Through These Eyes: Interview With United Way’s The Arise Project

Lan Freitag is Giving Communities Manager for United Way’s Arise Project, an organization benefitting homeless GLBT youth in the Twin Cities.

Justin: What is the Arise Project, when did it begin, and what was the catalyst for its creation?

Lan: Arise Project started about 5 years ago as a focus group of United Way donors and non-donors that represented the GLBT Community, learning why they do or don’t give to United Way. Through these focus groups, it was apparent that United Way did a good job of addressing the critical issues in the general community, but not as well in the GLBT community (as the issues are very different).  They found a gap that needed to be filled and that is officially how Arise Project was formed. Many of those involved in the focus groups became our founding Steering Committee members.

Arise Project officially launched as a United Way Giving Community three years ago and consist of 60 leaders and 500 advocates collectively raising over $260,000 since inception.  Our community issue we are currently focused on is youth homelessness.

Justin: What are your job responsibilities for Arise?

Lan: I work with communities of high caliber volunteers that are like-minded and passionate in making a difference in the community.  In addition to Arise Project, I also manage WINGs, a community focused on financial stability in women and children, and Women’s Leadership Council which is focused on early childhood education.  All groups have designated funds and lead their own RFP process to decide which high quality programs to provide grants.

Justin: Why does Arise target GLBT homeless youth, and not all homeless youth? How bad is the homeless LGBT crisis in the Twin Cities?

Lan: In our research, we found the highest need in the GLBT community is youth homelessness.  We learned that between 20-40% of homeless youth identify as GLBT.  GLBT youth are at higher risk of homelessness, survival relationships/sexual exploitation, dropping out of school, self-harm, suicide and chemical dependency.  On top of that, there are about 1,375 homeless youth on a given night in the seven county metro and less than 100 emergency beds in the Twin Cities.  It is heartbreaking.

Justin: What are Arise’s measures of success?

Lan:  We’ve raised over a quarter of a million dollars to improve the GLBT Community and youth homelessness in the Twin Cities since we’ve started, I’d say our success is that we are making a very meaningful impact in the community.

Justin: With what organizations does Arise partner, and how does Arise work with them?

Lan:  We are proud to announce that our grant beneficiaries for this year are: The Bridge for Youth, GLBT Host Homes, and YouthLink.  It is important that all beneficiaries for Arise Project not only serve homeless youth, but hold themselves “open and friendly” to the GLBT community.  This is a strong criterion for our Program Funding Committee that makes funding decisions on an annual basis (with United Way support).

Justin: What got you involved with Arise?

Lan: I’ve had a lifelong commitment to volunteerism and giving back to the community.   Before I started working with Arise Project, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know youth homelessness existed in the Twin Cities.  Youth homelessness has become an issue that I am incredibly passionate about improving.  I am proud to be an ally to the work that Arise Project does and I am personally vested.

Justin: How can we get involved? Where do you need help the most?

Lan: There are so many ways to get involved.  Let me count the ways!  1. Give – We have made a great impact so far but there is so much more to do.  Every dollar matters and counts!  2. Volunteer – we have monthly volunteer events, from throwing birthday parties at YouthLink (playing Bingo, serving cake and ice cream for youth) to clean-up projects at our agencies.  We also have skill-based volunteer opportunities such as serving on one of our committees.  3. Advocate.  This is one that many people don’t think about, but this is one of the most crucial.  If you are passionate about making a change, don’t be afraid to let your friends, family, co-workers know about what you learned and how you are planning on getting involved.  It makes it more fun if you can do something together.

Justin: How do we contact Arise to learn more? We know you have a Facebook page out there somewhere!

Lan: You can learn more on our website: www.gtcuw/arise/. You can enroll and we will add you to our mailing list for newsletters and upcoming events.  We also have a Facebook page  (or search for United Way Arise Project) that gives you the most up-to-date photos and news about Arise Project.

Justin: Anything else?

Lan:  I encourage people to visit the our website: www.gtcuw/arise/, learn more (and enroll) about Arise Project, and find a way to engage that best fits your life style.

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