As a teenager, Renn Duffey (they/them/theirs) found a safe harbor at Safe Homes. Now Renn has their dream job expanding the program to reach more youth.
It felt like my life was crumbling around me. I’d been betrayed by one of my closest friends; shamed by my church community; excluded and relentlessly cyberbullied by girls I’d grown up with. My crime? Just being my own true self – a queer teen trying to figure out what that meant for my future. I was only 17, but I had begun to question if I even had a future. Then I found Safe Homes.
Because of supporters like you, Safe Homes was there to help me find direction and purpose during a very dark time in my life. Thank you for making that possible. Growing up in a religiously conservative home added additional layers to the fears LGBTQIA+ youth feel when they contemplate coming out, and for good reason. I made the mistake of taking a trusted friend from my church community into my confidence. She chose to force me out of the closet before I was ready by revealing my secret to everyone. In that moment, everything changed.
Thankfully, my mother was supportive, but my “friends” stopped speaking to me and began an ugly online campaign to shame me. Church leaders sided with the cyberbullies. I was meant to feel dirty and disgusting and, sadly, it was beginning to work.
I didn’t know where to go or what to do. But I was lucky. A girl I knew at school was a Safe Homes Peer Leader and she suggested that I give it a try. Her pitch? “Just come and be around nice people.” I didn’t take her up on her offer when she first asked, but thank goodness I finally did!
The first time I attended a Safe Homes meeting was also the first time I had ever met an openly LGBTQIA+ adult! It was a revelation. They were respected professionals. They had jobs, partners and families. They were happy in their own skin and, for the first time, I could imagine a new world for myself – a world of opportunity and possibility. If you ever wonder what the dollars you donate to Safe Homes provide for the youth who attend the program, I can tell you quite honestly that those donations gave me a future.
Safe Homes also gave me a job. As a Peer Leader I received trainings and attended conferences. I was given the chance to develop as an advocate and to help other young people come into their own. And I certainly came into my own.
Throughout the difficult times, having support helped me to continue to focus on school. I graduated 4th in my class at Worcester Tech and later became the first person in my family to graduate from college. At UMass Amherst, I continued to establish myself as a queer activist and came to recognize that this was a path I wanted to grow into a career.
College helped me gain confidence. After talking myself into a senior seminar on the LGBT Psychology Experience as a sophomore, the professor hired me as his Teaching Assistant (TA) for the course, a role I held for two years. My senior year, I received my department’s Outstanding TA Award. In the interview published by the department about my award, I was asked what I planned to pursue after graduation. I replied that, “I will be pursuing a future in social justice and community education. It’s my goal to work with at-risk queer youth within various communities teaching them about mental health topics and identity formation.”
Little did I know that the career I planned for myself would bring me back right where it all began – to Safe Homes. Because, as the Program Coordinator of Safe Homes North, I have been charged with the task of bringing the Safe Homes model to the youth of North Central Massachusetts!
We will be located on the campus of Fitchburg State University and will be offering drop-in services to college and high school youth in Fitchburg and surrounding communities. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be providing these life-saving resources in a new area. Transportation to Worcester from this region for most young people is difficult, if not impossible. I don’t want to think about what might have happened to me at 17 if I hadn’t been able to access the Safe Homes services your donations helped fund.
I’m particularly excited that we will be located at a university. Just by providing LGBTQIA+ youth the opportunity to spend time on campus on a regular basis, we’ll be fostering excitement and giving them the chance to see themselves as part of a college community. Who knows, maybe in a few years one of those young people will help expand Safe Homes to yet another underserved region!
I hope you’ll join me in this exciting new chapter for Safe Homes. Your donation today will help to ensure that youth in both Worcester and the North County will have the support they need, when they need it.
Thank you for helping me build a life I can be proud of. Thank you for helping me develop the skills and confidence to help others find their own success.
Renn Duffey they/them/theirs
Program Coordinator, Safe Homes North