Amid shift online and move to new HQ, Prism offers safe space for LGBTQ youth

As the only community center for LGBTQ youth in mid-Missouri, The Center Project houses Prism, a group for LGBTQ youth aged 11-18. Prism was founded in 1998 as a safe space for LGBTQ youth to process the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming, and it has supported the community since then.

Prism offers a variety of programs and services, but Prism coordinator Mel Constantine Miseo says the main goal of the organization is provide a space where youth can comfortably be themselves and be supported.

The pandemic forced the organization to adapt some of its services to maintain safety protocols, something that Constantine Miseo admits was hard for some of the youth.

“We’re about connection and social support, so it was really, really difficult to not be able to meet in person,” they said. “We switched to online meetings, and for youth that was really hard because they can’t fully express who they are when they are in their house with their parents in the next room.”

Ultimately, though, the volunteers at Prism got creative and found ways to continue to check in and connect with members. A couple of instances stood out to Constantine Miseo as evidence of the impact the organization has had.

During the winter, volunteers went to members’ houses to deliver care packages with fun items and gifts. Constantine Miseo said about 20 youth signed up for the care packages, including some who weren’t previously involved with Prism.

Constantine Miseo also highlighted was moving into Prism’s move to a new building. The old building that Prism had occupied had become too small with at times more than two dozen teenagers coming to meetings and events, so Prism began looking for a new space.

The move happened during the pandemic, and Constantine Miseo said that left some youth without a proper sense of closure departing a building that had a deep connection for many of them. So, Tobi Coffee, another Prism coordinator, created a painting as tribute to the old building and donated it to be displayed in the new space.

Constantine Miseo said that painting will allow the youth to maintain that connection with the space that became almost like a second home to them while also allowing the organization to continue to grow by moving into a building that offers more possibilities.

Prism is a winner of this year’s Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to Youth category. The awards recognize Boone County businesses and organizations that have exhibited and promoted kindness during the past year.

Missouri Business Alert spoke with Constantine Miseo about Prism and its efforts to show kindness. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: How does Prism embody kindness within the community?

Mel Constantine Miseo: LGBTQ youth in the community utilize Prism as a safe space where they are affirmed as who they are, and they can show up exactly as who they are there and that will be celebrated and respected. Research shows that if LGBTQ youth have at least one supportive adult in their life that can drastically improve their mental health, their self-esteem and so we try to be that one adult or that group of adults really who affirm them and support exactly who they are without needing to change or conform to standards.

MBA: What are some of the main difficulties you have faced over the past year and how did you adapt to overcome those?

MCM: Our attendance really dropped during the pandemic over online meetings because people weren’t safe or comfortable attending our online meetings, which was really hard. They really relied on our weekly meetings before the pandemic to just show up as they are and have their name and pronouns respected in this space. To have that taken away was really difficult, and so we continued to have online meetings for the people who could attend. We had text check-ins where they could text the Prism phone number, and they could check in with us. And so that was a way for them to do it without their parents knowing, and they could still have connection to the community. We also did holiday care packages during the winter months. During the summer, we were able to meet in parks and stuff like that. That was really nice for them to meet in person, again, like in a safe place.

MBA: You just recently moved into this new building. What is the plan moving forward with getting things up and running here?

MCM: The hope for this new building is to make it into even more of a youth-oriented and friendly space. Our other building, it was too small for us. It got really loud and chaotic when there’s 25 teenagers in a room who are super excited to be with each other, so this building is bigger and allows us to kind of spread out and have a little bit more calm energy. We’re really excited to settle in. We have some construction projects that we need to do, but we’re really excited to have it finished.

MBA: How rewarding was it to return to in-person meetings this past spring?

MCM: It was so nice. I missed them so much. It wasn’t the same doing it online. Just being able to have one-on-one conversations and offer more emotional support where sometimes they couldn’t talk to us about things online. And so being able to have private, confidential space with them was so needed. It felt good to be able to connect with them in that way again of mentoring them through whatever difficulties that they were going through.

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