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Drop-in center for LGBTQ+ youth coming to Downers Grove

Andi Voinovich knows all too well that there’s much to be done about the Downers Grove area establishing and maintaining a safe and comforting space for LGBTQ+ youth.

In fact, Voinovich is among those working to make a difference.

Beginning in the fall, LGBTQ+ youth in the Downers Grove area will have a new space to turn to for support.

Youth Outlook, the first social service agency in Illinois whose mission is to help LGBTQ+ youth, is looking to set up a new drop-in center at Downers Grove’s First United Methodist Church, 1032 Maple Ave.

Voinovich, who identifies as non-binary, said the LGBTQ+ community is growing in the Downers Grove area.

Voinovich is a trained volunteer for the new drop-in center and is excited to be one of the dozens interested in getting involved.

Voinovich said that hearing about the mission of Youth Outlook offered the inspiration to become a volunteer, as did learning about the number of young persons in the community identifying as LGBTQ+.

“When I first got involved, I didn’t know much about Downers Grove,” Voinovich said. “Now I’ve been here for three years—I’m a pastor at one of the churches—I just see how many of our youth are coming out.”

Voinovich believes there’s a growing need for a safe community space for LGBTQ+ youth to figure out who they are.

“We had an interest meeting, right before the pandemic hit, to find out from our community if they would support this and if the community felt there was a need,” Voinovich said. “We had over 50 people there. Teachers, social workers, politicians, and even some of our youth showed an overwhelming support.”

Voinovich believes the number of people who identify as non-binary may be becoming more common and has a theory explaining why that’s the case.

“More and more people are identifying now as non-binary,” Voinovich said. “I think there’s more language for it.”

The Downers Grove drop-in center is anticipated to host programs every Thursday beginning in the fall.

Youth Outlook programming will usually start with a check-in, followed by a mix of activities centered around sexual orientation and gender identity before ending with a debrief.

The drop-in centers typically serve those in the LGBTQ+ community ages 14 to 20.

“They may not have parent support,” Voinovich said. “If you’re in Downers Grove, you don’t have a car, you can’t get to Naperville.”

Youth Outlook currently operates a drop-in center in nearby Naperville.

“Not all of the youth who might benefit from the drop-in center are able to drop in,” Voinovich said.

It remains unclear how many the new Downers Grove drop-in center will serve.

“We won’t know until it opens,” Voinovich said. ”It’ll depend on how many people come.”

The new drop-in center is expected to be manned by one full-time staffer and a number of volunteers for every young person on the premises.

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