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April 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, April 02, 2004

Dinner to benefit gay youth Dinner to benefit gay youth (April 02, 2004)

Teens gain mentoring, other services from Outlet group

By Julie O'Shea

Outlet, the Peninsula's only support network for gay and lesbian teens, will hold its annual benefit dinner and live auction and raffle at the Hyatt Rickey's Hotel in Palo Alto on April 29.

The Mountain View-based program hopes to raise $30,000 at the $75-a-plate dinner where Assembly member Sally Lieber will give the keynote address.

"She's definitely one of our biggest advocates," program director Juan Barajas said of Lieber, a Democrat and former Mountain View mayor

Since 1997, Outlet has offered its services to Peninsula youth ages 13 to 18. Last October, the program moved to its permanent home at the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) on Church Street.

The group, which has about 15 teens attending on a weekly basis, meets each Monday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the CHAC offices. Discussions range from how to deal with parents and peers and relationship issues facing gay youth.

While adult facilitators are present, Barajas said, the teens are really the ones who lead the group discussions and offer advice.

"It's really been a friendly group," added Eileen Ross, program coordinator. "The kids are there helping each other."

In addition to the Monday night support group, Outlet also offers a one-on-one mentoring program, one of only three known models in the United States, where a gay teen is connected to a gay adult. But unlike the confidential Monday night support group, the mentoring program requires parental consent in order for a teen to participate.

In other words, Barajas said, the teen has to be "out" to be accepted into the mentoring program.

Outlet volunteers also facilitate anti-homophobic and HIV-prevention workshops for high school health and living skills classes.

"We don't preach, and we don't use fear tactics," Barajas said. "We are really using (students') knowledge about what they already know about (the subject)."

Ross, a native of New York who has a masters in health education, said she's always wanted to work with young adults, adding that her time in the classroom is extremely rewarding.

"I've always been a teenager person," Ross said with a smile. "The kids, they're just so much fun, and they have so much courage and so much energy."

Added Barajas, a Stanford psychology graduate originally from Oregon: "You get to see these teenagers grow up. ... It's pretty powerful."

Outlet, which has an annual operating budget of roughly $140,000, has about 45 volunteers. Barajas and Ross are the only two paid employees of the program. The program will be holding a volunteer training and orientation session in May.

This month's benefit dinner, Outlet's biggest fund-raising event, will be held at the Hyatt Rickey's Hotel, located at 4219 El Camino Real in Palo Alto. Two teens and one mentor from the Outlet program are slated to give testimonials during the April 29 gathering. The dinner will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information about the dinner or program, call 965-2020 ext. 22 or e-mail Barajas at [email protected]

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]

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