Ruth Ellis Center, FCA Foundation partner on LGBTQ+ leadership programs

Contrary to popular belief, leadership skills aren’t something you’re born with – they often are a series of lessons you learn from the people and experiences you have growing up, as well as an adult. That is why leadership training is important from a young age.

Creating leaders is one of the goals of the Ruth Ellis Center, a nationally recognized organization devoted to supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Thanks to a recent grant to the Highland Park-based organization from the FCA Foundation, the two partners are building programs that develop young leaders, one building block at a time.

But this grant and partnership is more than just a charitable donation, officials say. The work they’re doing together also is a symbol of the growing relationship between the two groups with the long-term goal of giving LGBTQ+ teens and young adults the skills they need to become leaders in a variety of ways, organizers say.

Teaching life skills
“The FCA Foundation spent time with us, playing a big role early in the process of what this program could be and would be,” said Mark Erwin-McCormick, Director of Development & Advancement at the Ruth Ellis Center. “They really wanted to understand what we needed. … They’re engaged in all areas of the organization as volunteers and partners.”

The $50,000 grant from the charitable arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to the Ruth Ellis Center will be used to teach life skills, create leadership opportunities and boost education that leads to employment for lesbian, gay, bi-attractional, transgender and questioning youth.

To develop this programming, the Ruth Ellis Center worked closely with the FCA Foundation to determine the best use of these funds – something that not only shows the commitment of FCA and its foundation to the LGBTQ+ community but to community building in general, said Lilianna Reyes, director of Second Stories, its drop-in center.

Three levels
The first level aims to help students with immediate needs, such as resume help or advice on what to wear on an interview, Reyes said. The second level focuses on summer internships, which then turns into a pipeline for the third level, which is a part- or full-time job at the Ruth Ellis Center. This way, students gain the understanding of what it means to be an employee and what skills they need to display to move up in an organization.

These skills are critical for both the wider world in general but for the Ruth Ellis Center in specific, said Erwin-McCormick.

“Graduates of this leadership pipeline serve in leadership roles in this center,” Erwin-McCormick said. “This kind of training helps them see themselves as leaders, so other kids can see that same quality and potential in themselves.”

The FCA Foundation, the charitable arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, supports charitable organizations and initiatives that help empower people, build strong, resilient communities and generate meaningful and measurable societal impacts particularly in the field of education.

FCA has been recognized as a leader among U.S. employers for providing domestic partner benefits to its employees in 2000 and has achieved a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index 11 times since the benchmark was established.

The Ellis Center has established a national reputation for its trauma-informed services for LGBTQ+ young people experiencing homelessness or in the child welfare system. Now in its 20th year in operation, the Center’s mission is, “creating opportunities with LGBTQ+ young people to build their vision for a positive future.”

The Center is nationally recognized for the quality of its innovative trauma-informed services for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults of color who may be experiencing homelessness, or in the child welfare system. Its core programs provide a continuum of services through:

  • Ruth’s House, the state’s only fully licensed and contracted residential housing program specifically for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system.
  • Second Stories Drop-In Center, providing low-barrier access to critical safety-net and support services like food, clothing, shower facilities, and other resources.
  • Ruth Ellis Health and Wellness Center, affording LGBTQ youth and young adults access to integrated primary care and behavioral health services in an affirming and culturally competent setting.
  • Family Preservation Program, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, and Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project.
  • Ruth Ellis Institute, centering the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth to inform and change nation-wide systems of care through education and evaluation.