Ogden Man Reaches OUT to Teens

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It’s a busy night at Ogden’s OUTReach Resource Center for teens. The minute director Gary Horenkamp answers the telephone, 25 youngsters march into the drop-in center’s space at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden in search of something fun to do on a cold December night.

Gary Horenkamp

Gary Horenkamp

“That's a lot for the center. Usually we get about 10 or 12. Let's see… four or five are playing pool next door. Some are singing and dancing, a couple are playing the X-Box and I think arts and crafts are about to break out," says Horenkamp, designated this particular Wednesday for making Holiday decorations. “It looks like they’re making snowmen, wreaths, maybe some green and red stuff.” Seconds later, a teen wanders into Horenkamp’s office in search of a cheese grater.

“I’m guessing he wanted to make chili,” Horenkamp laughs. The center has many kitchen utensils and a lot of snacks for noshing, but unfortunately no grater, so the teen will have to try something else.

It’s all in a night’s work for Horenkamp, who has worked with the resource center since its founding in September, 2004.

As Horenkamp explains it, OUTReach, while not a religious program, was the brain child of the Unitarian Universalist church that houses it. Three years ago, the church’s social action committee decided that they wanted to provide a service for the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens. Although a number of resources existed to serve Ogden’s 60,000 young people, such as The Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Youth Impact, Horenkamp said none at the time existed specifically for queer youngsters.

“Don’t get me wrong, the other organizations don’t discourage them from coming, but this is the place that is always in tune with their issues and needs,” he says.

The Unitarian Universalist organization and the United Church of Christ (both of which have reputations for being gay-friendly) liked the idea and awarded the church enough grant money to house the space and to bring Horenkamp on part time. Two church members, Roxanne Taylor and Evelyn Bertilson, serve as OUTReach’s co-chairs and Horenkamp’s bosses. They, along with a ten-member board of community members, church members and one teenager from the Resource center give Horenkamp feedback on the center’s operations and suggestions for how services can be improved.

Horenkamp, who also volunteers at the Teen Suicide Prevention Taskforce in Utah, holds a Master’s degree in counseling and interned at a juvenile corrections facility. Between this work and serving in the U.S. military for 20 years, he says working with youth has become his calling.

“Between paid and volunteer work, I’ve been doing this kind of stuff since I was 18, whether it’s teaching or trying to keep kids out of trouble in the military,” he says.

Today OUTReach shares space with the church’s youth group and has built up an impressive store of activities and items to keep its youth busy. Currently, the program boasts such things as an X-Box video game system, an internet-accessible computer, a karaoke machine and plenty of board and card games. A fridge and microwave are also on hand, as is a library with approximately 200 books and a handful of DVDs gleaned from generous donors, the Utah Pride Center’s overflow and Weber State University’s gay-straight alliance who gave Horenkamp permission to store and lend out their books until they find a new space in which to store them. Although teens are allowed to check out materials (including more mature titles such as gay love stories and edgier doccumentries if they have a signed permission slip from a parent), Horenkamp says the library is also a resource for adults. Indeed, the only one the Resource Center currently offers.

“We tried to do an adult night for about a year, but we only got about two people,” Horenkamp explains. “So we had to abandon that.”

Although the number and names of teens can change weekly thanks to the Resource Center’s drop-in status, one thing Horenkamp hasn’t abandoned is OUTReach’s annual winter service project, which he and the teens have undertaken in January, when the giving spirit of Christmas has vanished but need is still great. Last year, the teens collected much-needed food items for the Utah Food Bank, like canned tuna, chili, beef and other meat products which are always in short supply.

Horenkamp says he’d like to do more service projects with the teens, but several factors have so far prevented this. Along with OUTReach’s ever-changing population – which makes signing up a definite number of teens difficult – the Resource Center currently lacks transportation insurance, and thus a way to get teens to and from their projects. Nevertheless, Horenkamp managed to get nearly 20 OUTReach teens together to march in September’s Southern Pride at Zion parade. And he has plans to create a leadership and life skills program for his teens in 2008 using strategies from a number of books, including Sean Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

Like most worthy projects, OUTReach is, in Horenkamp’s words, “constantly chasing after funding” to stay open and to better serve its teens. Although Taylor’s grant writing skills and previous fundraisers have stabilized OUTReach’s funds until March, Horenkamp says he has to think about the future. In 2008 he plans to continue the center’s popular fundraiser breakfast and hopefully to initiate an additional fundraiser in summer or fall.

But even when money is tight, Horenkamp says he’s happy on the nights when 25 teens show up to play video games, dance, and make chili without the use of a grater. And while the Resource Center started specifically to serve the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth in Ogden, Horenkamp says their straight friends are welcome, too.

“We were born out of the need to fill a space for LGBT kids, but we’re willing to welcome anyone as long as they’re open-minded,” he said. “We’re happy to have kids until we burst the walls of the church.” 

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