Tuesday, August 5, 2014

From 0 to 60... in 10-Minutes!

by Alyssa Zirkman, Intern

Like any other YES Institute event, I got so much more than I bargained for when I attended Speakers Night. I thought I would simply work on facilitating Community Dialogues. When I left I was filled with even more love for people. It fueled my passion to make a difference on the topics of gender and orientation and become a YES Institute facilitator.

I stood in front of six other people as well as two coaches and practiced, for the first time, the role of a YES Institute facilitator. I was nervous and I was struggling to let the audience guide the conversation. At first,  I felt that I was able to "be with" my audience, as I responded to their fears and questions. I did have a tough time being authentic because I was more focused on saying the “right” thing. It was difficult for me to get out of my head and really listen to the audience’s concerns. After I  finished my practice, I received great coaching from a room of YES staff and other people participating at Speakers Night.

Normally, criticism is something I do not handle well; I tend to block out the critiques. With my new communication tools I was open to listening to the coaching. A simple ten minutes of practice and feedback left me wanting more; I want to become the best facilitator I can be. People were really generous with me, and it was like they were right there with me, to support this new purpose.

Finally, I saw people practice sharing their personal stories to become a part of the YES Institute Speakers Bureau. Even though I had heard the stories before, all the triumph and loss touched my heart in a new way. It was clear to me that YES Institute really does help others find their voice. Pretty quickly, it was time to go. Three hours went by way too fast.

Since Speakers Night, I have tried to re-focus myself on being authentic everywhere in my life. I cannot wait to continue my facilitator practice and coaching and eventually facilitate a Community Dialogue.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Now We're Talking!

I grew up in a small town where we didn’t talk about gender and orientation. Everyone around me seemed like they fit the expectations of being a man and being a woman. 

Sophomore year of high school I met Sarah in my European History Class. I got to know her spending the semester sitting next to her. She told me about rumors that had spread about her being a lesbian. Her friends stopped including her because of the rumors. The following year Sarah committed suicide. 

My band teacher sat us down and told us what happened. There were counselors all around us and the kids from choir came in to sing a song mourning the loss. I went to the memorial service the following week. It seemed almost normal that no one asked why Sarah did this, at least not openly, at least not with me. It wasn’t until much later that I began to piece things together and find my own answers.

In college I met friends who do not neatly fit the world's expectations of masculinity and femininity. I was curious and had many questions, but lacked the tools necessary to ask them. One of my friends suggested I take a course on gender at University of Miami. I felt the class often reinforced the masculine-feminine dichotomy, until YES Institute came to guest lecture. 

It was the first time, finally, I began to understand, or at least appreciate, the complexities and the impact of gender and orientation. I saw that no one fits neatly into the masculine or feminine box because gender expression is a continuum, not binary. No one is completely feminine or masculine. We all express ourselves as a unique mix of the two. This sense of understanding left me wanting more.

That led to me becoming an intern at YES Institute. It was only then that I began gaining tools needed to support my friends and educate others. Not only that, but YES Institute helped me with the relationships in my personal life. After taking Communication Solutions™my relationships started improving, especially with my mom. This internship has truly been an incredible experience.

Monday, June 2, 2014

First Steps of a Leader

Brandon’s family thought they had a daughter. When Brandon turned 16, he courageously told his family that he knew himself to be a boy. His family wanted a way to understand what Brandon was going through, so they came to YES Institute.

They started taking courses in May of 2013, and have since taken every course we offer. Empowered with a new way to understand gender and share his powerful story, Brandon has become a speaker with YES Institute and is using his voice to bring education on gender everywhere he can.

At 17, Brandon wrote a letter of gratitude to his YES Family. He collected his savings and donated $100.00 to YES Institute. We are so inspired by his generosity and his leadership that we have created a new giving category called Junior Leaders.

If you’re inspired by Brandon’s leadership join us at the next YES Institute Young Professional Society event to hear more about Brandon’s story and learn about YIYPS. It’s happening at Havana 1957 in Brickell on June 4th, from 6pm to 9pm. To RSVP follow this link to the Facebook page or email caro@yesinstitute.org.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jolted Back to Life

By Tico Baez, Intern

This month’s edition of AARP The Magazine features YES Institute's CFO, Eva Leivas-Andino and her son Paolo Andino. The article showcases brave people who have endured a traumatic moment in their lives only to bounce back feeling more capable than ever. 

Growing up, Paolo felt like he did not belong within his own family. Paolo shared his orientation with his family, but it was a subject that wasn't talked about for eight years. Eva was worried about what others might think of her if they were to find out that Paolo was gay. Once Eva and Paolo were able to have open and constructive communication, their relationship completely changed. 

This is a struggle that many families experience. Being at the center of a challenge often stops us from seeing a solution. When Eva walked through the then blue doors of YES Institute in 1996, she did not know the communication skills she was about to learn. She took Communication Solutions™ and soon became a speaker with YES Institute. This course profoundly impacted her life and the people in her life. 

