To connect, empower, and inspire LGBTQ+ youth.
GSA Link seeks to connect, empower, and inspire LGBTQ+ youth. Today, few programs currently exist to serve this specific population. For the youth who get involved, we have a variety of programs designed to listen to and promote their voices with peer and adult support. With every new struggle, discovery, friend, and triumph, we aim to show LGBTQ+ youth that they deserve to be their most authentic selves, and that we’re here to celebrate them through it all.
GSA LINK THEORY OF CHANGE
“There’s magic in being seen by people who understand—it gives you permission to keep going.”
― Alok Vaid-Menon (they/them), Beyond the Gender Binary
A brief, uncomprehensive list of things LGBTQ+ youth deserve: gender euphoria, to feel celebrated for who they are, space to explore, warmth and compassion, justice for the ways in which they are oppressed, safety and stability, answers to their questions, understanding and supportive adults in their lives, paths to affirming resources, to feel pride in their identity, opportunities for skill development, liberation from heteronormative restrictions, hope, mental/emotional/social/physical wellness, confidence, the feeling of laughing so hard your stomach hurts, to be seen and to be heard.
Growing up, LGBTQ+ youth are often exposed to violence, marginalization, alienation, and rejection from a potential variety of sources: family, peers, teachers, strangers, and the media, based on their LGBTQ+ identities that stand as obstacles to the aforementioned wondrous and essential experiences they deserve. Further, many LGBTQ+ youth do not currently have access to LGBTQ+ folks older than them who are invested in their success, growth, and identity development.
By building community to support LGBTQ+ youth, the Linked Mentoring program’s goal is to connect LGBTQ+ youth with an LGBTQ+ mentor, so that the two can develop a trusting, affirming, supportive, mutually positive connection. This will be promoted and encouraged through a variety of meeting styles: one-on-one mentoring, youth committees, and community meetings. This variety of meeting styles will help to not only grow the connection between the pairing, but encourage the everyone in the program to interact with others to develop multiple networks of support, and create an intergenerational LGBTQ+ community. The community and relationships built will ultimately help both the youth and adults involved in our program to better navigate challenges they may face in identity exploration, coming out, breaking down internalized messages of hate. This may also assist in developing self-advocacy skills, and in identifying their passions.
A key value in the development of Linked Mentoring is empowering youth by centering their voices, encouraging our mentors and mentees to have active and integral roles in shaping this program. This program has been designed and implemented in an intersectional way that values all of our mentors’ and mentees’ identities through intentional pairings, justice-focused training and resources, and inclusive activity. We aim to ultimately co-create brave spaces where youth can support and empower each other to be their most authentic selves. With programmatic flexibility, compassionate & strengths-based staff support, and commitment to accountability, we seek to co-create this program with its members. Through this, we intend to measure our progress by successful match development, expanding youth opportunities, and consistent evaluations from all members.
HOW WE BEGAN
Founded by Melissa Clark and her son Ryan, GSA Link is a 501c(3) organization that aims to connect, empower, and inspire LGBTQ+ youth. With LGBTQ+ youth often being subject to violence, marginalization, alienation, and rejection from a variety of sources, including their family members, peers, teachers, strangers, and the media, community and mentorship is vital. With this in mind, Melissa and Ryan decided more needed to be done, and started GSA Link to become the link that connects, in an effort to help to support and inspire LGBTQ+ youth.
GSA Link connects our youth with LGBTQ+ peers and adult mentors to collaborate, share ideas, develop mutually positive relationships and build community in a safe space. Through one-on-one and group centered meetings, workshops, events, education, resources, volunteer and internship opportunities, we support and empower our youth in centering their voices. We aim to create spaces for our youth to flourish while developing multiple networks of support and empowering each other to be their most authentic selves.
The community and relationships built will ultimately help the youth involved in our program to better navigate challenges they may face in identity exploration, coming out, and breaking down internalized messages of hate. This may also assist in developing self-advocacy skills, and in identifying their passions.
