By Tom Reardon. October 2019 Issue.
Photos courtesy of one •n• ten
Being a teenager is hard.
Gay, straight, or questioning exactly where you fit in, the years between 13 and, really, 25, are just plain tough. If you’re reading this right now and thinking, “Wait a minute, those were the best years of my life,” well, most of us want to lovingly slap your face.
One •n• ten exists to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth ages 14-24 by creating a safe space to be listened to, create a new path, and promote healthy lifestyle choices through education, advocacy, and the arts. Everyone needs a little help from time to time and the mission and vision of one •n• ten not only espouses this sentiment but offers a beacon of hope, as well. With programs like the Promise of a New Day (P.O.N.D), which provides housing for 18-24 year old LGBTQ youth for up to two years as well as the Homeless Navigation Services, one •n• ten provides the opportunity for young adults to start their adult lives on, perhaps, more stable ground than they have ever known.
More recently, one •n• ten has jumped into the world of fine art, as well. The Valley of the Sun has become very used to First Fridays being a time to celebrate art, but one •n• ten has decided to take it a bit further and is offering up time to learn about and practice art every Friday. In an article by Heather Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel entitled The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health, the authors stated that “Art helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words.” For many LGBTQ youth, opportunities to safely express themselves are too few and far between.
To learn more about one •n• ten’s programs, we spent some time discussing them with Rebecca Semik, who is a Youth Center Programs Associate. An accomplished filmmaker and native Arizonan, Semik brings a wealth of experience to her role and seems to relish the opportunity she has to work with the youth served by her agency.
Echo: How did you get involved with one •n• ten?
Rebecca Semik: I actually got involved with one •n• ten through my consulting work with GLSEN Phoenix, another LGBTQ+ nonprofit. These two organizations do a lot of collaboration, and when one •n• ten was hiring for a full-time position, I was fortunate enough to apply and get the job and continue working with LGBTQ+ youth in a whole other capacity.
Tell us a bit about you.
I grew up in Gilbert and graduated from Gilbert High School.
What was it like growing up in Gilbert?
Honestly, I had a pretty good childhood, but I was super sheltered and wasn’t out to myself let alone anyone else until I moved for college. I had one gay friend in high school, but I didn’t even have the language to know what being LGTBQ+ was. I think that’s why I love getting to work with LGBTQ+ youth today; they have such a greater awareness of the community and the issues we face than I did at their age. What’s more, they advocate for themselves with courage I certainly didn’t have at their age.
What about college?
After graduating, I did my undergrad (degree) at (Texas Christian University) TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. (I) lived in Austin for a couple of years after that and then went to Boston University for my master’s degree. I’ve been back in the Phoenix area for a little over a year now and have been loving every second because of all the great work I get to do with Phoenix’s nonprofits.
What did you get your undergrad and graduate degrees in?
I studied film and writing in my undergrad and then screenwriting for my Master’s. I never would’ve guessed I’d end up in the nonprofit sector.
What is it about the arts programs at one •n• ten that you enjoy?
I love art in all its forms. My education background is in film and writing, but I also play guitar, so that love of the arts was something I wanted to bring into one •n• ten’s programming. When the Youth Center team was brainstorming ways to mix up our current offerings, we thought it’d be a great idea to have a fine arts specific day of the week. So many of our youth are involved in the arts and have been asking for more of this type of programming, so it was a perfect fit. And because I’m such a fan of alliteration, Fine Arts Fridays was born. Now, every Friday youth ages 14-24 come into the space, have an hour of free art time (they can work on any kind of art whether it’s creating a painting or rehearsing a song), then they have an hour of fine arts program where all the youth gather together to learn about and create a different art form. We’ve done a full spectrum of activities like doing improv games with Phoenix Theater, writing slam poetry, and playing storytelling games.
That’s so awesome! Why, in your opinion, are these programs important?
The idea is that our youth are gaining a deeper appreciation for the arts while offering them the space to experiment and play, to polish their craft or to try a new one entirely, and most importantly the idea is for them to have fun. As this program has developed over the last couple of months, it’s been incredible to see the level of youth engagement. They’re excited about art and music and performance! One youth even told me that without Fine Arts Fridays, he wouldn’t have even tried learning the piano and now he enjoys it so much. Another youth practiced a piano piece daily so they could perform it at our First Friday Showcase; they wanted me to hear their progress every step of the way. This programming is so important especially with cuts to arts funding in schools.
What are some upcoming events you have planned?
With our Fine Arts Fridays, we create space and time for youth to create any kind of art, art that they can even share with the public at our First Friday Showcase. One •n• ten has had its own periodic First Friday Showcases in the past, but now we’re hoping to keep this a regular offering for our youth, so every month they have the opportunity to perform or showcase their art in front of the Phoenix community.
Creating art is one thing; sharing art is a whole other thing entirely. It takes a certain level of openness and vulnerability. Our goal is to bring in local artists to feature on our First Friday Showcases so they can model to our youth what that openness looks like. It’s a definite growth opportunity for our youth. And it’s an opportunity for the community to come and support our youth every First Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., so be sure to check us out on your next First Fridays art walk.
Our partnerships with local arts groups have also given us the fun opportunity to take youth to the The Phoenix Theater Company’s Kinky Boots late September performance. We’re really looking forward to it.
How can people get involved?
We have quite a few opportunities to get involved! We love our volunteers; for Fine Arts Fridays we’re always looking for folks involved in the arts that would be willing to come in and facilitate a program for our youth. Do you know how to lead a painting class? Come paint with us! Do you know how to teach a Hip-Hop class? Let’s dance! Additionally, if you are a local artist or performer/performance group and would like to be the featured artist for an upcoming First Friday Showcase, we’d love to have you. And finally, spread the word! Come out to our First Friday Showcase happening every First Friday, 5 to 7 p.m. and tell your friends. You can support these youth artists by being audience to their performances and buying their artwork.
What help do you need?
In addition to volunteering and supporting, we’d happily accept any arts donations, especially small painting canvases.