Story by Renee Baker, Edge Publications, Feb 26, 2009.
Volunteering at a youth organization is something many in the LGBT community thrive on. It is in their blood, bones and heart. They know that service work is their calling. They volunteer because the wisdom of their own childhood experiences directs them to a place of need. They know that our LGBT youth need the same help they went without.
Bob Ivancic is just such an example of those that know how important it is to give back. After ten years as a founder and board member of Youth First Texas, now he’s stepped down from his board position and passed on the torch of service to a former Youth First graduate.
Ivancic is one of four founders of Youth First, a non-profit center supporting over 1,100 LGBTQ youth in the North Texas area. As he stepped down from the board of directors in January of this year, his dream also came true that one of the organization’s youth would take the helm. Brandon Dowdy, a former youth who “grew up” with Youth First since its inception, was just voted in as Senior Co-chair of the organization.
Youth First was founded in 1999 with the mission to bring LGBTQ youth together with programs and resources that “facilitate empowerment and self-acceptance.” It is not uncommon for LGBTQ youth to feel a sense of hopelessness and rejection and finding a home at Youth First is an important step in their development of a sense of pride.
The LGBT community though is still trying to determine how to come together as a whole and serve its youth peers. Dowdy said that “No other community, across the nation, and maybe even the world disregards their youth like the GLBT community does. It is not that the community doesn’t care, but that they don’t really know how.”
Ivancic though has never given up. According to Chris Hendrix, past President of Youth First, it would have been easy to close the doors of the organization in the early days when times were tough. He said though that Ivancic stuck it out and “from the beginning he nourished the organization to the place it is now…and now we have a great organization that helps hundreds of youth.”
Dowdy was once such a youth that was helped by Youth First. He first came to Youth First in 2000 when he was just 18 years old and Youth First was still wearing its baby clothes. He was unsure of himself and wondering “what I am doing here?” He felt that he was running out of hope, feeling like hope itself essentially failed him. Dowdy said, “I had hoped that my parents would understand me. I had hoped that my friends would truly know who I was and accept me. Hope was not something I had in my life when I came to Youth First, but I was luckily able to find it there.”
Ivancic, who is a Licensed Professional Counselor, recalls those days when Dowdy was still growing and dealing with the loss of connection to his father, who could not accept a gay son. Ivancic said, “Brandon was really struggling then and we became very close.”
Ivancic beams of pride when he speaks of Dowdy and his rise to Sr. Chair of the organization. Ivancic said, “To watch a youth come to the center, to see him struggling with himself, to age out of the youth program, to become a volunteer, to become a board member, and then now, to become the Senior Co-chair of the organization…what words can I say, but that somehow all of our youth’ hopes are somehow personified in Brandon.”
Dowdy echoes sentiment about Ivancic saying, “I still to this day have a soft spot in my heart for my dad, but when I came out to him, he couldn’t accept having a gay son. I was so broken beyond despair over this and Bob was there to help me through it. Bob, in a way, became like a second dad to me.” Dowdy has to wipe his tears when he speaks about how much Ivancic has meant to him.
Ivancic recalls his own struggles and confusion at being gay himself. He grew up in a generally happy middle class American family with five children. He said like so many gay youth that he always felt different and he tried to be “the best little boy in the world.” Ivancic chuckles and says that many of the “usual” signs of being gay were there like being an “exceptional” nurturer that lent a kind ear, being an actor in multiple theatrical productions and joining student council to avoid playing sports.
Ivancic got married at age 20 in 1985, but his wife was tragically killed just seven weeks later in a car accident. After coming to terms with her death, Ivancic was able to come to terms with his own sexuality. He came out in 1987 while attending the University of Texas at Dallas. A year later, he met his life partner Dan Dixon, and they have been together ever since; recently they celebrated their 20 year partnership with a recommitment in marriage in Los Angeles.
Ivancic said he began working with youth because it was a “confusing time for me.” He eventually worked at Cathedral of Hope working with homeless GLBT individuals. While he was there, he met Bob Miskinis, who is now the Youth First Director of Programs. They and others recognized there was no central organization that served GLBT youth. The Youth Services Advisory Panel was formed with members from DGLA, GLSEN, PFLAG, the Walt Whitman School, the Resource Center of Dallas and the Cathedral of Hope. The panel concluded that Youth First was needed and they met with a consultant to begin incorporating as a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization.
Ivancic joined with Bob Miskinis, who is now the Director of Programs, Daryl Parker and Emilia Menthe at becoming the first four board members of the organization, which completed its incorporation in 1999. Ten years has passed and Ivancic has been a board member the entire time.
Dowdy hopes to continue the legacy that Ivancic leaves. He hopes to build Youth First into “a nationally recognized and renowned organization.” He said that he knows this can only be done by “continuing to do what we do and that is to take care of our GLBTQ youth.”
Hendrix is another of Youth First’s heroes and stepped down from the board of directors in January of this year. He has been a contributor to the mission of LGBT youth since the early days when he was a board member at DGLA and their youth program was called GLBYA (Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Young Adults). One of his proud moments has been in connecting Youth First to the Black Tie Dinner Foundation, the organization’s biggest contributor. Hendrix says, “To me it’s very important to try our best to leave this planet a better place than we found it. It’s important to me to know that I did my best to make that happen.”
Clearly, Ivancic and all those who have served at Youth First, have left the world in a better place than they found it. And as Ivancic steps down, as well as Hendrix, they clearly leave Youth First in good hands with Sr. Co-Chair Brandon Dowdy.
For more information about Youth First Texas, please visit their website at www.youthfirsttexas.org.
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