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Interview with The Attic Youth Center

On a Monday evening, I walked into The Attic Youth Center – and into a bustle of about 30 chatting teens, grabbing dinner and then sitting down to catch up with each other. There was a spirit of home and family here that exists throughout the Attic, which works to create “opportunities for LGBTQ youth to develop into healthy, independent, civic-minded adults within a safe and supportive community, and promotes acceptance of LGBTQ youth in society.”

“The Attic is first and foremost a space for LGBTQ youth to get to know themselves and feel comfortable,” says Nikele Riek, LSW, the Attic’s development associate. Nikele is generously giving some of their time tonight to talk to me about the success of The Attic’s music therapy group, a new program focused on creative expression and personal storytelling.

Each year, the Spruce Foundation awards a $5,000 grant to a nonprofit supporting Philly youth in the LGBTQ space, and Spruce’s most recent LGBTQ grant went to the Attic to start the music therapy program. Nikele reports that it’s a favorite for the teens the Attic serves, consistently filling the room and giving the youth the chance to both be creative, and also just be themselves. The music therapy program is part of The Attic’s health and wellness programming, which is in turn part of its Life Skills programming.

In addition to health and wellness, Life Skills programs provide services like homelessness prevention and remediation, academic achievement, and workforce readiness. For example, The Attic offers life coaching, where coaches meet with youth individually to discuss career possibilities, develop resumes, apply for financial aid, search for jobs, and practice interviews. The Attic also helps ensure that students understand graduation requirements, works with students and their schools to address issues such as bullying, and arranges to take students on college tours each year.

The Attic also offers paid internship opportunities for youth.

“Our THRIVE program, for example, offers youth paid internships at the Attic focused on outreach and programming around HIV prevention,” Nikele explains. “One area our current interns are focused on is how mental health plays a role risk-taking behavior.”

The Attic also places youth in external internships. Recent partners include Oyster House and Davio’s. External partners typically cover the cost of these internships, but The Attic is working to get funding that would allow it to cover the cost of placing youth in small businesses that may not be able to support the cost of an intern.

In addition to its Life Skills programming, the Attic offers mental health counseling, where Attic therapists help individuals, couples, and families with issues including coming out, problems at school, gender questions, depression, anxiety, relationships, stress management, anger management, and conflicts with friends or family. The Attic draws on grants to provide mental health counseling at no cost.

Finally, the Bryson Institute of the Attic Youth Center offers trainings to other organizations on best practices for working with LGBTQ individuals. The Bryson Institute brings these trainings to social service and health care providers, faith communities, schools, and other organizations. “To make all of Philadelphia a safe and inclusive city for LGBTQ youth, we’re trying to help people move from ‘tolerance’ to being accepting and welcoming,” Nikele explains.

For Sprucers interested in getting involved with the Attic and its mission, Nikele outlines several ways to pitch in and help.

First, the Attic looks for groups to volunteer to cook and serve dinner for approximately 30-35 youth each weekday evening. Volunteers need to provide the food and can either cook it in advance or make use of the Attic’s full kitchen. Dinner is served at 5:15 p.m. (The volunteer groups also handle the clean-up.) There are no dietary restrictions and this opportunity gives volunteer groups the opportunity to interact a bit with the youth the Attic serves.

Second, the Attic is currently running a winter supply drive, and is accepting donations of new hats, new gloves, new socks, new scarves, and new or gently-used coats. The winter supply drive will end in February.

Finally, the Attic runs a hygiene supply drive on an ongoing basis, and accepts donations such as travel-sized toiletries, menstrual products, and more.

For more information on the Attic, or to volunteer for one of these opportunities, please contact Nikele at nikele@atticyouthcenter.org.