Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Eli’s Story

Eli, a client of the Cohen Family Wellness Center Youth Intensive Outpatient Program, with his cousin's dog, Leon.

Animals are just one of the things Eli loves in his life. Here he is with his cousin’s dog, Leon. “He’s just a pup (though he is huge),” Eli says. “I love him sooooo much.”

Hello! My name is Elijah, but people mostly know me as Eli.

Three years ago, in mid-December, I decided to try and take my own life. I was about 12 years old, not knowing anything but the harsh feelings I was feeling. Before I was hospitalized, I never had any encounters with therapists, psychologists, etc. I didn’t believe anyone would ever be able to help me; I truly believed life was not meant for me. Meeting countless licensed strangers, one after another, didn’t feel right for me, and every single one of them proved and heightened my belief. I have a hard time opening up, even now.

The next step was supposed to be the first step, but since I was in such a severe situation, therapy only started taking its first step after I found the right therapist. It doesn’t mean all of the other people weren’t good at their job, it just meant they weren’t right for me and the person I am. After a few trials and errors, I finally found someone I still believe is right and suited for me.

I never had the decision to even think of what I wanted to do with myself—if I even wanted to get better. After just a few sessions with my new therapist, I finally realized how deep in the hole I really was, how horrible the feelings I was feeling really were—and that I did want to get better. I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling anymore. I was so accustomed to my own thoughts because I’d been living with them day by day. I thought I knew what life really was. Looking back, I was just a very afraid and vulnerable kid, and I still am, but I want to share my vulnerability today.

Accepting is the first step to growth. I accepted where I was at that point, and I was trying my best, with the help of my loved ones, to become a better version of myself. Maybe even the best. I didn’t even notice my change until my therapist pointed out how I was a lot more interactive in the conversations I had with her, much more in the moment and engaged. I was interested in others and learning to be interested in myself. Being here, in this world, didn’t seem as bad as I first thought it to be. It wasn’t anything big, I didn’t feel like I won the lottery, but it felt nice to walk to the park with my little sister, it felt nice to open doors for others as we smiled at each other, and it felt nice to share meals with my family, knowing how much work my mother put into each one. I started noticing the smallest things, which made living life feel nice. I realized my big feelings weren’t as big as I thought and started having faith in my future, not just for the long run, but for tomorrow. Life moved on. I started to do the same.

Therapy taught me a lot of things, especially the way I interact with myself and my mind. If I ever have the slightest thought of something negative regarding myself, my immediate reaction now is to ask myself why. Therapy also made me realize how others in my life were also struggling, maybe not as severely, but they were still struggling. Before I would barely speak to my parents; now I try to stay near them as much as possible … not always talking but having our presence within a close distance was enough. I have learned many ways to calm myself down during an episode or whenever I am having a rough time. It has also taught me patience for myself, and to not judge myself, like how I wouldn’t for others … admiring the simpler things and living in the present.

More importantly, I have learned that healing has no destination. For the short term, I would like to pass all of my classes and maybe even make a few close friends this school year. Right now, my only goal long term is to get into a good university and be able to provide for myself and my family. I feel more hopeful for my future.

Thank you, Diana, for letting me experience life as it is.

Response from Eli’s therapist, Diana Michelena, Program Coordinator, Youth Intensive Outpatient Program (Youth IOP), Cohen Family Wellness Center:

I’m so glad Eli decided to write his story—to inspire others, and so that he can see for himself his incredible gifts, strengths, and potential.

Eli is a 15-year-old transgender boy who initially presented with severe depression symptoms. He was reporting severe low mood, lack of motivation, urge to self-harm, multiple hospitalizations, and suicide attempts. Additionally, he struggled in school, refusing to attend for months. It is heartbreaking to see a young person in such distress, with them not knowing how special and unique they are. They don’t know it can be better, and I am so grateful it is my job to get them there.

