Helping kids out of the closet, into the Attic

Interview and article prepared for the Philadelphia Business Journal, as filed last week, without edits, to run in yesterday’s editionthe_attic_drawing.jpg.

Dr. Carrie Jacobs works with kids who happen to be gay, and it seems to affect her fundraising.

“In 1993, no one was serving these kids,” said Jacobs, the executive director and co-founder of the Attic Youth Center. “We had trouble finding funders. Nobody wanted to be a ‘gay agency.”

The Attic, a home for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, is celebrating its 15th year of operation.

For it, the non profit is hosting its Crystal Gala celebration on Nov. 15. Next week, on March 29, they’re having a preview party.

Though the Attic has solid funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trust, in additon to city money and private donors, the group hopes to expand but has been met with challenges, Jacobs said.

“The category that we get the least funding from is corporate,” she said. “Maybe I’m not reaching enough, but I think that means something.”

The organization started as just an eight week pilot program out of a spare room in a now-defunct Center City nonprofit.

More than 40 kids came for support during those first eight weeks, on the fourth floor. Practically the building’s attic, they thought.

“We couldn’t stop the project after that,” she said. The Attic Youth Center was born, though stigmas persisted.

The stereotype that AIDS was a gay epidemic lingered, charitable groups hesitated and corporate donors fled.

“Even the LGBT adult community in 1993, they were fighting the image that gay adults were recruiting young kids, so they wouldn’t help,” Jacobs said.

In time, as the group became further established and gay culture was more open, the Attic, too, found more support.

In 2000, the group got its own building, on 16th Street south of Locust. In that time, what started as a support group has morphed into a full service community center and social services agency, full of social activities and health and education programs, serving young people up to the age of 23.

“We’ve been so fortunate, it has been an amazing experience,” she said, “There are kids who I still know from the first day of the Attic. We are a home and family to them.”

They serve 100 kids a week and more than 10,000 in the past decade and a half. Likely more will come.

“Where kids suffer the most is the institutions that are charged with caring for them,” Jacobs said. “Like welfare and schools. without trianing, they’re really battered and abused. We’re here to help.”

See other reporting by Christopher Wink here.