FRESNO, Calif. — AmeriCorps has teamed up with the nonprofit Equality California to offer a groundbreaking mentorship program for LGBTQ+ teens in the state. The Equality CaliforniaÂ Mentorship CorpsÂ has deployed 20 trained mentors to reach out to students at ten middle- and high schools in Fresno.
Brittney Yang, who serves as a mentor, said the program works like Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
“The end goal of this program is to let them really dive into their own identities, while also preparing them to become leaders by the end of the year,” Yang explained.
The mentors and students work through a curriculum designed to help kids develop self-confidence, manage stress, identify role models and plan for their future by setting personal, academic and career goals. Students can be referred by teachers or counselors, or can sign up on their own.
Chris Negri, program manager for Equality California, said aÂ 2019 studyÂ by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the University of Connecticut found half of all LGBTQ+ identifying teens in California reported being teased or bullied, and a quarter have been threatened with physical violence at least once because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“There’s a ton of evidence that kids who are LGBT face higher rates of bullying and harassment,” Negri observed. “And so that has repercussions throughout their lives in higher rates of depression, suicide, higher dropout rates.”
The program began in 2020, with 52 kids receiving mentoring sessions online. With school returning to in-person instruction, organizers hope to reach out to more students. Mentors get credit for one year of public service with AmeriCorps.