In different communities across the world, many LGBTQ+ youth face daily challenges that prohibit them from navigating through life. From not having a home or essential resources to just wanting a community of LGBTQ+ friends, the Oasis Youth Center is a home for LGBTQ+ adolescents to feel welcome and receive the help and community that they need.
The Oasis Youth Center is based in Tacoma and provides programs surrounding advocacy, prevention of harm and leadership for LGBTQ+ youth ages 11-24. They are the only drop-in support center for LGBTQ+ youth in Pierce County.
“We’re here to address violence and make sure that people know that they always have a community here and they’re not isolated at all,” said Michelle Kelly-Barroga, Oasis’ program manager.
Oasis was initially started in 1985 in a church basement by a group of concerned community members who wanted to create a safe space to support LGBTQ+ youth. Barroga explained that around the time Oasis was founded, it consisted primarily of 21 to 24-year-old men in the military that couldn’t be openly gay around their peers.
Barroga said that they don’t know exactly who founded Oasis by name and that it’s been an ongoing mystery to the staff.
“The thing about queer history is that most of it has only been passed on orally through storytelling, so there’s many figures in our history that we still don’t know specifically,” said Barroga.
Oasis was created to address issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community like family rejection, isolation, seeking out a community and having a safe space. These issues also happen to be the reason why Oasis exists to this day.
The organization offers a wide variety of services for youth, including resources for housing, mental health, careers, medical and educational needs. The mental health program at Oasis provides youth with a referral to local LGBTQ+-friendly therapists, and the center can help pay for the visit.
Oasis also offers free HIV testing for anyone in need and multiple types of contraceptives. To receive such resources, people in need just have to walk into Oasis and simply ask. Additionally, the center puts on events for youth like their “Queer Chef” cooking program, rainbow yoga, art nights, game nights, open mics and more.
“All we do is have fun,” said Barroga. “We’ll have those serious conversations, but the main goal is to have fun and learn about ourselves.”
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Oasis has moved most of its services to virtual platforms, however, drop-in hours have resumed in-person Thursday-Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Before Google, Oasis was a place that most people only knew about through word of mouth or through business cards. This was done intentionally to prevent anyone from being able to find them easily and commit hate crimes against its members who sought community and support.
Barroga joined Oasis in 2013 as a volunteer after hearing about it before they worked for the organization. They only had the intention of wanting to give back to their community before realizing that they needed help themselves.
“My view of myself was that I was destined to work in a kitchen forever,” said Barroga. “Going to Oasis, I’ve met people who were beyond what I could comprehend as LGBTQ, which helped me understand that there’s not limited ways in which I can identify myself.”
After reaching an age beyond the limit for youth Oasis served, Barroga decided to work there to help support LGBTQ+ youth the same way the organization helped support them.
As program manager, Barroga works with the Oasis staff to create events/programs that will engage youth and have a positive experience and develop personal skills. After events, staff debrief and evaluate how everything went and plan for changes to be made in the future. Barroga does outreach work for Oasis to connect more youth to programs and resources.
“As a young person, to hear that there’s a community of people out there being successful adults, thriving as human beings, but also queer, is special and it’s my favorite part to be able to do that,” said Barroga.
LGBTQ+ youth ages 11-24 can go to the Oasis website to access all of the services they provide and to receive updates. People can also visit Oasis’ Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube pages to get in contact with staff.
Interviews and article by @alexisg_news on Twitter.
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