Rise Above Coffee is proud to be the LGBTQ+ Coffee that gives back, and each month, we feature a non-profit doing exceptional work in the LGBTQ+ community. This October, we’re shining a spotlight on SMYAL.

Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, or SMYAL, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Washington, DC. SMYAL advocates for LGBTQ youth so they can seize each day and prepare for the future.

In 1984, a group of youth service professionals and activists held a conference to discuss the most pressing issues faced by LGBTQ youth. The success of this conference led to the founding of SMYAL.

SMYAL went to work creating leadership development opportunities, after school programs, and counseling services designed to empower LGBTQ youth and educate their local community. To this day, the organization strives to help these young leaders build advocacy skills and access the crucial resources they need to succeed. They also provide education and training programs for youth service providers, housing programs, local government agencies and hospitals.

Mission Statement
SMYAL supports and empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in the Washington, DC Metro region. Through youth leadership, SMYAL creates opportunities for LGBTQ youth to build self-confidence, develop critical life skills, and engage their peers and community through service and advocacy. SMYAL works to build, sustain, and advocate for the programs, policies and services that support LGBTQ youth as they grow into adulthood.

Empowering Youth to Thrive
For nearly 40 years, SMYAL has worked to positively empower LGBTQ youth. This is accomplished in several ways:

Reducing Homelessness – 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. SMYAL believes there is no single path into homelessness, and no one-size-fits-all path out. SMYAL offers transitional housing for LGBTQ youth, and a Rapid Re-housing program to help young adults sign their own leases.

Mental Health Care – 70% of LGBTQ youth stated their mental health was poor most of the time or always during COVID-19, and 48% wanted mental health counseling in the past year but could not get it. SMYAL closes this gap with affirming, accessible and empowering mental health counseling for queer and trans youth, which is 100% free to clients. In addition to individual and group counseling, SMYAL offers trauma-informed yoga, sound healing and mindfulness.

Youth Programs
Over the years, SMYAL has developed several programs designed to provide queer and trans youth ages 6-24 with a safe space to express themselves and build community. SMYAL is also one of the only programs in the country specifically designed for LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. Programs are held in person and virtually. Programs include:

Little SMYALs – provides queer and trans 6-12 year olds with a safer space to hang out and meet new people, access resources, and receive staff support. This program also connects youth and their families to community resources and services.

Rise Up! National Youth Organizing Conference – a free, virtual annual conference open to any queer, trans, non-binary and ally youth ages 13-24. Participants learn about youth organizing/activism and connect with other youth organizers.

Youth Leadership Award – a post-secondary scholarship of up to $25,000 is awarded to 5-8 students per year. It recognizes student leaders who demonstrate extraordinary leadership and impact in their school or community.

Breaking Ground – a summer program using theater arts and music to discuss complex challenges and successes. Students develop a full length musical based on their real life experiences.

Sexual Health – providing more inclusive and accessible sexual health education to LGBTQ youth.

Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA) – Empowers LGBTQ youth leaders to organize advocacy movements for safer schools and healthier communities. This alliance supports the next generation as they lead the fight for LGBTQ rights and social justice.

Coffee for a Cause
In support of SMYAL, October’s #coffeeforacause is Love is Love, our medium-light roast from Costa Rica. When you buy Love is Love coffee during the month of October, a portion of the proceeds will be donated directly to SMYAL.

To learn more or get involved with SMYAL, visit their website and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.