Julie Wertheimer on Funding LGBTQ Youth

The LGBTQ youth advocate tells us how the Spruce Foundation is improving the quality of life for one of our city's most vulnerable populations.

The Spruce Foundation is one of the only in the region with specific grant-making programming dedicated to LGBTQ youth.

The Spruce Foundation is one of the only organizations in the region with grant-making dedicated to helping LGBTQ youth.

What is unique about the Spruce Foundation’s services to the LGBTQ community in Philly?
We are the first foundation in the region — and still one of the only foundations — with specific grant-making programming dedicated to LGBTQ youth. We incorporated an LGBTQ-specific grant into our funding priorities in 2013, because we recognize the unique challenges that this population faces. It became clear to us as a foundation that while the programs we were funding were reaching LGBTQ youth, those programs weren’t necessarily affirming their very particular experience in a way that helped them feel recognized and accommodated. Now, we can proudly say that we seek out and support programs designed to meet LGBTQ youth where they are, and to help them develop the skills and resources that they need.

What made Spruce get involved with LGBTQ youth in particular?
A former board member became intimately familiar with the need for LGBTQ youth-specific funding based on his own work in the Philadelphia nonprofit scene. Spruce had come to a place in its development where it could start thinking strategically about what would come next for us — would we increase the size of our grants? give out more than one grant per focus area? — and this board member advocated passionately for a new LGBTQ funding stream. We researched the feasibility of such a focus, and in doing so, we learned staggering things about the specific challenges of LGBTQ youth. Response to the idea from both within Spruce and from our supporters was overwhelmingly positive; it was clear that not only was Spruce in a position to grow, but we were in a position to fill a critical void.

How have you seen the impact of the funding in the community?
One of the ways in which we’ve seen the impact of this grant is making the decision to be leaders of the charge. Even as a small, still-emerging foundation, we were able to draw attention to the need to fund LGBTQ youth-specific programming. People took notice; people followed. There are other, similar funding opportunities in the area now, and we think that’s great. Another way we’ve seen impact is in the strategic deployment of our grants for maximum impact. The array of programs we’ve funded have reached the community in various and often generative ways. For example, we’ve been able to support legal services for LGBTQ youth through an advocacy position with the Support Center for Child Advocates; we also funded an after-school psychologist at Attic Youth Center. These are tangible, critical services that not only meet needs for entire groups of queer youth, but also occasionally help to re-shift and re-shape workplace attitudes toward and receptivity of LGBTQ-focused services.

What are some interesting challenges — whether social or institutional — that the organization has had in supporting this cause?
The biggest challenge we’ve faced, actually, is how few nonprofits have LGBTQ-specific youth programming. As such, it’s always the smallest pool of applicants each year. Luckily, all of the organizations that apply have incredible, comprehensive programs — and we often wish we could make grants to all of them. We have seen the pool grow incrementally every year, and we hope it continues to.

How do you all plan to improve upon the work that the organization has done?
We hope to eventually expand our grant-making — whether through larger grants, or through multiple grants in each category. Another thing we’d love to do has to do with our long-term mission. Spruce exists not just to support the nonprofits on the ground doing amazing youth service work, but also to prime the next generation of philanthropists, in part by demystifying what it means to make a charitable gift. We’d love to engage with some of the young people positively affected by our LGBTQ grant and do a community giving workshop with them — and maybe teach them how to get their own giving circle off the ground!

For more information on The Spruce Foundation, visit sprucefoundation.org. Spruce’s upcoming annual fundraising gala is open to the public, with tickets still available online.