Back in 2009, Carl Siciliano wasn’t sure if his nonprofit was going to survive the throes of the Great Recession.
The Ali Forney Center, a group committed to helping homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City, was on the brink of eviction. Between paying rent, payroll, and the critical services it provided to its youth, Siciliano, director of the center, had doubts Ali Forney could run much longer.
Then he got a phone call from the estate of Bea Arthur.
Arthur (“Maude,” “The Golden Girls”) had recently passed away. And Ali Forney was in her will.
It wasn’t necessarily shocking news — the late actor had been a supporter of the organization, giving donations to the group and using her one-woman show, “Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends,” to raise funds for the nonprofit’s work.
But Ali Forney, Siciliano learned, was at the top of her will’s list of charities.
Arthur left $300,000 to The Ali Forney Center.
In times as tough as they’d been, the donation was the buoy keeping Ali Forney afloat. “I honestly don’t know how we would have made it through the recession without that extraordinary gift,” Siciliano later blogged about the experience. “Bea Arthur truly meant it when she said she would do anything to help our kids.”
Eight years after her death, the folks at Ali Forney can still remember how crucial Arthur’s generosity was when times were tough. They made sure her legacy of helping homeless LGBTQ youth will live on for decades to come.
In December 2017, Ali Forney opened its doors to its latest facility for homeless LGBTQ youth: the Bea Arthur Residence.
Nestled in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the 18-bed residence will save and change lives, acting as a safe and nurturing environment for youth in transitional housing.
It doesn’t look like your average shelter either — because it’s not.
Young people who stay at the Bea Arthur Residence enter a 24-month program aimed at giving them the tools they need to succeed on their own. They deserve every bit of help they can get too; most homeless LGBTQ youth were either kicked out by unaccepting parents or ran away from hostile home environments.
Homophobia and transphobia at home leaves far too many queer youth high and dry, and it shows in the numbers. While some estimates suggest about 7% of all youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. A disproportionate number of them are transgender and people of color too.
With warm beds, comfy sofas, and a kitchen to prepare meals, the residence provides an ideal space for young people to transition into stable, independent housing.
They benefit from a range of programs provided through Ali Forney too, like job readiness and education, health screenings, and free legal services.
These programs are vital, and Arthur understood it.
“These kids at the Ali Forney Center are literally dumped by their families because of the fact that they are lesbian, gay, or transgender,” Arthur once said.
“This organization really is saving lives.”
“I would do anything in my power to protect children who are discarded by their parents for being LGBT,” Arthur had said.
It’s a promise Arthur is still keeping long after she said her goodbyes.