We Are Family is an organization that opened in Charleston, South Carolina over 25 years ago. Back then, their programs were based on leadership development, social support, health and wellness, community engagement and advocacy for LGBTQIA+ youth. During Pride Month, Unum celebrates the work they do to extend more assistance to their participants.
Throughout the pandemic, We Are Family found youth reaching out for mental health counseling and wellness. They wanted to increase awareness around the growing need, especially since research from South Carolina’s Southern LGBTQ Health Survey cited more than half of youth reported increased symptoms of anxiety (68%). A heightened issue also came to light in this survey – a large population of LGBTQIA+ youth reported seriously considering suicide (40%). Coupled with the Trevor Project stating 46% of youth were unable to access psychological or emotional counseling, We Are Family knew something had to be done.
That’s when they reached out to Unum, through the company’s Social Justice Fund, to help provide free one-on-one counseling through the Mental Health Assistance Program (MHAP).
“It’s clear the pandemic has adversely affected the mental health of the LGBTQIA+ community. Mental health concerns were at a high level, and we wanted to remove the barriers for our youth to receive needed counseling,” said Domenico Ruggerio, We Are Family’s Executive Director.
After one year of partnership, the results have been astounding; We Are Family has provided more than 500 hours of free therapy to 55 youth. Also, they create safe and supportive spaces to over 700 youth through community education and youth-led advocacy. The Queer Youth Approval Board trains and approves all therapists who participate in the MHAP program and provides leadership and guidance for core components of the initiative.
“Companies like Unum play a critical role in leading efforts of equity and justice,” said Chandler Massengale, We Are Family’s Mental Health Coordinator. “Through their support and partnership, MHAP has developed a successful and sustainable program model that has made mental health a priority and accessible for our youth.”
Massengale shared one participant received more help in 6 MHAP therapy sessions than with any other therapist. Another participant completed their name and gender marker changes through the South Carolina Name Change Program, received mental health services through MHAP and has successfully applied and scheduled their gender affirming surgery.
The process for both participants was made easier with Unum’s Social Justice Fund grant to We Are Family. Since September 2020, Unum has supported organizations in the U.S. and abroad that fight to end racism, discrimination and bias in four key areas: systemic and policy change, training and education, economic justice and civic engagement.
“Unum’s efforts go far in changing the hearts and minds of our communities and youth,” said Massengale. “It takes a village to ensure our LGBTQIA+ youth are empowered, find a sense of belonging and are affirmed for all parts of their authentic selves.”
1. We Are Family Internal Participant Research