ConneQT, a host home program of Avenues, provides LGBTQI+ youth culturally responsive housing within their community of choice. In ConneQT, youth choose which community member they live with and those community members provide housing and food, while Avenues staff provides wrap-around services and support.
Youth determination is at the center of our process when matching youth with hosts. In ConneQT youth get to read the applications of hosts (in each application hosts write an open letter describing who they are and why they want to host) and the youth get to decide who they’d like to meet. After the youth makes this decision, a series of “meet and greets” are scheduled. These meetings are an integral part of the intentional matching process hosts and youth partake in in order to assure an affirming and sustainable living arrangement for both. Below is a story written by Ryan Berg, ConneQT Program Manager, about a recent meet and greet.
I was standing in the kitchen, talking with Clara, a prospective host, when we heard the knock on the front door. Holly, her three-legged Labrador let out a sharp bark. Clara adjusted her sweatshirt, then her hair before asking, “Should you get it? No, it’s my house. I should get it.” I assured her that being nervous was normal when meeting a youth for the first time. The youth probably has similar fears. “Just be yourself. You’ll do great. I’m here to help guide the experience.”
We walked to the front door to find Maia, the ConneQT Youth Advocate and Engagement Specialist, with R, a youth who had read Clara’s application and decided to meet in hopes of potentially living together. This was our first meet and greet where everyone gets to know each other, has an opportunity to ask questions, and get a sense of what it might look like to live together.
When the door opened Holly found Mocha, R’s scruffy emotional support dog. They sniffed curiously at each other and instantly went into play mode. Clara and R introduced themselves as we all commented on how instantly the dogs had become smitten with one another. Clara welcomed everyone into the living room where a table full of treats and drinks were displayed on the coffee table. The remains of a bare Christmas tree stood in the corner as a fire crackled in the fireplace.
“I’m slowly getting rid of the tree one branch at a time,” Clara said, pointing to the wood burning in the fireplace. We all laughed, acknowledging the practicality and ingenuity of using her Christmas tree as firewood, then found our spots around the table. R commented on how much they liked the house and Clara discussed some of the art pieces on the walls. Clara pulled out a dog toy—a small, stuffed cow that looked similar to Holly—and gave it to Mocha. “A little toy Holly for Mocha to take with her today.” The gesture instantly ignited something in R and they fell into a natural conversation that started with their love of their dogs, then migrated to topics like their mutual love of making art, interest in neuroscience and desire to meet the personal goals they’ve set for themselves.
Often times these initial meetings can be stilted, uncomfortable conversations until a rhythm is established. Both hosts and youth can be hyper self-aware, wanting to put their best foot forward. Minds go blank, the questions mulled over earlier in the day vanish in a flash of panic. Typically, my role in these meetings is to gently suggest topics of conversation, to ask questions that help flesh out a better understanding of how this potential living situation could look. I want to create an opportunity for both prospective host and youth to glean what they need to know about the other person and the environment to truly envision what life would look like living together.
With Clara and R, I rarely needed to steer the conversation or suggest topics. They sat across from each other, sipping tea, the fire smoldering in the background, and fell into conversations about their daily routines, and what it would mean to share space and their lives as housemates. Holly bathed in belly rubs from Maia and Mocha sorted bones from the doggy toy box as we discussed R’s goals and the level of support Clara was able to provide.
After we toured the house, looked at the room reserved for the youth, and the dogs received a treat, we parted ways. Before leaving, I mentioned that I would check in with Clara to see how she was feeling about potentially moving forward, and Maia would do the same with R. I reminded everyone there was no pressure to commit to anything at this stage. We still had two more “meet and greets” to go before coming to any conclusion. If questions came up, I encouraged them both to reach out to me or Maia.
As we stepped out into the snowy street, we waved goodbye to Clara, and thanked her for her hospitality. Just as R was about to get into Maia’s car, I asked, “How’d that feel?” R paused, as if taking a moment to revisit the evening in their mind, then smiled. “That was easier than I thought it would be. I liked her. I could see myself living here.”
-Ryan Berg, ConneQT Program Manager