By Brian Goins
Derek Gibson is one of the founders of Launch Pad, an organization dedicated to preventing and addressing homelessness in Davidson County. The shelter, a 501c3 organization, provides cold-weather shelter for ages 18 to 24, with a special emphasis on LGBT+ youth. It is open Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from Nov. 1 through March 31.
“In order for the youth to have a safe place to go seven nights a week,” Gibson said, “Launch Pad works with Oasis Center and Room In The Inn. Oasis Center opens their doors on Friday and Saturday nights, while Room In The Inn opens their doors on Wednesday nights.”
The center started in 2014, spurred by a loss of funding for one of the programs at Oasis Center. Gibson was a volunteer at Oasis at the time, and with the help of Pam Sheffer at the center, Launch Pad was born.
“I was part of a very powerful and fast-moving grass-roots organization where the Nashville LGBT+ and allied community came together very quickly,” he said. “We met for the first time at a town hall in September, and then we were open the first night in December 2014.”
Launch Pad is a “street-free sleep initiative” fueled by a collective of concerned citizens within the LGBT+ and allied community, and strives to provide open and affirming safer sleeping shelters for homeless youth for Davidson County.
“We’ve done a lot, and we’ve always managed to do a little bit more each year,” Gibson said. “The first year, we were open two nights a week. I think we filled roughly 700 beds. Our third season, we filled more than 1,100 beds, being open three nights a week. This season, we’ve expanded to four nights a week.”
Their mission is to create a network of temporary safer sleeping shelters, that are open and affirming to the LGBT+ community, for homeless youth. Their ongoing goal is to meet the immediate needs of the homeless youth community while working towards a broader comprehensive system of care, in partnership with local, state and federal agencies, designed for preventing and addressing homelessness in Davidson County.
Launch Pad is a volunteer-driven organization, and they don’t have a brick-and-mortar building of their own. They rely on host sites to provide shelter, and constantly need volunteers.
“Last season, to be open three nights a week and fill the 1,100-plus beds, that required more than 5,000 volunteer hours,” he said.
They’re in constant need of individuals who are passionate and enthusiastic for youth, and have an open and affirming attitude about the LGBT+ community.
But the volunteerism fuels the passion of the organization.
“Last year was an incredibly successful year for us, due in large part to our volunteers,” he said. “We had 120 people volunteer last year, and all but 10 of those volunteers continued for more than one night. A lot of those volunteers have come back to us in season four.”
Last year, the Nashville Launch Pad Volunteers, was recipient of the Mark Lee Taylor Community Service Award from Nashville LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce. The award is given to an individual who identifies as LGBT+ or an organization which caters specifically to the LGBT+ community.
“We really liked that it was awarded to our volunteers as a group and not to any one individual,” he said. “That’s the way we like to look at our organization. It’s a team effort.”
IF YOU NEED HELP
Gibson said the organization has found the best way to contact youth in need is through social media. Most of the youth, he said, have a phone and accounts on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
There are regular posts of availability on the Launch Pad accounts:
Youth can make a reservation for shelter the day of their need online at nashvillelaunchpad.com. They open at 8 p.m., and will hold a reserved spot until 9 p.m. If the youth is a no-show, they’ll open that bed up to another youth in need.
Those in need can find out what their options are at coldweathernashville.com.
IF YOU WANT TO VOLUNTEER
You’ll need to go through the organization’s volunteer training classroom. They have training throughout the season on the second Tuesday and third Saturday of each month. The training covers things such as what to expect in a typical night, cultural awareness (issues that some of the youth have to deal with on a daily basis), code of conduct, volunteer safety and more.
You can find their volunteer training schedule at nashvillelaunchpad.com.
Qualities needed in volunteers: Individuals who are passionate and enthusiastic for youth, and have an open and affirming attitude about the LGBT community.
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