JANUARY 28, 2023

WESTPORT — Teens in town now have a new place to explore their identities, share emotions, make new friends and meet adults who are supportive of them after COVID stalled the effort a few years ago.

Westport recently became the latest location for Lighthouse, a support group within Kids in Crisis for LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies in Fairfield County. The Westport group attempted to form right before the start of the pandemic, but was put on pause. The group restarted about three months ago, said Phoebe Oler, the Lighthouse program manager.

“The primary benefit of the meetings is that there’s awareness that they exist,” Oler said. “For youth, knowing that there are organizations, other people who care about them and support them is something that they really need to know and hear and feel.”

Meetings are held in Greenwich, Stamford and Westport at different points throughout the week. Westport meets on Mondays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Toquet Hall; Stamford on Tuesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Fish Church; and Greenwich on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Christ Church.

“Having an in-person space to meet other kids who are like you is really important right now, especially after COVID,” Oler said.

Oler said the event is an effort to raise awareness about Lighthouse and Toquet Hall, which is a local teen center.

“We wanted to do something that invited everybody, LGBTQ people and allies and all ages,” she said. “We thought this would be a good chance for kids who do have supportive parents or adults in their lives to come to an event together.”

Oler said this is also a community event to raise awareness about the queer community and history in Westport.

The event will include a queer history jeopardy game, a talk from Westporter and LGBTQ+ advocate Dan Woog and a free dinner.

The Westport group also hosted a panel at the Norwalk Arts Space called Queer and Questioning, where professionals who work with youth discussed the importance of creative arts for the LGBTQ+ community, Oler said.

Lighthouse was founded around 11 years ago in Stamford, and had a strong start for about six years, Qualey said.

“The hope was to give Lighthouse an opportunity to grow,” she added.

So, the founder reached out to Kids in Crisis and asked for it to become part of that organization and mission, which is to work with youth in all areas, Qualey said.

Lighthouse also has opportunities for volunteers, where they can become facilitators.

“Each group is co-led by Phoebe and a volunteer,” Qualey said.

Kids in Crisis also offers TeenTalk within schools, including Staples High School, which is a program where “specially trained, compassionate counselors identify and help students navigate difficult personal, family and school-related issues,” according to its website.

Outside of group sessions, Kids in Crisis offers a 24/7 crisis helpline at 203-661-1911 and a temporary shelter at their home base in Greenwich.

“Suicide rate for LGBTQ+ kids, the homeless rate for this population, the chance of being a victim of exploitation or violence or bullying is much higher… than in the straight community,” Qualey said. “Part of this is really giving kids a safe, confidential place for a group that may not have that outlet in their school or their community.”



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