Empowering Creativity in Berkeley Youth

By Axel Stanovsky

LOUDAXEL1.pngJared Fields below the rainbow parachute adorning the rafters of the attic space where LOUD! hosts its meetings.

A Berkeley institution, the Pacific Center for Human Growth has been a focal point for community in the East Bay since 1973, and their resurgent youth program, LOUD!, nurtures a new generation of LGBTQ youngsters.

The Pacific Center provides both individual and group counseling, as well as peer groups for LGBTQ people. As Leslie Ewing, Executive Director, described, “The Pacific Center is important because it allows people to get out of that pigeon hole, to take off that persona they have to wear to exist in the [broader] community.”

As they adjusted to the changing needs of an increasingly assimilated LGBTQ community, Ewing recognized a need for adaptation in their youth services as well. “Young people are dealing with a lot of things around gender-identity, not just sexual orientation,” Ewing said. To help meet that need, Ewing hired Jared Fields in the summer of 2015. “Jared really deserves the credit for rebuilding our youth programs.”

On the eve of Oakland’s pride festival, I met with Fields, to learn about his work. I approached on my bike, to find Fields perusing old books at the Creative Center for Reuse, across the street from where we would meet for brunch. Violets and teals glinted off mirrored sunglasses above his broad smile.

Early in our conversation it became clear what motivates Fields: “If two people meet at LOUD! and feel way better about themselves because of it and they’ve never had a relationship in their life. Do you see what I’m saying? I just made space for them,” he said. “Now they have this new experience that validates them as people.”

But Fields does much more than just “make space” for people. Over the summer, he orchestrated a role-playing adventure based on situations that came up in group discussions. “We walked around the neighborhood and at every intersection there was a different encounter, and every block I hid a treasure scroll, and they earned morale points for how their actions affected the group.”

Fields’ zeal for enabling creativity through group activities shows no sign of slowing down. In the fall the group will hold a hands-on fashion event to explore the boundaries of personal image. “A drag performer is going to come in and talk about makeup and how he chooses to don his persona.” Fields described, “We are going to do make-up, and clothing and cosplay (costume play) and see how that ties into changing how people perceive you.”

As exciting as he finds his students’ growth, and the program’s events, he made sure not to gloss over the reality of his work. “We’re definitely working with a lot of high functioning, high risk people,” he said, “Other than that they might have evidence of self harm on their bodies, you would have no idea that some of them don’t want to be alive.”

Ewing elaborated on the societal forces behind this troubling psychology, “It’s a dangerous time to be different. We’ve seen a 30% spike in appointments for counseling services since the Orlando Shooting. Many young people didn’t live through the AIDS epidemic and for them, Orlando was a real wake up call. They realized that there are people out there who might want to kill them or don’t care if they die.”

The juxtaposition of that hard reality, with the playful nature of LOUD!’s events is exactly what makes Fields’ work so important. With trained mental health experts at every group meeting, the Pacific Center both creates space for people to be themselves and provides the role models and counselors to help them grow from there.

For more information about LOUD! visit the Pacific Center’s website at: www.pacificcenter.org

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