March 21, 2022
We are periodically featuring the views of young people working with or served by Caring for Colorado grantees on what they believe adults need to think about in supporting the positive and equitable growth and development of youth.
Four Corners Rainbow Youth Center: Listen to Youth & Provide Access to Support
Kal Fowler was cautiously optimistic when news of the Four Corners Rainbow Youth Center reached him via the “LBGTQ+ grapevine.” As a senior in high school in Aztec, New Mexico, at that time, he found school a “super dangerous and scary place” with constant worry about being outed as Queer. “I internalized homophobia worse over the years and eventually got to the point where I couldn’t handle it,” Kal said.
Located 45 minutes north of Kal’s hometown, in Durango, Colorado, the Four Corners Rainbow Youth Center is a regional resource providing support for youth who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+ (Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual). “Two-spirit” refers to a person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity. The Center provides expert and peer support and guidance, one-on-one mentorship, and educational programs for young people and their caregivers.
“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find youth who are in the throes of homelessness, sexual assault, bullying and substance abuse issues,” says Jennifer Stucka-Benally, executive director of the Four Corners Rainbow Youth Center. “We are often the first point of contact for these young people, serving as a safety net and helping to stabilize them emotionally.”
This was Kal’s experience. Sitting in on a training session at the Center for his first time, he was blown away. “I thought, wow, all of these people can be open about who they really are! It was my first experience getting to be a Queer person in public without being worried that I was surrounded by scary people. It was awesome,” he said.
Fast forward two years, Kal is now 20 years old, employed by the Center as a youth advisor, and is determined to help make healthy options available to young people. “I know that youth typically listen to people who are close to their age,” he says. “If I can share my experiences and talk about the care I received and the healing I’ve done, my hope is it will make things easier for them.”
Based on his life experience, Kal’s advice on what’s needed from adults to support the positive, healthy, and equitable growth and development of youth is twofold: listening to young people with an open mind and providing access to the support they need. “What I’ve noticed is some adults have a sort of adversity to learning. They form opinions and it’s difficult to change, but the world changes quickly and the ability to change is huge to supporting youth. This means listening to youth – really listening as equals. Youth will be vocal as long as you give them space to do so and they’ll tell you what they need,” said Kal. Accessibility is also huge, he says. “Making avenues of support more accessible to youth helps them address their struggles early on. I knew I needed help with my Queer identity, but couldn’t turn to my mom for support on this. Having access to an amazing resource like the Center was life changing for me.”