ACS Welcomes New Program for LGBTQQ Youth

Letter to the Community
By: Philippe Rey, PsyD, ACS Executive Director

Dear Community Friends,

Since becoming the Executive Director of Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS) in 2004, my leadership decisions regarding agency growth, change, and development have always been guided by the primary reasons why ACS began in the first place. ACS was conceived in 1975, by a group of dedicated and passionate community individuals who decided to do something real and meaningful for teens in distress. Their vision was to open a safe, warm and welcoming place of respite for troubled teens − a place where any young person could simply walk in and find a trusted adult in whom they could confide. ACS, in essence, derived from this vision and has developed as a place where all teens are welcomed by staff, Board, and supporters alike with open arms, minds and hearts. These basic principles of inclusion and acceptance have been the driving forces behind all of ACS’ programming decisions. ACS’ On-Campus Counseling (OCC) Program, Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT) Program and After-School Counseling Program (ASCP) all welcome teens in need by providing affordable, professional, accessible counseling services. Even our decision to move ACS’ offices in 2011 to our current location – a space that is bright, intimate, and inviting − was guided by the original idea of ACS being a safe, welcoming place for teens.

In keeping with the spirit of ACS being synonymous with “welcome,” we recently made the decision to expand services, once again, to include an even broader clientele. As of July 1, 2013, ACS is proud to have added a fourth program, Outlet, to its offerings. Founded in 1997, the mission of the Outlet Program is to empower Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQQ) Youth and build safe and accepting communities through support, education and advocacy. Outlet is the only program between San Francisco and San Jose that provides LGBTQQ youth with counseling and community, leadership training and advocacy, and outreach awareness.  It is also the only program in the state of California that provides bilingual services for LGBTQQ youth. After spending several years working on their strategic plan, Outlet spent the last year performing an in-depth investigation into the need to be acquired by a larger, local non-profit. Given their proven history of excellent services, scope of services, quality reputation, and degree of professionalism, Outlet’s decision to choose ACS over other agencies as their permanent home is a testament to our own quality, history, dedication, hard work, mission, and vision. Prior to joining ACS, Outlet was housed at the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) in Mountain View, and, prior to that, at the YWCA of the Peninsula. Outlet’s affiliation with ACS will allow it to reach more youth in East Palo Alto, Redwood City and other parts of San Mateo County where services are greatly needed. Both ACS and Outlet will continue to enjoy an important partnership with CHAC, and Outlet will continue to provide support groups and other services at CHAC’s Mountain View location, as it currently does.

The acquisition of Outlet will expand ACS’ ability to provide targeted services to a community that is in great need of welcoming and personalized support. The Pew Research Center’s recent nationally representative survey of 1,197 LGBT people offers testimony to the many ways they feel they have been stigmatized by society. About four-in-ten (39%) say that at some point in their lives they were rejected by a family member or close friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; 30% say they have been physically attacked or threatened; 29% say they have been made to feel unwelcome in a place of worship; and 21% say they have been treated unfairly by an employer. Notably, the survey finds that 12 years of age is the median age at which lesbian, gay and bisexual adults first felt they might be something other than heterosexual or straight. For those who say they now know for sure that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, that realization came at a median age of 17 (“A Survey of LGBT Americans Attitudes, Experiences and Values in Changing Times” 2013). In fact, LGBTQQ youth are at high-risk for both substance abuse and depression. According to the Council on Drug Abuse: “The lack of social acceptance that LGBT youth experience can lead to dangerous behavior. LGBT youth experience higher rates of cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use, as well as other illicit drugs including cocaine, methamphetamines and injection drugs”(http://www.drugabuse.ca/drug-abuse-amoung-lgbt-youth). Research done by the University of Pittsburgh found that LGBT youth are 190 per cent (on average) more likely to resort to substance abuse, including an increase of 340 per cent for bisexual youth and 400 per cent for lesbian youth. When LGBT youth use drugs to deal with their pain, mental health issues ‒ such as depression ‒ can be aggravated.  In fact, gay and lesbian teens are three times more likely to report a history of suicidality and more than twice as likely to report symptoms of depression than their heterosexual counterparts, research suggests (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2011).

These statistics are grim. However, I am thrilled about welcoming Outlet to the ACS family so we can begin to help more teens struggling through adolescence. By serving LGBTQQ youth, ACS will become THE place for all teens in need of social and emotional support.  As you can imagine, adding Outlet as ACS’ fourth program strikes a personal chord with me.  When I was a struggling teen dealing with my own sexuality, I wish there had been a program like Outlet in my community.  There is a huge need for social and emotional services for these youth, as the above research sadly demonstrates. Providing services to these teens and being able to cross-refer to any of our other three programs ensures a continuity of care within one organization, making it easy to navigate available resources and get them the appropriate assistance they need.  ACS looks forward to more easily reaching and serving Bay Area LGBTQQ teens, providing them with the type of professional, compassionate mental health support and substance abuse treatment the general community has come to expect from us over the past 38 years.

The spirit of “welcome” has and continues to be the foundation of ACS – it is who we are, what we do, and it will continue to guide all of our future growth and strategic directions. So with the pride and joy of adding a new program to this great agency, I want to salute and thank our founders, who back in 1975 welcomed the teenagers of that past to a place that allowed them to grow and seek support enabling them to become the current leaders of our communities. The spirit of “welcome” is alive and well today and growing. With the addition of the Outlet Program to the ACS family, our organization is now able to welcome all teens in need of support, respite and guidance. No matter what the issues, teens up and down the Peninsula, from Gilroy to South San Francisco, are now able to come to us, one single agency, and find the professional, reliable, compassionate care they need. On behalf of both Board and staff, I am so proud to be able to continue the great legacy of ACS and be able to say “welcome” to so many teens who otherwise would have no place to go. ACS = Welcome!

In Service,

Philippe Rey
Executive Director
Adolescent Counseling Services

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