Read the rest of Eva and Paolo's story at AARP.com.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to Belong in High School

By Tico Baez

Growing up, I was always compared to my three masculine brothers. My siblings criticized me for caring about my appearance whereas my brothers could wear the same shirt everyday for a week and not be criticized. I was constantly pushed to join a sports team but my siblings were never asked to join an artistic or academic club. In high school, they played on the football team, while I performed in drama classes.

These comparisons made me feel like I didn’t belong in my own family. It seemed like no one around me was listening to me, about what I wanted. The arts became my outlet. I felt I could be myself in drama club. By my senior year, my friends accepted me just as I was. Most importantly, I felt like I could be myself regardless of others’ criticism or comparisons.

Recently, YES Institute was invited to Florida Atlantic University’s Alexander D. Henderson High School. I decided to tag along as an observer. YES Institute facilitators spoke to the entire freshman class about the expectations we all learn about gender and the assumptions we make about orientation.

During the dialogue the students were very active in the discussion.

These were some of my favorite quotes:

“I learned that people are bullied and targeted based on gender expression, not orientation. I’ve never thought of that before.”

“I have a friend who is transgender, and when Sam was talking about when he wanted to kill himself, I understood how my friend felt.”

“Your body does not decide your gender.”

“Our society is very eager to place labels on experiences that are universal. The YES Institute dialogue impacted me to think about my words and thoughts.”

I never had a discussion like this when I was in high school. It inspired me to think about all the students who may be feeling the way I did growing up, and now have a new way of thinking about gender and orientation.

These students have the opportunity to be themselves, and not have to follow the expectations set by society.

Friday, February 21, 2014

New Voices in the Catholic Church

By Roxy Sora, Chair of the Board of Directors

Roxy Sora
Growing up Catholic, it was very challenging to accept my orientation. Because I felt like the two identities were incompatible, I eventually left the Catholic church that had been such a huge part of my life. Almost immediately, I felt an emptiness, a missing.

A few years down the road, I spoke to a priest who was also a family friend. When he asked me what I was doing there, I simply said, “I need you to tell me that I'm okay.” I will always remember his response: “You have every right to attend the communion table as anyone else.”  This opened up a whole new perspective for me, and I was able to return to the church with a whole heart.

It was the very same priest who first shared information about YES Institute with me. After I became involved with YES Institute as a volunteer, and later as the Chair of the Board of Directors, I knew I wanted to bring our work to the Catholic Church. I didn't know how I was going to make that happen, but I knew I was committed to finding a way.

The seed of opportunity was planted towards the end of 2013 when YES Institute was invited to a health fair at St. John Neumann. I asked my father Efrain, and sister Cristy, to volunteer at the YES Institute booth as they’re both avid supporters and investors in the work of YES Institute. My father, a preacher for several years, was approached by a colleague he knew from Christ the King Catholic Church. After sharing about YES Institute, we were invited to facilitate a community dialogue on bullying, gender and orientation with the High School Youth Group at Christ the King.

The youth leader began the meeting with a beautiful reflection about being open minded and the importance of “rethinking” topics we sometimes avoid or resist.  Brittney, YES Institute’s Program Manager, created a space for open and authentic communication and sharing among the youth, families and church members present for the dialogue. I also had the incredible opportunity to share about my journey reconciling my orientation and my relationship with the church.

After I shared, it became very clear that these topics deeply impacted everyone in the room. The students candidly shared about gender based bullying masked as gay slurs, seen at school every day. Parents expressed helplessness at not knowing how to create safer homes and classrooms. Many shares were about close family members who struggle to accept their own orientation.  

The evening was a truly magical experience for me.  Ripple effects are happening with more requests coming from other communities of faith. One of the participants expressed an interest in inviting YES Institute to speak at her Religious Studies class at St. Thomas University. Also, Christ the King's Youth Leader is connecting YES Institute with a nearby Catholic church to bring this conversation to their youth group.

This one evening reignited my passion and commitment to creating communities of faith where EVERYONE feels accepted, safe and loved. I am so thankful to have been a part of it, and I cannot wait to see where YES Institute will go next!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Father’s Love

By Umut Dursun, Community Liaison 

Umut addressing University of Miami students. 

My resolve to transition from female to male was unbreakable; but the actual transition was not an easy one...

For as long as I can remember, I have known myself to be male, but I lacked the concept to make sense of this for myself. When I did finally figure out who I was, I experienced a tremendous sense of relief. I could finally be comfortable in my own skin. But no one lives on an island. Soon enough, I had to confront the reality that I’d have to tell every single person in my life about my gender which entails using a different pronoun and a whole new social script. My mind was swamped with questions: “Will I lose my family? Who could possibly love me? Is it worth it?” I was terrified of losing the people I felt closest to in this world. But once I finally knew who I was, a 25 year long struggle, I couldn’t hide from myself – or others – for even one more day.

