Pizza Klatch supports a safe space where everyone belongs! (3/1/19)
By Community Relations Intern: Clara Hall (Timberline c/o 2020)
It’s hard to find a kid who doesn’t like free pizza. It’s also hard to find teens who aren’t in need of supportive peers and trusting adults. Pizza Klatch, a support group for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies, provides both in a safe space at five secondary schools in North Thurston Public Schools and 10 more schools across Thurston County. In NTPS those schools are North Thurston High School, Timberline High School, River Ridge High School, South Sound High School, and Komachin Middle School -- the only middle school in the program and one students truly appreciate.
“When I came out and had my name changed and there wasn’t really wasn’t a place to talk about some of the issues I had with my transition,” said Lily, now an 8th grader at Komachin. She remembers as a 6th grader it was hard to find people she could really talk to about who she was and what she felt. Then came Pizza Klatch. “At Pizza Klatch they understand. We listen to each other. It’s a really, really nice comfortable place to be.”
The mission of the program is to foster resilience in LGBTQ+ youth and create a safe and positive school experience through support, education, and empowerment.
“Pizza Klatch is a simple recipe,” said Pizza Klatch Executive Director Rosalinda Noriega. “Provide pizza, supportive adults and a safe, accessible space where LGBTQ and allied youth can form community, discuss their successes and challenges, and in doing so, building resilience. The secret in the sauce is the community that supports these efforts!”
Through the program, students will be empowered to self-advocate, build community, develop confidence, and easily access resources as they explore and develop their identities. School will be a positive and supportive space where LGBTQ+ youth are accepted and celebrated – free to learn without violence, harassment, discrimination, suicidal ideation or self-harm.
Each Pizza Klatch group is run by two trained and screened adult co-facilitators who are members of the LGBTQ+ community or allies. Facilitators are mandatory reporters and are responsible for maintaining an inclusive, supporite, confidential environment safe from physical harm or emotional attacks for all participants. Groups are led by the needs of the youth participants, making each group unique. If students have needs or access to certain services they have 2 adults that they can go to that can direct them to what they need.
“I have had students tell me that they appreciate having a safe place to go during the week. It’s also a place to meet new friends,” said Pizza Klatch facilitator and advocate Jay Banks, who facilitates at three different schools including North Thurston and Timberline High Schools. As an advocate, Banks also helps individual students connect to resources.
Through Pizza Klatch, students have a place to feel welcome and accepted. They can express themselves and talk about whatever is going on in their lives with other kids in person -- an exception in today’s fast-paced, online technological social system.
“The internet is not the same as talking to a real person,” said Lily, who has support at home and from friends, but she knows other youth who aren’t as lucky. “There are so many people who feel alone and trapped and they can’t change about who they are and can’t be open. PK (Pizza Klatch) gives them a chance to talk about it and process those emotions which is far healthier than other options some people end up picking.”
Pizza Klatch actually got its start in NTPS, after a series of suicides among LGBTQ youth in the district during the mid-2000s. “My son was attending North Thurston High School at the time and had come out as gay,” said Pizza Klatch founder and local therapist Lynn Grotsky. Despite support from family, her son also became suicidal. “He felt isolated at school and was subject to bullying...it was clear to me that LGBTQ+ youth needed more support in the schools.”
Grotsky along with community members, mental health professionals and private therapists helped form what became Pizza Klatch. The program began as an after-school group, but eventually transitioned into the school day so more students could attend in a safe space since many were not “out” at home. So in February of 2008 Pizza Klatch had their first lunch time meeting at North Thurston High School -- free pizza included!
Counselor Kelli Nye from Komachin Middle School reached out to Pizza Klatch last year in a way to help support LGBTQ+ students and begin the program. “We had so many of our LGBTQ students who felt like they did not have a place where they belonged,” said Nye, who actually called Pizza Klatch and invited them to Komachin. “Some felt bullied and some felt suicidal. And a lot of them felt pretty lonely.”
Pizza Klatch is a confidential closed group, so Nye works as a liaison if any concerns come up during the meetings. Originally formed as a pilot group to meet every other week, the response and interest by students was overwhelming. “I promoted it around the school and before I knew it we had more than forty students signed up and interested. I think these numbers even surprised the group leaders at Pizza Klatch!” Due to the level of demand from students at Komachin, the group began meeting weekly at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.
In addition to the teen support groups, Pizza Klatch also offers education and training for adults.
“[Through this program] we have an opportunity to engage with the community in many different ways and continue to build safe spaces not just for LGBTQ+ students but also the adults,” said Banks. “We offer trainings to folks in the community so that they can also work to make Thurston county an inclusive place where people can be accepted for who they are.”
Recently Pizza Klatch took the lead in organizing LGBTQ+ Continuum of Care. This county-wide work group is aimed at documenting the current care for the LGBTQ+ community, creating a coordinated plan, including benchmarks, for increasing and improving the present continuum of care for the LGBTQ+ community in our county.
Pizza Klatch has five core values, those being; safety, youth leadership, inclusiveness, continuing education, and community building. Pizza Klatch facilitators work hard to ensure it is a respectful, inclusive, and safe space for all who attend.
“[Pizza Klatch] really benefits students, it gives them a safe and confidential space on a weekly basis to talk with and learn about others from their community,” said Nye. “We also have students attend who are friends and allies attend the weekly meetings.”
Lily agrees that at least at Komachin, Pizza Klatch has helped improve school climate. “After Pizza Klatch we had trans awareness week and Rainbow club and it was all really dazzling. It helps us be part of the larger school community,” she said. “It has raised awareness in staff and students who are picking up on it. A person who was previously horrible to me is now more accepting. (Pizza Klatch) made me excited to go to school on Fridays. It’s for everybody who is willing to come in and see past their own perspective and look at things through a different point of view.”
To learn more about Pizza Klatch and volunteer opportunities visit www.pizzaklatch.org.
Note: Pizza Klatch is looking for a new home for their staff and office. Please contact email@example.com if you can help.
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Why LGBTQ+ youth need Pizza Klatch
LGBTQ+ youth are at an extremely high risk for suicide, self-harm, teen pregnancy, STDs, and substance abuse due to family non-acceptance, societal shaming and overall oppression.
Findings from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) 2017 National School Climate Survey mirror surveys collected locally among students attending Pizza Klatch. Among students in Washington State:
- 86% report hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks from students in schools
- 81% hear negative remarks about gender expression
- 69% hear negative remarks about Transgender people.
- 48% of students in Washington State do not know any openly LGBTQ identified staff or teachers.
- 30% of students were prevented from using the locker room or bathroom that aligns with gender
- 26% were prevented from using their chosen name or gender pronouns
- 15% were prevented from including LGBTQ Themens in Extracurricular Activities or discussing LGBTQ issues in assignments.