Lanbo Yang ’15 wanted to spend his summer helping LGBTQ youths and he got a chance to do just that following a serendipitous introduction to the Ali Forney Center in New York City.
Yang was visiting a friend last winter break when he heard about the center, located down the street from his friend’s Harlem apartment. Just prior to that, Yang says, he had heard about the Burnam Summer Fellowship, established by Marcia Garbus Burnam ’49 and her daughter, Beth Burnam ’77, which gives students the chance to appreciate difference in the human demographic and condition by working at nonprofit or community-based agencies.
Along with providing food, clothing, mental health treatment, medical care, job training assistance, and emergency and transitional housing, the Ali Forney Center also offers workshops and other programs.
Yang took the initiative and visited the center to express his desire to use the fellowship to help out.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” Yang says.
Though LGBTQ teenagers make up about five percent of the U.S.’s youth population, they represent 40 percent of the young homeless population. For the most part, these youths are either thrown out of their homes by disapproving family members or they run away to escape family pressure, says Carl Siciliano, the center’s executive director.
“We try to do a lot of creative arts work with young people. We like to affirm their skills and their talents. We find it’s therapeutic for them,” he says.
Yang, an English major, used writing prompts to spur creativity within the group. He’d tell participants to write about “the end of something,” for example. That thing could be a life, a lunch, a friendship, etc.
After writing for 30 minutes, Yang says, students could share their writing and thoughts on characters, themes, and other subjects. Two clients who attended all of the workshops are still working with him on their writing—one is writing a novel and the other wants to improve his fiction writing skills.
The experience of working at the center affected him deeply, Yang says.
“I’m interested in a future in healthcare, so I plan on pursing a career in medicine. Through this fellowship and summer experience, I’ve kind of specified the type of people I want to treat in the future, what type of medicine I want to specialize in,” he says, noting that he’d like to serve marginalized populations.
In fact, this summer, he volunteered on Saturdays at a Bronx medical clinic in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, serving as a patient advocate.
Raising awareness about those in need—especially those who aren’t featured in the news, such as homeless LGBTQ youths—is something on which he’ll continue to work, Yang says.
--Photos by ©Vassar College-Karl Rabe