At our core, we value creating spaces where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, and queer people come together as a community surrounded by people and opportunities invested in their success, growth, and identity development. Our team and members are making real, lasting change where it matters. GSA Link continues to strive to be the link that connects LGBTQ+ youth with each other, adult mentors, and the link between now and a better future.
MEET THE TEAM
President and co-founder of GSA Link, Melissa is a speaker and advocate for LGBTQ+ youth. She is also the Chief Executive Officer of GDIBC, Gender Diversity and Inclusion Business Certification. She is passionate about creating a world for LGBTQ+ youth to thrive, feel empowered and live their most authentic and successful lives. Melissa enjoys spending her free time with her two sons, Ryan and Tighe, and loving husband, Ted.
Ryan is a first-year student at Wheaton College studying physics and biochemistry. He is passionate about medical science and helping people. He grew up in Northborough, MA, and graduated from Algonquin Regional High School with honors in 2021. He co-founded GSA Link, Inc. in 2018 and has become an advocate for LGBT youth. He is a competitive ski racer, and in his free time, he enjoys playing guitar, art and hanging out with his friends.
Linked Project Manager
Jake has been with Linked Mentoring from the very beginning & is so grateful for this community. He graduated from Clark University in 2020, and now also works with Reach Out & Read as the National Program Coordinator. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, reading, writing poetry, and spending time with friends. Talk to him about Lorde’s album Melodrama, how internet, tech, and social media shape our society, or niche reality T.V.
Jaclyn currently serves as a Development Associate for GSA Link, INC, where she helps with grant writing and the financial development of the organization. She received her Bachelor of Science from Suffolk University in Government and has previous professional experience with non-profits and political campaigns. Her work at GSA Link, INC is one that she hopes will lead to the growth and longevity of the organization so that we can provide a space she wishes she had growing up.
Director of Community Engagement
Izzy graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in spring '21, where she majored in Psychology. They concentrated their studies in Anti-Racism, Implicit Biases and Intersectional Identities, and hopes to continue studying these in graduate school later in life. Izzy is Black and queer, and has a passion for working with LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color. In their free time, you can find Izzy snuggling with her cats and playing video games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley and Overwatch.
Caitlin Straubel, LMCH
Caitlin is a licensed mental health counselor in private practice in West Boylston, MA. She specializes in working with LGBTQIA+ individuals and their families. In her free time she enjoys going on adventures with her wife and children.
Elijah Cohen- Gordon is an undergraduate student at Clark University studying history and education. He is a queer transgender man who began his medical transition at fourteen years old, and has since advocated for transgender youth's rights. Elijah is very involved with Jewish life on campus, and also serves as President at Clark's Hillel. His passions include writing, reading, proper queer representation in media, and helping others. In his free time, Elijah likes cuddling his beagle puppy and listening to Taylor Swift.
Emma serves as the Administrative Coordinator of GSA Link, where she helps turn the organization’s dreams into a reality. Some of her tasks include strategic planning, developing program evaluations, and supervising fundraising and grant activities. She graduated from Clark University in 2021, where she double majored in Biochemistry & Sociology and received a Master of Public Administration. Emma works at UMass Chan Medical School, where she researches education and employment equity for young adults with disabilities and mental health conditions. She is queer, and in her free time loves reading, befriending dogs, and solving puzzles. Most importantly, she is honored to be a part of GSA Link and support LGBTQ+ youth, families, and staff.
Hi I’m Ethan, an aspiring Queer History Professor! I am currently going for my Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies at DePaul University in Chicago. I am a drag and makeup artist, and I love to talk about music. I am so excited to be a part of the team!
Molly has called Worcester home for six years. They like journaling, friendship, and imagining worlds where everyone can be their gorgeous self and not be afraid. She studied Sociology, Gender Studies, and Community Development and Planning at Clark University, and now works for Big Brothers Big Sisters. They will definitely ask about your birth chart. They grow into their queerness more and more everyday, and are so excited to grow with you!