Thrive Brings Gay and Straight Cape Cod Youth Together
In the late 1960s, a research study was conducted on a small community in Pennsylvania in which the close-knit, Italian-immigrant population, despite its smoking, drinking and traditional Italian diet, seemed to be insusceptible to one of Americans’ leading causes of death -- the heart attack. Upon further investigation, it was found that the crime rate and applications for public assistance were at or near zero as well.
The Roseto Effect, named after the town in which the phenomenon was discovered, suggests that peoples’ needs extend beyond the physical and that community and relationships are integral in fostering health and happiness. Each Rosetan had his or her own place in the community, they looked after each other and they all worked toward the common goal of providing a better future for their children. And the benefits arising from this communal upbringing were abundant.
The Roseto Effect is a reference that Scott Fitzmaurice, Executive Director of Thrive, formerly known as the Cape & Islands Gay Straight Youth Alliance, likes using to explain what his organization’s goals are.
"People need to get into leadership roles and find a sense of community and most of their other problems go away," said Fitzmaurice. "Youth in leadership roles are more likely to respect themselves and their bodies and to make positive decisions about where they’re going in life."
The organization was founded in 1996 as a place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and straight youth from the Cape & Islands to come together in a respectful, accepting environment and to learn from, support and bond with one another through events, activities and peer leadership.
While originally this was a youth program focused on people age 14-18, Fitzmaurice and other members and organizers realized that there was great need for this kind of environment for people age 18-24.
He noted that while someone coming out at age 16 may have emotional turmoil, they also might be more likely to be supported, both financially and emotionally, by their family.
"But you think about someone that’s 26 and trans and trying to get a job and support themselves, they may need that help and support too," said Fitzmaurice.
The group has also become more involved in general youth development, rather than just LGBT youth. These initiatives have included playing a lead role in the Cape & Islands Suicide Prevention Coalition, being part of the Cape Cod Freedom From Addiction network, and being heavily involved in the creation of a new cultural center in Sagamore.
Thus, the Cape & Islands Gay Straight Youth Alliance has rebranded itself and become "Thrive," encompassing a greater range of ages and individuals.
And speaking with some of its members, it seems to be quite a fitting title.
Twenty-year-old Troy McMahon has been a Thrive member and one of its Youth Leaders for almost three years now. He fully believes in Fitzmaurice’s assertion that elevating people to leadership roles creates lasting positive impact in their lives.
"The main thing that kept me coming back was that I felt like I had an important role there," said McMahon, who was 17 when he found his place in Thrive.
While he was then finishing up high school, he also held a part-time job but, he said, it was at the lowest ranks. His Youth Leadership position gave him new responsibilities, privileges and challenges that he hadn’t experienced in work or school before. And he says the skills he learned in Thrive have carried over into everyday life.
He has since earned his Graphic Design Certificate and is looking to do more freelance work. He is able to practice his skills at Thrive, where he creates many of the posters and event flyers.
"I have noticed myself being a lot more confident," said McMahon. "I realized I have the ability to do great things and I don’t hold back anymore."
McMahon’s boyfriend Nick Corrigan, who became a Thrive member and Youth Leader this past September after being introduced to the group by McMahon, said that while he is still trying to get a grasp and find his grounding in the leadership role it has been very rewarding.
"In a way I feel like I can help people help themselves," said Corrigan, who is 21-years-old. "It’s a really good feeling."
McMahon echoed this sentiment, noting that Thrive members who are younger can feel comfortable coming to him to speak their minds or ask advice without the formal "adultish" tone.
This peer-led method of operating is why they say it works.
Where many high school Gay Straight Alliances are adult-led and discussion-based, Thrive is run by its members, with adults there to oversee and maintain a safe environment.
McMahon’s high school, in lieu of a GSA, had a generalized "Diversity Club," which he said was not enough. He believed that Thrive being outside of the school setting is less limited and more beneficial. Corrigan, originally from Northern Maine, told EDGE that there were no GSAs or LGBT organizations available to him, but that he could have really benefited from a program like Thrive during his high school years.
"For many of them it’s the first time they don’t have to be somebody else for somebody," said Fitzmaurice. "It’s the first time they can be themselves. They learn the skills to organize. They realize they have the right to organize and the right to be respected. And they keep that feeling with them for their entire lives."
Last month, three of Thrive’s members had the honor to attend a statewide leadership conference for LGBT youth and their allies. And on Jan. 11, with sponsorship from the Mass. Commission on LGBT Youth and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Thrive will be hosting a Regional LGBTQA Youth Leadership Conference where community groups and high school GSAs from surrounding areas will come together to develop leadership skills.
Besides the exciting leadership conferences, Thrive members have weekly meetings for planning, gender discussion groups, coffee haus nights, sexual health talks and 22-and-under dances, known as "house parties." Most of these events are open to anyone age 14-22, and members are encouraged to bring friends.
And, in Rosetan fashion, all of the events are organized and led by youth leaders and Thrive members.
"I don’t run the place, I’m just the executive director," said Fitzmaurice, who maintained that at Thrive, it is less about titles and more about work.
And with the work they’re doing, this organization and the force of young leaders it’s helping to develop, is worth watching.
For more information on Thrive, visit www.cigsya.org