The Orlando-based Zebra Youth Coalition announced Friday it's received generous donations to help support its work in aiding LGBTQ+ homeless and at-risk youth, including children and young adults who are bullied or rejected by their families on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Orlando-based nonprofit organization, established more than a decade ago, announced $175,000 total in donations Friday from the Walt Disney Company ($100,000), Orlando Health ($50,000) and Synchrony Foundation ($25,000).
Funds from Disney, Central Florida’s largest employer, will support programs at the Zebra Youth’s Drop-In Center on Mills Avenue, near downtown Orlando, to help address food insecurity, transportation, housing, workforce initiatives and education, according to Zebra, which serves LGBTQ+ youth aged 13 to 24.
This comes after Disney recently named Zebra Youth as one of 19 charitable beneficiaries, all nonprofits based in Florida, without specifying how much funding each nonprofit would receive.
Funding from Orlando Health will support the hiring of a case manager to help youth with medical conditions, while funds from the Connecticut-based Synchrony Foundation will go toward Zebra Youth’s Jefferson Voss Education Fund to support continued education for LGBTQ+ students at UCF, community college, or a career and technical school.
Zebra Youth executive director Heather Wilkie said in a statement, “We are immensely grateful for the generosity of these Central Florida institutions and excited about all the young people whose lives we will be able to touch because of their gift.”
Considered a beloved resource in the community, various local businesses and corporations over the years have also held fundraising events to support Zebra Youth’s programming, or have donated to the nonprofit, including Tako Cheena, Quantum Leap Winery, local arts venues and the Geek Easy.
Proceeds of a bowling benefit at Aloma Bowl this Sunday — Strikes for Stripes — will also benefit Zebra Youth’s programming, as part of a string of events leading up to Orlando’s annual Come Out With Pride parade next weekend.
Zebra Youth receives additional funding from the city of Orlando. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s championed anti-LGBTQ policies that have likely expanded the need for Zebra Youth’s programming, has denied requested state funds for the organization in the past, along with funds for the LGBTQ Center.
Nonetheless, they have continued to persevere and persist. “We serve a very vulnerable, often unseen population with a dire need for services,” said Wilkie, a licensed mental health counselor who traveled up to Tallahassee herself this spring to speak out against new anti-LGBTQ laws, including one that bans gender affirming healthcare for transgender youth.
Wilkie told Orlando Weekly earlier this year in an interview that about 65 percent of the youth they serve identify as transgender or nonbinary. They work with about 250 youth throughout the year, and provide their services at no cost.
“This gift will be life-saving,” Wilkie emphasized on Friday, “and life-changing for the young people we serve.”
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