Eli attended our Youth IOP, participating in multiple individual sessions a week. His mother also attended sessions, and we worked together to determine ways she could best support Eli. Family involvement makes such a difference, and the vast majority of families want to do right by their children and will do so, given the tools and chance.

The family also collaborated to support Eli’s academic concerns. We connected them to a school that specializes in students with emotional needs. Throughout the program, Eli made outstanding progress, and today he is a thriving graduate of the school and returned to public school this year. He has been able to connect to staff and students, reported finding joy in little things again, and has been making great effort to engage in the community around him. He reports that he hasn’t had suicidal thoughts in months. Most remarkably, Eli has just ended his Summer Youth Employment Program, which I know he is rightly proud of. I have no doubt that Eli will continue to make himself proud. He has come so far, after facing so many challenges. He is full of a promise he is now poised to realize, and I can’t wait to watch him soar.

Editor’s Note: If you are actively suicidal, go to your nearest emergency room or call 911. For anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available.

RTF Clinical Coordinator Youngkwang Moon on Gender-Affirming Care and the Role of Social Workers


Clinical Coordinator Young Moon with a client of The Child Center Residential Treatment Facility

Earlier this summer, we shared with you sobering statistics regarding LGBTQ+ youth in America—and how critical it is that we support them, now more than ever. Clinical Coordinator Youngkwang (Young) Moon and the team at The Child Center Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) in Brooklyn are on the frontlines in this critical endeavor.

The RTF serves young people ages 12-18 who have had multiple psychiatric hospital placements or have been involved with the juvenile justice system. It is the only facility of its kind in the region. We care for youth people have given up on multiple times. They often struggle with significant mental health challenges, trauma, and social determinants of health. Yet they are as full of promise as any young person, as you can see by the personal stories of former residents like Danny and Nyomi.

They also are overwhelmingly LGBTQ+. According to Young, 75 percent of the youth at the RTF identify as LGBTQ+. Sadly, they often lack the support that most young people can take for granted.

But when they come here, they find a support system waiting for them. In the Q&A below, Young describes in eloquent and moving terms what that means for the youth here, and why he believes social workers play a pivotal role in moving society toward a truly inclusive and caring society. Young will be leaving The Child Center at the end of this month, and we are deeply grateful to him for strengthening the RTF in ways that will benefit our youth now and in the future.

The Child Center of NY: You are clearly very passionate about social work. What inspired you to become a social worker?

 Young Moon, LMSW: Growing up, I loved the idea of helping people and providing a big impact for the community. People around me talked about joining the medical field as a way to do that. But I had an interest in the community as a whole, society as a whole. Going to school, learning more about social problems, I felt that social worker is a unique role, really addressing those issues and making an impact socially. Social workers support individuals and the community so that overall, as a society, we can improve. I really like that aspect. A lot of issues are not possible to address with medical care alone. We can medicate everyone only so much, but that’s not going to give youth the skills and tools they need to do well in the community. That’s what we need to do instead of always going to hospitals and having psychiatric stays.

As I worked in the field, I saw how important social work is for everyone. Social workers are in a unique position to have a big impact on our society as a whole. I identify with how social workers think, and I felt like I could do my part for the world as a social worker more than anything else.

Can you describe what it means to be clinical coordinator at the RTF?

The way I like to break it down is in three ways. First, the individual aspect; I work directly with clients and their families, providing therapy. The second portion is what we call mezza level: case management, connecting clients with government agencies and services in the community, and generally making sure everyone is working together to support the kids. The third level is using my social worker lens to ensure the facility is operating well therapeutically, and our team has the tools to really support our youth here.

Speaking of the team at the RTF, you speak very highly of the medical team. It seems like they have used every tool at their disposal, including their innovation and passion, to support LGBTQ+ youth in meaningful ways. Can you tell us more about that?

