Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, the local organization supporting LGBTQ youth, will celebrate 35 years of service to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area at its annual fall brunch on Sunday, Oct. 20.
The brunch, one of SMYAL’s yearly fundraisers, seeks to enlist attendees to recommit themselves to SMYAL’s mission while also celebrating the success of newer programs like “Little SMYALs,” a program that supports LGBTQ youth ages 6-12 and their parents, SMYAL’s online support group Q Chat Space, and its expanded Youth Housing Program, including the opening of a second house for LGBTQ homeless youth last month.
“It’s an opportunity to really reflect on the work that has happened to support LGBTQ youth, but also some of the challenges that still exist for young queer people,” says Sultan Shakir, the executive director of SMYAL. “It’s also a chance to look back on the past 35 years of the organization, and some of the really great growth we’ve seen, thanks to support from so many people in the community, and to think about where we can go in the future.”
This year’s brunch will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Marriott Marquis Washington, and will feature a cocktail reception, silent auction, and photo booth prior to the seated brunch program. The brunch, which will be emceed by NBC 4’s Aaron Gilchrist, will include speeches from Shakir, K. Dane Snowden, the president of SMYAL’s Board of Directors, and youth who have benefitted from SMYAL’s various programs.
“What the youth generally talk about is their experience with the organization and how impactful it is to have a group of people that they know support them, however and whoever they are, which is not something most people have in their everyday life,” Shakir says.
This year’s Community Advocate Award honoree, Ava Benach, a founding partner of the law firm Benach Collopy, is one of the top immigration lawyers in the D.C. area, whose work focuses on representing transgender asylum seekers. The openly transgender daughter of Cuban immigrants, Benach is active in local immigration charities and organizations. She also collaborated with Whitman-Walker Health on an initiative to provide representation to transgender immigrants while training the next generation of lawyers in representing LGBTQ immigrants.
Benach has previously been honored with the Edith B. Lowenstein Award for Excellence in Advancing the Practice of Immigration Law, and was named a 2019 Business of Pride honoree. She also serves as the head coach and founder of D.C. Girls Baseball.
Asked what makes her hopeful about the LGBTQ community, Benach responds, “The kids. Not just mine. The ease at which they accept and understand LGBTQ issues is inspiring. The next generation is going to be even better than us. They’re not only accepting, they’re energized.”
SMYAL’s Fall Brunch is on Sunday, Oct. 20 from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Marriott Marquis Washington, 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. For more information and tickets, visit www.smyal.org/brunch.