by Kiki Lenihan
Today, as Facebook and other social media forums are turning their national pages purple in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning youth for Spirit Day, Inside Out Youth Services is cheering the local support it received at its annual Ally Up Breakfast yesterday morning — to the tune of $45,000.
More than 350 people gathered Thursday at the Freedom Financial Services Expo Center to raise money for the local advocacy group that provides a safe space and acceptance for LGBTIQ youth. Community members in attendance included City Councilor Jan Martin, firefighter Juliet Draper and House Rep. Pete Lee.
A diverse group of people spoke, including Kelsii, a youth who attends Inside Out; former teacher and Inside Out volunteer Tom Jacobs; and D-11 School Board member Nora Brown. Then Shawna Rae Kemppainen, executive director of Inside Out, introduced Dallas resident David McCrory.
In September 2011, McCrory saw something on Facebook that changed the course of his current life: a comment from A.J., Colorado Springs area-teen, on professional rugby player Ben Cohen's Facebook post about gay teen Jamey Rodemeyer's suicide. A.J. wrote he was sad about Rodomeyer, and that after having been kicked out of his house because of his sexual orientation, he himself felt that he had no other choice except for suicide.
A.J. had been living on the streets for several days and had not eaten anything in two. Many other Facebook users suggested that A.J. call the Trevor Project, billed as "the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth." The Trevor Project's main resource is a hotline young people can call if they're considering suicide and need immediate support. As McCrory says, "The Trevor Hotline is great ... but their focus is on immediate psychological help. There was nothing they could do immediately to help get A.J. to a safe place." Instead of idly standing by, McCrory jumped in action.
Immediately McCrory added A.J. on Facebook, obtained his phone number, and assured the teen that he would help him. After calling many services in the Colorado Springs area, McCrory had experienced little luck in finding a safe place for A.J. to spend the night. So he took a different route.
McCrory called a local hotel and used his own points to book a room and get some food vouchers for A.J. The next problem was that A.J. was nowhere near that hospital. Multiple cab services refused to accept McCrory's credit card from over the phone, the police escort was busy that evening, and McCrory didn't know anyone he could call in Colorado Springs to give A.J. a ride.
By this point it was around 10 or 11 in the evening, and McCrory had told many of his friends and family what was happening with this teen from Colorado. McCrory's cousin in Washington state offered to pay for a car service to pick A.J. up and deliver him to the hotel. Once A.J. was there, everyone relaxed for the evening, but McCrory knew that the next day would bring more obstacles.
"When I woke up, I immediately thought: What can I do now?" McCrory remembers. He called an openly gay-friendly church in Colorado Springs and was directed to Inside Out Youth Services. Kemppainen offered to pick A.J. up from the Hilton and take him to Inside Out so they could begin creating a plan for the immediate future.
However, McCrory was still not done. Teaming up with friends and family, McCrory raised more than $300 in gift cards for A.J., since "he didn't have anything except for the clothes on his back." During the next month, the skincare company where McCrory worked found out about A.J. and donated $1,500-plus to last year's Ally Up Breakfast. When matched by the Gill Foundation, it resulted in greater than $3,000 for Inside Out.
When asked today about what caused him to act, it's difficult for McCrory to answer.
"I really believe in the law of attraction and cause-effect," he says. "I think it was a combination of everything that was happening. I had recently started practicing Kabbalah, gone to my first Gay Pride parade in Dallas, and read about Jamey Rodemeyer's suicide. I had to do something."
It's an emotional topic for McCrory especially because he "can't even imagine what A.J. went through, and all without the support of his parents." A.J., now 20, and McCrory remain in contact, but they only met in person yesterday when McCrory arrived in Colorado Springs. "A.J. keeps asking me how he can pay me back, and I just tell him to take care of yourself and one day pay it forward, too."
McCrory's advice to other teens in similar situations is to "trust and know that there are people that want to help you. But you have to make that first step and realize that they are there."
In McCrory's opinion, "our society needs to step up to the plate and help these kids." More than 1.6 million kids/teens are homeless in the United States, and suicide is now the third-largest killer of teens nationally.
Big numbers — but on the flipside, as McCrory says, "Never underestimate what one small act of kindness can do."