Editor’s Note: Once considered an insult against homosexuals, the word “queer” is a perfectly acceptable term today, especially among the younger generation. It covers a wide range of gender identities, including individuals wondering where they fit on the identity spectrum.
Question: Who can a young queer person turn to when they are estranged from their family, confused and alone, and sometimes feel unsupported, unapproved and even in danger?
Reply: ACR Health’s Q Center, located in Utica and established as a safe space for LGBTQ + youth where they and their families have access to a full range of support services, resources and assistance.
The Q Center is managed and operated by ACR Health, originally from Syracuse, under the name AIDS Community Resources. ACR Health opened the Q Center in Utica in 2015 with expanded services that offered drug addiction and chronic disease treatment and testing for HIV, hepatitis C and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In addition, it introduced essential support services such as housing and financial assistance, employment and life skills training, and health insurance counseling, and made them easily accessible.
The range of programs offered by the Q Center is much wider than one might think, according to Lisa Dunn Alford, the new executive director of ACR Health, who is responsible for the management of facilities in nine counties. Locally, there are offices in Syracuse, Utica and Watertown, as well as support groups in Jefferson and Lewis counties. Guests are between 18 and 29 years old, but adults are also welcome.
The main age groups are 13-18 and young adults 20-25.
âWe provide much more than testing,â noted Alford. “We offer programs that we know people need, such as adult services, housing assistance and quick relocation for those vulnerable to housing.”
ACR Health’s work goes well beyond support groups and therapy programs for young adults and their families. The Q Center offers personalized case management services, housing and transportation assistance, assessments and referrals for medical and mental health services, after-school tutoring and computer access.
Advocacy and activism are also foundational programs that support the overall mission of the Q Center. One of Alford’s main goals as a director is “to help and empower young people to find and use their voices in ways that advocate for services and needs in their communities so that they can grow up in communities that support them and give them the means to live fully. . “
Due to mandatory public health and safety restrictions, Alford added there was a need to pivot quickly and have the ability to provide services virtually. While this transition was relatively efficient, some of the feedback she received indicated that while virtual offered a level of convenience, personal contact with customers was still vitally important.
âMaybe it’s a hybrid model in the future where we will have a little bit in person, but not totally lose the virtual options, as it has allowed us to open up to family members as well as young people. who for some reason weren’t able to come in person but was able to participate virtually.
In just a few months, Alford recognized a growing demand for programs that help clients overcome the daunting obstacles and challenges they often face as young people whose gender identity falls outside the mainstream of society. .
“We know there are quite a few needs and not a lot of organizations providing services to LGBTQ + youth,” Alford said. âWhat we know about LGBTQ + youth and their families is that they don’t have a lot of options where they feel safe to ask questions and get information. Youth have a lot to offer and we do. want them to feel safe in their community and have opportunities where they can develop and use their leadership and life skills. â
Alford added that regardless of its size, the less human services there are in a community, the more isolated young people and their families can feel.
“We want to make sure that we continue to offer these options, as well as various types of activities, so that they can have full life experiences for young adults.”
Alford is deeply passionate about her work and has dedicated her entire professional career to advocating for health and social services rights. She was the former Onondaga County Commissioner for the Adult and Long-Term Services Department, which included oversight of long-term care, as well as aging, mental health, veterans, and nursing services. child protection.
âI come from a family of helpers,â says Alford proudly. âMy interest in health equity and serving underserved people comes from my life experiences working in these areas. I have seen health and life outcomes that I believe could be improved or improved by working with these populations, giving voice to what they were already saying, but helping to amplify those voices and working to help them get the services they need so they can live full, healthy and productive lives.
ACR Health’s Q Center
Site: 287, rue Genesee, Utique
Events to come
World AIDS Day: December 1
Hike for Life: Spring 2022, date to be confirmed
AIDS Walk / Run: June 5, 2022