Drop-in program for LGBTQ youth has a new space in Allentown
- Silk Lehigh Valley held an open house at its new location in Allentown
- It is a drop-in program for LGBTQ youth ages 14 to 29 that is part of Bethlehem-based nonprofit Valley Youth House
- The program used to operate out of the basement of Bradbury-Sullivan Center, but the center terminated the lease on the program last year
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A program for LGBTQ youth has a new, bigger space in downtown Allentown.
Silk Lehigh Valley, formerly known as Project Silk Lehigh Valley, held an open house Friday for its new space at 1101 Hamilton St., Suite 102, in Allentown.
It used to operate out of the basement of Bradbury-Sullivan Center in Allentown, but the center terminated the lease on the program last year.
Silk Lehigh Valley is a drop-in program for LGBTQ people ages 14 to 29 that started in 2016. It is part of Valley Youth House, a Bethlehem-based nonprofit that serves vulnerable youth.
The program offers services such as access to HIV and STI testing, peer support and counseling. It also is a community space for LGBTQ youth and allies.
“I hope that everybody gets to experience this level of radical acceptance at least once in their life.”One of the youth in the program, H
One of the youth in the program, H, spoke at the open house.
“For the first time in my entire life I felt real and seen in a space with others as H, not somebody's kid or some weirdo who doodles in the back of English class or someone who doesn't talk much, but authentically myself,” H said.
“I can say for certain, if not for the people that I've met here, I wouldn't be alive. I hope that everybody gets to experience this level of radical acceptance at least once in their life.”
Silk Lehigh Valley is open 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday for drop-in hours, which are open to ages 14 to 21, as well as ages 21 to 29 by appointment only.
‘A breath of fresh air’
Silk Lehigh Valley Program Coordinator Chloe Cole-Wilson said Silk Lehigh Valley is host to five to 10 youth a day and 20 to 25 youth for bigger events.
Cole-Wilson said the program is focused on LGBTQ youth of color, but anyone ages 14 to 21 is welcome during drop-in hours.
“A lot of our young people just don't have a drop-in program like this across our city,” Cole-Wilson said. “And so we serve a lot of different demographics of young people here.”
The program is funded primarily by the state Health Department and the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“When you're talking about multiple marginalized identities, oftentimes in health care systems there is a lot of discrimination and there's not always support,” Cole-Wilson said.
“We want to be that bridge to young people getting the care that they need.”
Ashley Dallas, director of prevention services at Valley Youth House, said the fact that Silk Lehigh Valley is both a community space and a testing center encourages more people to use its health services.
“In order for a young person to feel comfortable getting tested, they need to feel safe, they need to feel accepted and they need to feel comfortable in the environment that they're in,” Dallas said.
Cole-Wilson said the program has operated out of the new space since January. The staff decided to hold the open house in August because the process of decorating and renovating the space happened slowly with a lot of youth input.
“We wanted to make it as comfortable as possible because we want our young people to come in and it's like a breath of fresh air,” Cole-Wilson said.
H wrote a poem about Silk Lehigh Valley for the open house event:
"Home. Webster says is the place where one lives permanently especially as a member of a family or household. I learned the meaning of that word at 14.
"Home. I've been to many places, gotten scuffed from sidewalk, shoes falling off souls. I've been to places shielding from beating suns, ones to read books, right? Ordered a drink with 57 syllables, had where to lay my head, but never placed a rest.
"Home. I've never lived at home. Only sipped it in a bowl of soup, met it in an embrace, walking into home has always felt natural. Greetings become more than formality, smiles more than chores, disrespect more nuanced than a sideways glance. Colors all the brighter, chest all the lighter, I can take my first breath of the day and by my last, the door never hits me on the way out. Perhaps this is home."
The move from Bradbury-Sullivan Center
Cole-Wilson said the move from Bradbury-Sullivan Center has been “great” for Silk Lehigh Valley because it needed a bigger space, and its new location is closer to the local high schools.
Dallas described the move as “perfect timing” for the program.
“It was a good time for us to explore what we want the future of this program to look like, and I think we're getting there,” Dallas said.
Cole-Wilson said Silk Lehigh Valley would collaborate with Bradbury-Sullivan Center in the future.
Kim Ketterer, Youth and Family Programs Manager at Bradbury-Sullivan Center, attended the open house. They said they look forward to collaborating and are happy there is another program in the area providing services to LGBTQ youth.
Dallas said she and other staff members decided to change the program’s name from Project Silk Lehigh Valley to Silk Lehigh Valley because they felt the original name did not reflect the program’s goals.
“The word ‘project’ signifies something that's kind of short term, and we really want to ensure the long term success of the program."Ashley Dallas, Director of Prevention Services at Valley Youth House
“The word ‘project’ signifies something that's kind of short term, and we really want to ensure the long-term success of the program,” Dallas said.
Cole-Wilson said, "We're hoping to keep the program open for the long haul for young people. So we're just feeling like shortening it up would be good, but also our young people really love calling it ‘Silk.’ It’s cool, and it’s catchy.”
The name Project Silk came from a program model that was designed by the University of Pittsburgh.
The program is redesigning its logo with the new name. It will likely come out in November.