The medical team, led by Hannah Rush [Director of RTF Medical Services], really pushed for gender-affirming care. They saw the need for it and made it happen. One very significant thing they did was establish a partnership with Callen-Lorde, a medical provider that specializes in LGBTQ medical care and information. Callen-Lorde brings their medical van to the RTF monthly and answers our LGBTQ clients’ questions, including questions regarding hormonal therapy so they can get some education on it. I had one client who wanted to get hormonal therapy, and we didn’t have the structure for that at the time. But we are building the processes and structure so any youth in the future can get gender-affirming care, which includes affirming their gender identity, using their appropriate pronouns and preferred names, providing items that can be affirming such as chest binders, and referring clients to support systems and groups upon discharge. The medical team is doing a great job spearheading those processes for the kids. It is inspiring that they saw the need and really made a difference.

Why is it so important to offer LGBTQ+ youth this kind of care?

It can be very closely tied to their self-esteem. They experience parents, friends, other people who are supposed to be in their corner, denying who they feel they are. That really takes a toll on their mental health. They struggle with that. These kids deserve a safe space to feel like there are people who see who they are as a person. Even though we’re not their family, we care for them. It’s important they have that support, a place on their mental health journey where they can feel comfortable speaking about who they are as a person and where we provide as much support as we can so they can thrive and improve their mental health.

What has been the most rewarding part of your work at the RTF?

There is a lot that affected me. Seeing a kid who met their treatment goal and went into the community successfully. When I follow up, and they’re doing well, managed to go to school … hearing the struggles as well, but they’re really trying hard to make it work. I’ll hear from parents how their child has improved, that they’re excited to have them back home.

Even when I have cases where things don’t go the way we wanted them to—even in the hard moments—we know we did everything we can, and we hope eventually they will get there, and they know they can count on us for support. The way I see it, these kids don’t have a lot of people rooting for them. That they are able to form some connections here, and to know that people are rooting for them, even when they’re still figuring things out. … It’s one of those moments when you’re like, this is exactly why I entered the field. The youth here don’t have a lot. To be a part of giving second chances so they may be able to turn their lives around is really something. Society doesn’t give a lot of second chances. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for growth. We give them a place where they can really get that second chance in life and grow to be what they want to be–and know they can be.

Team Spotlight: Abraham Santana, MSW, on Creating a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Youth

Child Center of NY Social Worker Abraham Santana works with LGBTQ+ youth at the Cohen Family Wellness Center in Woodside, Queens

Abraham, a social worker at The Child Center of NY

The Child Center began in 1953 as a single children’s counseling center, based on ideas that were ahead of their time: that children could need mental health services; that serving whole families is a critical component of serving children; and that serving the larger community is at the crux of it all. Seventy years later, we remain as committed as ever to serving the communities—geographic and social—that need us.

Right now, the LGBTQ+ community needs us. Continue reading

The Child Center Hosts “Historic” LGBTQ Forum

Naija-li, youth co-panelist, speaks at the event.

As New Yorkers, we like to think of our city as one of the most progressive, where people of all walks of life are not only tolerated, but accepted and celebrated. It’s mostly true — New York is a great city that generally values its impressive diversity — but, sadly, it is also true that LGBTQ youth, even here, experience higher rates of isolation, depression, and suicide, in some communities more than others.

That’s why The Child Center of NY hosted the first ever LGBTQ Conference and Forum at our Ocean Bay Community Cornerstone in Far Rockaway on April 25. Continue reading

At the Tribeca Film Fest, a Big Debut

IMG_0583“There were three of us at first,” said Beatrice Winston, 18. “We were freshmen, all shy and scared.” The three girls, each struggling with her sexual identity, felt very alone in their new school. But they found courage in each other and decided to start an LGBTQ club. One by one, other teens joined. A social worker at their school agreed to facilitate the club, which
became a safe haven.

When the club had the opportunity to make a short film, through a partnership between The Child Center of NY’s Beacon Center in Far Rockaway and The Tribeca Film Institute, they knew exactly what they wanted it to say. Continue reading

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