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More than $165,000 raised for Safe Homes gala

WORCESTER—By any measure, organizers of Open Sky Community Services' Safe Homes Gala, held on April 12 at the Marriott Worcester, was the most successful to date, raising more than $165,000 and drawing more than 350 attendees. 

April 2024

Read the original article on the Worcester Guardian

WORCESTER—By any measure, organizers of Open Sky Community Services' Safe Homes Gala, held on April 12 at the Marriott Worcester, was the most successful to date, raising more than $165,000 and drawing more than 350 attendees. 

“We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of pride and support for our Safe Homes program and we are thrilled to honor these six advocates,” said Open Sky President and CEO Ken Bates in a statement. “Together we are working toward achieving a more inclusive community.”

Safe Homes supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) young people, and their straight allies, between the ages of 14 and 23. The group is led by youth peer leaders, professional staff, and volunteers who offer support, resources, and opportunities for socialization in a safe and nurturing environment.

The 2024 Gala also included a presentation of the People of Courage Awards, honoring six individuals and businesses, and recognizing the milestone of 20 years since same-sex marriage was legally recognized in Massachusetts. This included remarks from Gary Chalmers, an original plaintiff in the Goodridge v. Department of Public Health lawsuit that won marriage equality in Massachusetts, and a video message from Gov. Maura Healey.  

Other speakers at the event included state Sens. Robyn Kennedy and Michael Moore and Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty.

"The gala has taken many forms over the years, beginning as a cocktail party and evolving into a gala with some stops and starts along the way (including COVID-19)," Catherine Twing-Irish, Open Sky's senior director of advancement and marketing, told the Worcester Guardian

Receiving 2024 People of Courage Awards were:


  • Charles O’Donnell of Auburn received the Community Champion Award.  O’Donnell (he/they) is a volunteer board member for Love Your Labels, organizes the monthly Gay Professionals Networking group, and is a primary organizer of the Queer AF fashion show held during Worcester Pride Week.
  • Femme, the only lesbian bar in New England, was presented with the Innovative Business Award. Owners Julie Spring (she/her) and Danielle Spring (she/her) opened Femme in Worcester in 2023, creating a safe space for all members of the queer community and allies.  They continue to show their commitment to the community through civic engagement, donations to nonprofit organizations, and involvement in local events.
  • Chrissi Bates of Worcester received the Social Justice Advocacy and Action Award for her advocacy for young adults experiencing homelessness. Through work and volunteering, Bates (she/her) relentlessly strives to educate the public on sexual exploitation and trafficking, drawing on their lived experience to drive positive change.
  • Gabriella Diaz of Worcester received the Young Adult Award. Diaz (she/her) is a peer mentor leader for the Gender Sexuality Alliance, a student advocacy group, at her school, Suffield Academy in Connecticut, and the founder of the Dear Worcester Youth initiative, which aims to give voice to Worcester youth and provide mental health resources. She is also a board member for the housing and mental health-focused nonprofit The WellStorm, Inc.
  • Alice Cleghorn of Worcester was honored with the Youth Award. Selected for the award by Safe Homes staff, Cleghorn (she/her) is a youth advisor at Safe Homes and a former Commonwealth Corps intern.  Cleghorn (she/her) uses her lived experience to connect with shy and reserved youth who are new to the Safe Homes community.
  • Queer Youth Assemble, a youth-led and youth-run organization that began in Massachusetts in 2021, was recognized with the People’s Choice Award. QYA is committed to advocating for anti-racism and LGBTQIA+ rights, and hosts events throughout the year for queer youth.  The recipient of this award is chosen by Safe Homes youth participants.

"The funds raised at the gala will help Safe Homes support even more LGBTQIA+ youth in Central Massachusetts," continued Twing-Irish, "by providing resources for the Transgender Resource Center (which offers items such as gender-affirming clothing, make-up, chest binders, etc…), and supplies for the toiletry and food pantries. The funds also allows Safe Homes to host more activities and community events, in addition to weekly drop-ins, such as their Halloween party or prom. The biggest need, however, is for mental health support and these funds will allow Safe Homes to offer regular groups as well as more hours for free, one-on-one counseling for youth." 

Safe Homes has two locations— Mann Street in Worcester and Safe Homes North at Fitchburg State University. 

"Youth throughout Worcester County utilize services," said Twing-Irish. "They also have an online community through the platform Discord, which is essentially a moderated online chat room where youth can connect with peers and get support."

Charlene Arsenault can be reached at carsenault@theworcesterguardian.org 

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