Youth Service, Inc. is celebrating Pride Month by highlighting LGBTQ+ voices in our various programs. In this Q&A spotlight, we are speaking with Nellie, a young adult in Youth Service, Inc.’s Community Navigator program who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community to highlight issues youth in this community are facing in Philadelphia and find out what YSI can do to support them.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. 

A: My name is Darnel, but I go by Nelli. I am a 25-year-old from Philadelphia. I graduated from Upper Dublin High School in 2013. Back then, my biggest interests were reading and exploring nature. In high school I used to read a lot of fiction books, stuff like; “Lord of the Flies”, “The Outsiders”, and “The Bluford Series.”

I still enjoy going out in nature and reading, but now, I love reading scary stuff more. My favorite authors are probably Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. I’m a bit more of a homebody now though and don’t get to read as much as I used to because I’m the godfather two 8-year-old twins. I’m basically a father figure to them, as I care for them a lot of the time to try to help their mom who just had a new baby.

Q: What brought you to YSI (if comfortable sharing)? 

A: Before I came to YSI, I never heard of YSI. My best friend used to come to YSI’s Community Navigator program for support and resources, and one day she brought me with her because she thought I could benefit as well.

I originally came to YSI for support with housing and work, but now I also kind of an advocate for my friends to come to YSI for support and resources as well. I’ve been in placement from age 5 to 18. Once I turned 19, I was in a supervised single living program. I was up there for about a year, but then I left because I didn’t feel comfortable. I became homeless then jumped around various programs in the city, but didn’t feel like I found a good fit where I felt comfortable. Eventually, I found my own place through a support program. Once I had my first apartment, I helped get friends who needed housing support into the program as well. Ever since then, I’ve either helped house friends or help them find programs that can assist them. I’ve always been a big supporter of my friends in anyway that I can.

Q: How long have you been involved in YSI programming? Which programs? 

I’ve been in the Community Navigator program for about 2 years and I really like the staff and atmosphere at YSI. You can tell that the staff enjoy what they do. The Community Navigator help staff have helped me find work, get hygiene and clothing for myself and god children and with resources and support for my friends as well. I bring my friends because I trust that YSI will get them the support and help they may need, just like they did for me.

Q: In your experience, do you feel that YSI programming/staff is supportive of LGBTQ+ youth? 

A: Most definitely. Usually I can tel right away if people don’t feel comfortable around people who identify as LGBTQ+, but I’ve never got that feeling from anybody at YSI. I’ve noticed that other LGBTQ+ identifying youth come to YSI as well. I’ve told various friends in the community that if they ever needed supports to come to the Community Navigator program at YSI, because I feel safe and welcomed here.

Q: What has your experience been at YSI as a LGBTQ+ youth? 

A: I feel safe coming here. Since I’ve been coming here, I come here about 3 times a week because I like being here. It feels like a very safe place, I love the staff and our conversations. They really care. I’ve been nothing but comfortable at YSI.

Q: What do you hope to see YSI do in the future to support LGBTQ+ youth more? 

A: I would love to become peer advocate at YSI, because I am getting close to the program’s age limit. I think it would be helpful to also have support groups and workshops for youth. Coming into a program it is nice to get support with donations like work clothing, hygiene items, etc., but we need to get inside the minds of youth and really have a full spectrum of support.

Throughout the pandemic, a lot of LGBTQ+ youth were/are really struggling. Prior to the pandemic, a lot of  youth in the community would go to various programs to escape homes that weren’t supportive of them, etc. But with the pandemic restrictions, a lot of these youth had to stay home in environments that aren’t always accepting. I think it would be great to have support groups, sexual health groups, to help bring awareness to issues youth in the LGBTQ+ community are facing. You can’t always tell what a person is going through, and a lot of youth won’t speak up unless they feel they are in a safe and welcoming enviroment. 

Q: What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ youth who are looking to become advocates for their communities?

A: Don’t let anyone silence you. Keep speaking your mind. No matter how others may make you feel. LGBTQ+ youth need to come together to advocate and support for one another. There are too many people that don’t support us for us to be fighting with each other.  

To hear more from Nellie and YSI’s Community Navigator program, please be sure to check out them on a recent episode of Revive Radio here.