high school equivalency tests. Cognetta said YFT will rebate the testing fee for students who pass the tests.

The test costs $95. He said students taking the SAT will also receive a rebate if they score higher than a minimum score. For students who need more intensive instruction, one-on-one tutoring is available throughout the year.

Cognetta said only a few spaces remain for the summer camps, but this is just a pilot program and he plans to continue partnering with League at AT&T to offer the classes throughout the year.

—  David Taffet

YFT hires interim staff member, extends hours

Youth First Texas board President Chris-James Cognetta said the organization has hired an interim youth programs coordinator. Amy McNamara will begin work Tuesday, Jan 24.

Chris-James Cognetta

With staff on board, YFT will extend its hours. Tuesday through Thursday, the building on Harry Hines Boulevard will be open from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. — and on Friday until 10 p.m.

Cognetta said that YFT is still looking for a permanent youth programs coordinator that they hope to have in place by the end of March.

The last YFT staff member was Sam Wilkes. Although his position was development director, he also staffed the center. Wilkes left in November. The board of YFT decided to replace his position with staff that does youth programming. Fundraising will be a function of the board.

Cognetta said volunteers have been staffing the center but it was difficult to find people who could be there before 6 p.m. on a regular basis. But opening that late meant many youth were going home from school and not getting back out in the evening. The 4 p.m. opening allows them to come to the center right after school.

Cognetta said the first event McNamara will coordinate is a Valentine’s party, on Feb. 10 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with food, music, dancing and games.

—  David Taffet

YFT restructures its staff

Development will become a board function, with programming handled by a professional staff member


PROM NIGHT | Youth attending a previous Gayla Prom stop dancing long enough to smile for the camera. Previously presented at SMU by Resource Center Dallas, the prom now comes under the purview of Youth First Texas.

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Officials with Youth First Texas have created the new part-time position of youth program coordinator, and the board hopes to fill the job before the end of January.

The new hire will be responsible for program development, implementation and evaluation.

The agency, which serves LGBT youth up to age 22, currently has no employees.

Sam Wilkes had served as director of development and administration, but that position has been eliminated.

In announcing the change, the YFT board called the staff restructuring a reflection of its stronger commitment to core programs.

“We really found that even though we have a program committee, we need a dedicated person,” said YFT Board Co-Chair Chris-James Cognetta.

He said the agency is looking for someone who has experience in youth work, preferably with the LGBTQA community. Other preferences include someone with an education or programming background and who is bilingual.

“We’ve had an influx of LGBTQA Hispanic youth,” Cognetta said.

Most of the Hispanic youth who attend are fluent English speakers, but their parents primarily speak Spanish. He said that it is important to welcome parents having trouble accepting their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity and to answer questions they may have.

“It makes a huge difference when we have a bilingual staff member,” he said.

Development will be taken over by a committee chaired by the treasurer, currently Kevin Mackenroth, and will include two other board members.

“The plan is to launch a sustained giving program from individuals and corporations, and include estate planning,” Cognetta said. He said this was the first time the agency has tried this approach.

Cognetta also said that YFT is in good shape financially.

“We’re going into the first quarter with 30 percent more income than we expected,” he said. “We’re putting more money into programming in 2012 than ever.”

Cognetta said that the core programs will continue. Education instruction includes health and nutrition classes as well as helping youth obtain GEDs or get into college. One of the agency’s recent success stories is a student who applied to Southern Methodist University with the help of YFT, and who is now a pre-law and pre-med student there.

Other YFT programs include the big group on Thursday nights, the gender identity group, self-defense class and Friday night family dinner.

The center maintains a food pantry for emergency situations for youth living on their own.

“We move them over to the SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] food stamp program,” Cognetta said. “But we fill the gap until we can get them into that.”

YFT is also trying to take over planning and organizing for the annual GAYLA prom, which has been held at SMU in May in recent years. Cognetta said the new programming director would take over handling the project, which was dropped by Resource Center Dallas.

“We’re looking for volunteers to pull it together,” Cognetta said.

Also, Cognetta said he hopes the new staff member will do more outreach to schools and gay-straight alliances and do “gap analysis” to determine who and what areas are underserved.

“I want to see the center open every evening at 4 and every Saturday night,” Cognetta said.

Currently, YFT is open Tuesday through Friday at 6 p.m., Thursday at 5 p.m. and every other Saturday evening. Cognetta said that many youth go home after school and don’t get out again. Opening earlier would serve more people, he said.

“Finding volunteers who will be there at 4 is a challenge,” Cognetta acknowledged. He said finding a group of people to each devote one Saturday a month to opening the center will likely be easier.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Give ‘Em Heel Urban Jungle Fashion Show at the Rose Room

Don’t be fashionably late

The fashion show is the largest annual fundraiser event at YFT that is 100% youth-designed and 100% youth-led.  All proceeds go directly to youth-designed and youth-led programs and activities at YFT.  The show will feature clothing designs by students and up-and-coming designers as well as entertainment in between the lines!  Non-alcoholic “mocktails” and snacks will be available at the bar.” — from Youth First Texas website.

DEETS: The Rose Room, 3911 Cedar Springs Road (inside Station 4). 6 p.m. $10 suggested donation for adults; $5 for youth.


—  Rich Lopez

WATCH: Youth First Texas’ ‘You’re Not Alone’ project, a peer-to-peer version of ‘It Gets Better’

When members of Youth First Texas went to Austin in March to lobby for anti-bullying legislation, they did a better job of explaining the importance of such laws than any of the adults who were there. They were able to look senators and representatives in the eye and tell them personal experiences about having been bullied. Some of the youth told lawmakers they had attempted suicide, something that wouldn’t have happened if schools took bullying more seriously.

Walking back from the Capitol to a local church that was hosting lunch, the YFT members had an idea to make videos about their experiences. First, they sent copies to State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who shared them with other members of the Education Committee. But the videos also had another purpose — saving lives. While the “It Gets Better” videos are mostly adults telling teens they’ll get through their bad experiences in high school, YFT’s “You’re Not Alone” videos contain messages from LGBT youth to LGBT youth.

Watch the first set of videos from YFT’s “You’re Not Alone” project after the jump.

—  David Taffet