By: Aisling Healy
JACKSONVILLE, Fla- Founded in 1993, Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Group has successfully became a home away from home for many of the youth living in Jacksonville.
JASMYN is a non-profit organization located at 929 Peninsular Place. It is an organization created for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youths, ages 13-23. It consists of two houses side by side. One consists of mainly administration, and very importantly the health clinic, and the other consists of the youth programs.
There is a health clinic in one of the houses that hosts clinicals every Thursday. The clinic tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV and will provide pregnancy tests if needed. The clinic also provides condoms. “We make it so that all of our youth feels comfortable,” says Toni Liggins who works as a case manager of the house. The clinic is open from 4-8 p.m., and the youth programs from 4-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. “But when it comes to a crisis, we’re available whenever,” mentions Liggins.
Even though JASMYN states ages, 13-23, Liggins is quick to assure you that no matter the age of your partner or yourself, “We will not turn you away.”
“Some of the youth feel that if their partner is over the age limit, that we will not accept or help them, but that is not the case,” says Liggins. “We want to help out all of our youth, and we don’t judge how old your partner is.”
The second house was just recently constructed into the JASMYN house, and their services are expanding. The house was donated from the community, as well as many of the posters and resources inside of the house. “We have had donors who have donated decorations for the rooms, to make it more comfortable,” Liggins informs.
JASMYN made sure the new house provided a shower, because many homeless youth would come by unhygienic, and need a place to clean and wash up. There is also snacks and drinks provided, and a pantry loaded with donated food.
V, a 22 year-old member of the organization (name with held by request) explains how the pantry is loaded with food, and even available for those to take home to eat if someone can’t afford to buy food for their home. “They even provide plastic bags to take your food in, so you don’t have to worry about carrying them all in your hands,” says V. “And no matter the case, if you don’t have a form of transportation, somebody will find you one, even if that means opening their own car door for you.”
“They give you a JASMYN card, and every time you come, it’s punched with a heart hole, and after six holes, you can trade in your card,” states “V.” “You can trade it in for bus passes, condoms, a ‘JASMYN’ hat, a t-shirt or a coffee mug. “V” expressed how she just recently came out as a bisexual, thanks to JASMYN. She states, “JASMYN isn’t just another youth center, it’s a family. We’re all like brothers and sisters, we even rate who’s the oldest mom and dad.”
Ace Canessa is a student support coordinator for JASMYN. She works with the Duval County Schools and looks out for her members, making sure nobody is getting bullied. They work with Mandarin High school, Southside High school, and Darnell Cookman. They are also involved with a few middle schools, but she says it’s harder to partner with them. “Many people assume because kids are younger, that they can’t identify themselves yet,” says Canessa.
She works on movie/game nights as well as youth support services. “We are their champions,” says Canessa proudly with a smile. Canessa along with many other case managers will work with the homeless, and those suffering with mental problems and/or substance abuse.
Emily Rokosch, the Director of Operations comments on the backyard. “We like to throw picnics, and drag shows outside.” The backyard has a fence enclosing the safety of the members, along with picnic tables and plants to create a garden with.
There are Drop-in events which happen two Fridays out of the month, and it is basically a day where the youth will “Drop-in” to the house and just hang out. They will watch TV, play games, and have random dance parties. “We even like to have twerk sessions,” “V” jokes about. The youth are able to come and go, and just spend time together as one big family. Anybody is welcome to join, at no charge.
“You never know who’s going to walk through that door, and whose life you may change,” states V.