OMEGA Youth Group Continues at Idaho Springs Public Library

OMEGA, an LGBT youth social group, only recently started in Clear Creek and hopes to bring community and resources to LGBT kids and teens in the area

Andrew Fraieli
afraieli@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/18/22

The quiet back room of the Idaho Springs public library turns lively once a month with the loud voices of excited 12 year-olds talking, eating and learning.

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OMEGA Youth Group Continues at Idaho Springs Public Library

OMEGA, an LGBT youth social group, only recently started in Clear Creek and hopes to bring community and resources to LGBT kids and teens in the area

Posted

The quiet back room of the Idaho Springs public library turns lively once a month with the loud voices of excited 12 year-olds talking, eating and learning.

Talking about new music and themselves, eating pizza and learning about queer historical figures, these kids are part of a group called OMEGA — Open Minds Encouraging General Acceptance —  an LGBT youth social group for 12 to 20 year-olds. 

Started only last month, the group grew from about four kids to six, to hopefully more, according to Joe Merritt, who works at the Idaho Springs library and runs the group. Part of the LGBT community himself, Merritt calls the group a passion-project of his.

“I just wanted to provide a space out in the mountains here for kids where they can really be themselves, and experiment with pronouns and names, and just have a safe space to do all this,” he said.

Lasting about two hours, Merritt starts with food — pizza this month — and prepares activities like a printout saying, “I am thum-body,” where kids put their thumbprint on the paper and write what they like about themselves. This month’s theme was individuality, so Merritt also prepared questions to talk through, “questions to explore themselves, things they wouldn’t normally think about or things that other people wouldn't encourage out of them,” he said.

Part of the goal is to “provoke growth and learning and a sense of pride within themselves,” he said. “So, if anyone else in their lives aren’t supportive, they’ll have that sense of confidence that we’re trying to instill here.”

Not without concern for the possibility of unacceptance in the community, the back room was chosen on purpose. Partly because they are loud talking, excited kids in a library, but also because Merritt wants it to be a safe space that the kids don’t feel judged in, minimizing the possibility of someone walking by and “trying to talk down to us.”

He said there’s been no pushback so far, but the name of the group doesn’t include anything “obviously rainbow or LGBT” for a reason.

“We’re trying our very best to set this up in a way that people can’t get it closed down easily. This is a resource that is definitely needed out here,” he said.

Another part of the reason is so kids don’t have to explain to their parents where they are going, as about half that have attended the meetup have unaccepting parents, according to Merritt.

The group did not come about without some outside help though, and not out of the blue either. Merritt organizes the group and runs it, but he is the first and only paid volunteer for such a group under Resilience1220. 

Created three years ago this month by Heather Aberg, Resilience1220 is a nonprofit that provides free counseling sessions and support groups for ages 12 to 20.

Born in Evergreen, Aberg said she started the organization after a few Evergreen highschoolers died by suicide a few years ago.

“We started for that reason, to build resilience and to build skills as an adolescent that you can use for your entire life,” she said. “Ideally we prevent suicide, but also addiction, unhealthy relationships, abuse, divorce — all these things if we can teach them basic skills early.”

Aberg made a point to elaborate that LGBT youth have a higher risk of suicide attempts than their peers, more than four times as likely according to the Trevor Project — a nonproft, LGBT youth, suicide-prevention organization.

She told of an LGBT lunch social group she would host periodically at Clear Creek Middle School where about 25 kids attended. They’d be “bursting” with questions, according to Aberg, saying one kid got “misty-eyed” seeing the pride flag she brought, asking if they could touch it. She’d offer them Resilience1220’s free counseling sessions, which many took advantage of, along with resources like the Trevor Project.

This all led to an LGBT youth social group starting in Evergreen, and eventually, the one in Clear Creek.

Aberg wanted to start a group in Clear Creek for awhile, but was afraid that there were kids who wanted to attend, but couldn’t get a ride from parents who might be unaccepting. One kid who traveled to the Evergreen group said it saved his life.

"He didn’t know there were other people out there,” explained Aberg. “I would say, and hope, that we’ve at least prevented self-harm. Definitely headed off some serious loneliness.”

Each social group also has a therapist attend, hired by Resilience1220, to offer free sessions — of which kids 12 to 20 can have ten — or answer questions that may be on a more therapeutic level. This month’s Clear Creek group had Amanda Hart attend.

“There’s really minimal support in the mountain communities, so that’s the main objective with Resilience: trying to get these less-served communities more support,” Hart explained.

Moving forward, Merritt hopes that more kids around the community will hear of the social group and attend, learning more about themselves and queer history. As a surprise for the kids this month, he announced that the group would be marching in Denver’s annual Pride Parade. All they have to do now is figure out what to throw out to the crowd.

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