Safe Out

Valley support organization’s leadership shares reflections on first five years and refocus for 2018

By Megan Wadding, January 2018 Web Exclusive.

Safe Out, a program of Terros Health that was established in 2012 to address excessive alcohol consumption within the LGBTQ community, is ready to start the new year with a focus on youth outreach.

While promoting health, wellness and awareness to prevent underage drinking, binge drinking, substance use and suicide among LGBTQ youth and young adults, Safe Out provides support to those in the LGBTQ community who seek its services, specifically individuals between the ages of 18 and 44.

According to Ann Maxwell, Safe Out community development coordinator, Safe Out is the only program funded by Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care that is devoted to substance use prevention education, as well as suicide prevention within the LGBTQ community of Maricopa County.

“We focus on providing education without shame and blame because we recognize that the LGBTQ+ community has more barriers to overcome in their access to care,” Maxwell said.

After completing a comprehensive needs assessment back in 2014, gaining input from community members and organizational partners, and looking closely at needs and service gaps, Isaac Akapnitis, Safe Out’s lead community development coordinator, explain that the decision was made to expand the mission to include a younger age group, additional substances and suicide prevention for 2015.

“It became apparent that we needed to address underage drinking, marijuana use, opioid misuse and abuse and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth in Maricopa County through additional workshops and youth specific programming,” he said.

There has also been a thorough revamping of Safe Out’s programming throughout the last few years, according to Akapnitis, which has led to the creation of many new goals for the program heading into 2018.

Ann Maxwell, Safe Out community development coordinator, and Isaac Akapnitis,
Safe Out’s lead community development coordinator. Photos courtesy of Safe Out.

End-Of-The-Year Wrap Up

This past year brought about both changes and accomplishments for Safe Out. Some of the program’s proudest moments, according to Maxwell, included the honor of presenting at the Northern Arizona Suicide Prevention Conference and the 10th Annual HOPE Conference, among many other places around the Valley.

Safe Out’s largest project this year, Maxwell explained, centered around the new focus of beginning an extensive youth outreach initiative.

“[Throughout the past year], we are really focused on youth, young adults and the people who support them,” Maxwell said. “Our focus age [range] is 14 to 26 and, within that, we are really stepping up our connections with local schools and organizations that serve these young people.”

In addition to tabling at local schools, Safe Out participated in the Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness month in September and a rally at Tempe Marketplace, where Maxwell estimates they were able to reach more than 500 youth and young adults.

Still, Maxwell said, Safe Out plans to collaborate with a few new partners to create even more events for youth and safe places for them to socialize, and will continue to build and improve Safe Out’s new academy that will focus on leadership and alternative coping methods.

“We have launched a Youth Leadership Academy that is a six-part program designed to increase resilience in our LGBTQ+ youth, as well as provide education and alternative activities besides using drugs and alcohol as coping methods,” explained Maxwell. “We hope to have more cohorts of youth complete this programming and pass on what they’ve learned to their friends.”

Safe Out has also continued to provide free workshops on substance use prevention for youth and adults, safeTALK suicide prevention workshops and education for health and crisis response providers on how to appropriately care for LGBTQ individuals.

During the last fiscal year, Safe Out directly served over 1,000 people through workshops, education, and community development.  So far since July, in addition to the tabling outreach during Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Safe Out has served close to 200 people through our workshops and events, according to Akapnitis.

Looking Ahead To 2018

Throughout 2017, as well as in previous years, Akapnitis said Safe Out worked in a partnership with the LGBTQ Consortium to provide education and information to community members through educational workshops, social media and billboard campaigns, advertising, community collaborations, information dissemination, and referrals to other LGBTQ supportive health care providers and community organizations.

“[In 2018, we would like to] expand our partnerships to have greater reach throughout Maricopa County and to work with youth to create more youth-driven messaging campaigns to reach their peers to reduce drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with stressors or socializing, [as well as] to encourage peers to reach out for support to prevent suicide and to continue encouraging their friends to make healthy decisions that support their goals and dreams,” Maxwell explained.

In the New Year, Akapnitis said, Safe Out will continue working toward its goal of reaching more youth across the Valley who are not already connected to services and support, to create more alcohol- and drug-free events for LGBTQ youth and young adults and to partner with existing organizations and events to encourage youth to attend.

“We have increased our tabling presence at more events in and around the youth community,” Maxwell said.” We are also networking with different organizations via meetings and events to provide supports to youth-focused organizations.”

Additionally, Safe Out has increased and diversified its social media presence, all with the goal of connecting youth to the resources Safe Out has to offer.

“[We want] to encourage them to find ways they can celebrate themselves and our community while sober and proud,” Akapnitis said. “Safe Out remains committed to its mission and goals of preventing and reducing suicide and substance use among LGBTQ youth. We will continue to work with our community partners in accomplishing our goals to creating safer, healthier LGBTQ communities.”