A hybrid approach to LGBTQIA+ youth mental health: How a Zoom nonprofit partner expanded its reach
From its modest beginnings as a meeting space in a basement in Columbus, Ohio, today Kaleidoscope Youth Center offers a community where LGTBQIA+ youth can forge connections and find the services they need to thrive. With a drop-in center providing support and activities in person, plus virtual services via Zoom, Kaleidoscope has become a safe space for young people in the Columbus area and beyond.
As one young person said, “I was really worried about what people were going to think about me. And this place is like, you do it your way, you do what you want, you are you.” Another person said, “I feel like Kaleidoscope was there to save me.”
As the nonprofit grew, Kaleidoscope staff knew there was more work to be done, and one area in particular stood out: mental health.
According to The Trevor Project’s national 2023 mental health survey, 41% of LGBTQIA+ youth in the United States seriously considered attempting suicide, while 56% of LGBTQIA+ youth who wanted mental health care were not able to get it.
Parents’ healthcare insurance often won’t cover treatment, and even if the young person gets access to a therapist or counselor, it’s difficult to find someone who understands the specific challenges LGTBQIA+ youth face. They may not even be supportive. This is especially the case for trans youth.
Kaleidoscope staff saw the solution: Expand and introduce a community wellness initiative where LGBTQIA+ youth could access free mental health services.
But this required additional funding.
Zoom Cares, our social impact arm, found Kaleidoscope through community advisors as part of our participatory grantmaking model, rooted in trust-based philanthropy. Kaleidoscope received an unrestricted grant from Zoom Cares to pursue the strategy of their choice.
As part of the support, Kaleidoscope staff participated in a capacity-strengthening program led by Raise for Good, where they were able to learn alongside other nonprofit peers. Together, they workshopped strategies and bolstered skills, including around fundraising, communication, and leadership.
The timing was perfect. Kaleidoscope had the funds and the strategic support to expand. And, importantly, they already had the hybrid model that could support the expansion.
Lockdown opened doors for LGBTQIA+ youth – and ushered in hybrid support
Kaleidoscope’s hybrid approach to outreach and services has its roots in the pandemic. During lockdown, drop-in centers like Kaleidoscope had to close. But young people — perhaps more than ever — needed to find those safe spaces for connection.
When everyone jumped on Zoom, something surprising happened. The barriers to access broke down. Young people who lived too far from the drop-in center, or who couldn’t visit because they were immunocompromised, could easily join the community.
Our drop-in center provides a safe and affirming space for LGBTQIA+ youth. Zoom allows us to extend that safety and affirmation beyond our center — to youth and their allies across the state.Jennifer Kuhn, director of community partnerships and external relations, Kaleidoscope Youth Center.
With Zoom, nonprofits like Kaleidoscope can provide mental health and well-being services via HIPAA-compliant consultations, peer-to-peer support, or virtual meetups to create a much-needed sense of belonging. It also equips Kaleidoscope with a platform to run statewide coalition meetings and professional development workshops, as well as offer assistance to youth-serving professionals, school staff, and organizations that want to learn more about how to best support LGBTQIA+ youth.
Kaleidoscope’s expansion fuels even more growth
With funding and a wide-reaching hybrid model in place, Kaleidoscope took its first step toward expanding by hiring a behavioral health therapist.
Kaleidoscope Youth Center has become, for many young people, the first place they can connect with therapeutic services that might otherwise be too difficult or expensive to access. The Kaleidoscope team also works with youth to connect with their families in hopes of fostering additional support.
The demand for the therapy sessions has grown rapidly. Within the first year, Kaleidoscope hosted 298 individual sessions and about 20 group sessions.
“The Zoom Cares funding allowed us to envision and bring forward what we wanted to do – and then show the rest of the community what we can do,” said Jennifer Kuhn.
The success provided evidence that Kaleidoscope then presented to other funders, resulting in more support — and the hiring of a second therapist.
In September 2023, Kaleidoscope opened a Wellness Center for counseling sessions, group activities, life-skills development, and more, further expanding Kaleidoscope’s impact on the lives on LGBTQIA+ youth.
A space for mental health and well-being
Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to recognize that mental health and well-being is a universal right. Across the United States and the rest of the world, young people struggle to get the help they need, especially youth who identify as LGBTQIA+.
It’s also a day to celebrate the work of mental health advocates and service providers worldwide. We at Zoom are proud to support nonprofits like Kaleidoscope who are working to provide young people with the services and safe spaces they need — via our Zoom Cares grants and our platform for communicating and collaborating.
To learn more about our social impact work, check out Zoom Cares’ latest Social Impact Report.