By: Lauren Walleser/ TRT Assistant Editor—
The Home for Little Wanderers’ Waltham House, a group home program designed to provide a safe and supportive living environment for up to 12 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth ages 14 to 18, will celebrate its 11th anniversary April 12 at a fundraiser in Boston. The program was the first of its kind in New England and only the third in the nation.
“Many young people in the program have previously experienced difficulty—at home or in placement—due to their gender identity or sexual orientation,” sad Rebecca Reed, program director of The Home for Little Wanderers’ Waltham House Program. “Since Waltham House first opened its doors in October 2002, it has offered residents a safe environment to live while they prepare for family reunification, independent living and future self-sufficiency.” [pullquote]“People should feel safe in their living environments, safe to identity how they want and safe to explore who they want to be,” Reed said. “The Waltham House provides that environment. We do not judge. We only support the residents through the process of self-discovery.”[/pullquote]
Waltham House is located in Waltham, Massachusetts and offers 24-hour staffing in a large, comfortable home with an expansive backyard. The services offered through the program include a multi-disciplinary team approach to treatment plan development and implementation; individual and creative stabilization services and intervention; a highly structured therapeutic milieu; individual, group and family therapy and case management by Masters level clinicians; family outreach and support services; psychopharmacological consultation and management; full range of health care services; psycho-educational groups on topics such as trauma, self-esteem, substance abuse, anger management, healthy sexual development, body image, HIV/STD prevention and tobacco cessation; recreational and educational programs; life skills development; opportunities to attend community-based activities such as sports, after-school programs including peer education programs and Gay/Straight Alliances, social/support groups, and community service projects; mentoring relationships, tutoring and vocational training with GLBT adults; foster care recruitment and training; opportunities to connect GLBTQ youth with each other in the community; and transgender education/support.
Reed explained why the kinds of services Waltham House provides are necessary and important for GLBTQ youth.
“People should feel safe in their living environments, safe to identity how they want and safe to explore who they want to be,” Reed said. “The Waltham House provides that environment. We do not judge. We only support the residents through the process of self-discovery.”
Young adults who have gone through the program at Waltham House shared how the program made a difference in their lives.
“When I was in other programs, I was afraid to come out,” said JF, a former resident. “Thank God I found this place, because if I hadn’t, I would be in another program hiding my identity. I follow my heart and try and find somebody who can accept me for who I am. I accept people for who they are.”
Another former resident, Ghia, also shared how the program made an impact. According to her story, shared by Waltham House staff, at age 15, Ghia was exhibiting disrespectful, defiant, oppositional behavior, including running away from home, trouble at school, daily substance abuse, refusal to take her prescribed medications or engage in therapy, poor self-esteem and hopelessness. After four months in another therapy program, her family felt she still needed help to maintain positive behavior before she could return home, and particularly needed a program with experience in transgender issues.
“I discovered myself during the summer going into fifth grade,” Ghia said. “I was at a pool party and I was the only guy. When I came home, I said ‘Mom, I want to wear girls’ clothes.’ My first day of going to school as Ghia, I walked down the hall and there was a group of middle schoolers who came across the street and they said ‘Hey, are you a boy?’ and they gathered around me, pulled out my hair extensions and harassed me. At Waltham House, I’ve learned how to be happy. I’m still learning things. How can you help change the world if you’re not willing to talk about it?” [pullquote]“When I was in other programs, I was afraid to come out,” said JF, a former resident. “Thank God I found this place, because if I hadn’t, I would be in another program hiding my identity. I follow my heart and try and find somebody who can accept me for who I am. I accept people for who they are.”[/pullquote]
Ghia’s mother, Donna, said that after eight months in Waltham House, their daughter has reunited successfully with their family. The Waltham House staff maintained close communication with the family and worked in partnership with them throughout the process.
“She is returning to school, getting a job and looking forward to sex reassignment surgery (SRS),” Donna said. “She is able to open up and articulate her feelings. We can tell from conversations with her that she has learned a lot about trauma, self esteem, substance abuse, anger management, healthy living, safe sex, and tobacco cessation and knows from her own experience that she can use her coping skills and control her own behavior. She has experienced and enjoyed things about GLBT culture that we would have been unable to teach her. Best of all, Ghia feels good about herself again, and specifically, good about herself as a transgender girl. She enjoys showing off her new cooking skills. She is confident that she can get a job, is proud that she was able to maintain one, and plans to use the same skills to succeed in school. She says Waltham House is the first time in her life that she felt that she ‘really fit in,’ and she wants to be a mentor to other transgender youth next summer after she has her SRS. If she continues on her present, positive path, she herself will become an awesome role model thanks to Waltham House!”
The April 12 celebration will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. at Club Café in Boston. Since 2010, the event has raised money to support operating expenses, program supplies and much-needed repairs and improvements for Waltham House.
“The Waltham House Fundraiser is one of The Home’s most exciting and fun benefits to support the program,” said Audrey Gillis of the Waltham House Committee. “DJ Gay Jim from Kiss 108 FM returns as guest DJ for the evening. Highlights of the night include dancing, special appearances by some of the area’s favorite drag queens, hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and a raffle featuring some amazing items.”
The Waltham House Committee hopes to raise at least $10,000 for The Home for Little Wanderers and Waltham House. Tickets purchased in advance are $40 or $20 with a student ID. Prices go up at the door. The event is 21+. For additional information about Waltham House, sponsorship opportunities and to purchase tickets, visit: www.thehome.org/whfundraiser or email firstname.lastname@example.org.