Opening Hearts and Changing Lives

by Jon Neidy
Acorn Equality Fund

The Acorn Equality Fund works to advance the education, health and civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons and their allies.

The data is clear. The Human Rights Campaign, citing a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, asserts that “lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are far more likely to experience violence and bullying, and attempt suicide, than their heterosexual peers. The data show just how deeply stigma and discrimination affect LGBTQ youth, how urgently they need their communities’ support and affirmation, and how far we have to go in protecting them.”

The Acorn Equality Fund (AEF) is committed to demonstrating that support and affirmation in downstate Illinois. Established in 1999, it is one of the older downstate not-for-profit organizations serving the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies (LGBTA) community. It has awarded $397,000 in scholarships to 147 worthy recipients since its inception. The following three students are among those recipients.

Our Scholarship Recipients
Juan (a pseudonym) is a 20-year-old student studying Spanish and French at a large state university. As a teenager, he was kicked out of the house by his parents for being gay. He works a part-time job 20-plus hours per week and carries an 18-credit hour course load, while maintaining a 3.8 grade point average. He is committed to graduating and intends to go to law school after graduation. His AEF scholarships have allowed him to “not worry about his next meal and to stay in school.”

Alix (a pseudonym) is 17 years old and transgender. Alix is a high-school senior who helped found a Gay-Straight Alliance at a small rural high school after years of bullying, and is committed to studying biochemistry as an undergraduate and then going on to medical school. Alix’s scholarship essay ended with this statement, which resonated deeply with the scholarship committee:

“Giving up some of my time in order to improve my own community allows me to realize that I value and respect every aspect of my life, whether it be radiating positive energy to community members or simply picking up trash from the park near my house. Showing compassion and understanding for people other than ourselves alleviates many problem seen in the world today.”

Carrie (a pseudonym) is a 19-year old lesbian. She is a student at a midsized state university who intends to be a special education teacher. She was in foster care much of her life and has found solace and a mission while enrolled in school. She describes the AEF scholarship as a “life-changing event” for her that “opened many doors” and allowed her to “finally be herself in all aspects of her life.”

Scholarship recipients must retain permanent residence in the Acorn Equality Fund service area (all Illinois counties except Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will) and attend or plan to attend any accredited post-secondary educational facility. Additionally, the Acorn Equality Fund awards small grants to other not-for-profit organizations that support the LGBTA community.

A Working Board
The work of fundraising, promoting and administering the scholarships and grants awarded by the Acorn Equality Fund is done by a volunteer 13-member board of directors without paid staff. The board is recruited from the local community with the understanding that it is a “working board,” rather than an advisory or governing board. “Working board” members are responsible for all of the efforts of the organization, performing the functions of unpaid staff, and the Acorn Equality Fund would not exist without their talent, time and energy.

Individual board members contribute to the work through their personal skill sets and interests, which has allowed the AEF board to grow and flourish over the past 19 years. The work of fundraising is done through the efforts of six volunteers who solicit local businesses for sponsorships, write grants, coordinate fundraising events and maintain relationships with current donors. The work of promoting is done through the efforts of three volunteers who coordinate the website, manage social media, and facilitate all print marketing efforts. The work of administering is done through the efforts of four volunteers who record meeting minutes, record and organize finances, facilitate decisions, and lead groups of volunteers.

Fundamental to this work is a commitment to the mission and understanding of the scope of the organization. The Acorn Equality Fund uses its mission—to provide financial support for the advancement of education, health and civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their allies—to determine new directions and make major decisions. As new program, grant and fundraising opportunities emerge, AEF board members determine if those ideas are aligned with the mission of the organization.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Acorn Equality Fund would not exist without the financial support and commitment of it donors. Financial contributors are the organization’s most valuable asset and make all of the work possible. Every dollar donated is used to enrich the lives of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies (LGBTA) community in downstate Illinois. iBi

For additional information, visit acornequalityfund.org.

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