Having no clue how my Dad would react, I braced myself for the worst. After obsessing in my mind over and over how the conversation might go, I was convinced that my father would disown me. He is Turkish and Muslim. I equated his identity as an automatic death sentence for our relationship. “Baba…I need to tell you something…I’m a guy.” Silence. Then, “What do you mean, ‘you’re a guy’?” I said, “Well, I’m not a girl. I’ve never felt like one. It took me a long time to figure out why I was unhappy, and it’s because I’m not a girl. I’m a guy.” More silence. “Are you sure?... What does this mean?...This is just a phase.” Although my dad didn’t understand how I was feeling, or why I needed to transition, he made the single most important fact clear – he loves me unconditionally.

I began my gender transition in August of 2010. My family has remained by my side throughout this journey, but my dad and I haven’t really talked about...it. He has never heard me tell of looking in the mirror, and seeing nothing but emptiness in the reflection. Someone I didn’t know was always looking back at me. I didn’t share with him the torment of feeling incomplete and searching for a sense of belonging. My wanting to be seen as a man, as his son, was the huge elephant in the room we could never manage to discuss. People knew he had two daughters, so there was always this awkward pause when he introduced me as “his child.”

My dad recently visited Miami and I invited him to accompany me to a YES Institute dialogue at the University of Miami. He didn’t have a clue what he agreed to, but being the supportive father he is, he joined me anyway. This was the first time my dad had ever heard firsthand the real truth of my experience.

When I spoke during the dialogue, he listened intently, and I could tell he was processing information that was very foreign to him. Afterwards, I fielded questions from the audience as my dad quietly listened from the back of the room. Before we wrapped up for the day, my dad was invited to share what the experience was like for him. He responded only noting a curiosity about different cultural practices of gender. However, above all, he made it clear that although he doesn't understand, he is thirsty for knowledge.

Though I was originally scared of my dad’s reaction, our relationship has remained intact. There are slip-ups when he says ‘she,’ but I know it isn’t meant with malice. His willingness to listen as he tries to learn has allowed me to hear him differently. When he says “my child,” he says so with love.

Umut and his father at University of Miami. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reaching Every Community in Miami-Dade

by Joseph Zolobczuk, MS Ed.

Introduction to Communication Solutions™ with Honey Shine program.

YES Institute is committed to reaching all people in our community, regardless of income or socio-economic background. Analyzing Miami-Dade participant data collected between 2009 and 2013, we've discovered in a new report of our cumulative program data that:
20% of all participants reached in the work of YES Institute in the past four years are within federal poverty areas.
Nearly 2,000 faculty and students YES Institute has served are from Title I Schools. 
The report also features selected stories of Title I students - Jowharah, Mark, Brian and Deanna - who found amelioration, empowerment, and new ways to make a difference in their schools and communities through YES Institute.

The new report is available on the results page of our website. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Making the Perfect Connection

By Deanna Saunders and Brittney McCabe 

YIYPS members network with fellow young professionals.

Jowharah Sanders made just the right connection at the latest YIYPS (YES Institute Young Professionals Society) networking event. That evening she met Luna Otero, the Community Compact Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Otero helped Sanders secure a presentation spot with seventeen MDCPS principals, administrators, teachers and counselors. This was the first introduction of her anti-bullying program - National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment (NVEEE) - into Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS.)

"Before the YIYPS event, I had worked extensively in Broward but had not been able to reach Miami-Dade students” - Jowharah Sanders, Executive Director of NVEEE

These key players in MDCPS were so moved by Sanders’ presentation that they invited her to present to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Sanders hopes the presentation will inspire administrators to incorporate her year-long program into other MDCPS schools.

Of the YIYPS program, Jowharah says, “It’s a perfect fit for me. When I learned about YIYPS I was so excited to be able to network with other young people. I jumped at the chance to contribute to YES Institute, which has helped me, my community and the kids I work with so much.”

If you want to know more about how you can contribute to professionalism with a purpose, contact Brittney McCabe at 305-663-7195 or via email at brittney@yesinstitute.org.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Winter Celebration Honors Kiaora Members, Welcomes New Friends

by Brittney McCabe

Joseph Kraus, a Kiaora Visionary and long time friend of YES Institute, opened up his beautiful home in Ft. Lauderdale to host our annual winter celebration for the Kiaora Society of Donors. Members and their guests gathered to learn more about the current work of YES Institute and celebrate the results made possible by the generous and steadfast contributions of our Kiaora members.

Amidst the festivities, Visionary and volunteer speaker Patricia shared her family’s inspiring journey to embrace their child’s gender. The entire room was moved by her unconditional love for her child, and many were inspired to donate to YES Institute to ensure families like Patricia’s will always have YES Institute as a resource.

We welcome our new Kiaora members and friends to the YES Institute family!

Patricia shares her story at Kiaora event.