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NextGen meetings start on a somber note: At the beginning of the monthly midtown gathering, a volunteer from the Trevor Project’s (trevorproject.org) young-professionals group reads a letter from a teen in crisis. Last month, the correspondence selected by the group’s cochairs, Joshua Cohen and Keola Whittaker, was written by an 18-year-old in Canada who is afraid to tell his family and friends that he’s gay. It ends with a plea for help: “What I really need is a hug and someone to tell me it’s alright,” wrote the young man. “I haven’t had either in a long time, and I’m losing hope that my life will get better one day.”
“I think there’s definitely an intensity to our meetings,” says Joshua Cohen, a physician at the Headache Institute at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. Whittaker, an attorney at Boies, Schiller & Flexner—the firm that is challenging California’s Prop 8—agreed: “Sometimes we just sit there silently after reading the letter before we can get back to business.” NextGen meetings regularly draw about 70 people—lawyers, doctors, marketing professionals and business leaders under the age of 40—to plan fund-raising events, organize outreach initiatives and discuss volunteer opportunities at the organization, which helps prevent LGBT teen suicide. Since it was founded, the program has raised more than $100,000 for Trevor, and increased its membership to more than 200 young professionals.
Whittaker founded NextGen when he organized its first Spring Fling party in 2010, charging $50 per ticket, as opposed to the $500-plus entry to the Trevor Project’s gala. “It was [a way of] expanding Trevor’s reach to young professionals in the New York City area with fund-raising events that have a lower ticket price than the big gala,” says Whittaker. “[You could] contribute to the organization without having to write a big check.”
Cohen got involved with NextGen in the fall of 2010; he felt shaken by the string of gay teen suicides that were dominating the news cycle. “At a time when, as a community, it seemed like we were making progress, to see that happening was really striking,” says Cohen. He started out as a volunteer for Ask Trevor, the letter-writing program for which volunteers read and respond to correspondence from teens. The requirement is to answer two letters per month; volunteers are trained during a two-hour webinar. Then, last August, Cohen joined Whittaker as cochair of NextGen. Their meetings start with a discussion about what the Trevor Project focuses on, followed by a roundtable talk about why each person is interested in the organization’s mission. The group then moves on to fund-raising planning, which is its main function—NextGen organizes three seasonal parties a year, as well as screenings (the last one featured Daniel Radcliffe, who appeared in a Trevor Project PSA that ran during an episode of Glee). Members also work on professional development and leadership retreats.
Cohen and Whittaker say NextGen is making a big impact on L.A.-based Trevor Project by giving it roots in New York, forging “brand loyalty” among future big-money donors, sourcing potential volunteers and board members, and making sure people everywhere know how valuable Trevor is to young people. “We take our role as the next generation seriously,” says Cohen.
GET INVOLVED: NextGen meets monthly at various midtown offices. New members are encouraged to arrive 45 minutes early for an orientation. To find out the details of the next meeting, e-mail Joshua Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Keola Whittaker at email@example.com. Volunteers for Ask Trevor must pass a screening process, participate in a two-hour webinar training and commit to responding to two letters per month. Learn more about the Trevor Project’s volunteer opportunities at thetrevorproject.org/volunteers/opportunities.