| Credit: Unsplash

Every two years, Social Venture Partners Charleston (SVP) gathers to hear presentations from nonprofit leaders who make a case for why donors should fund their cause. 

It is an opportunity for philanthropists and nonprofit leaders to come together over their passion for combatting social issues. In 2022, SVP saw presentations from six community-based organizations. People shared their ideas and funders were able to pool money together to fuel change through these organizations. These events, now branded Empower Charleston, have transpired every two years since 2012, excluding 2020 due to the pandemic. The 2022 cycle focused on economic mobility, education and mental health. 

Even though all six CBOs (community-based organizations) received a piece of the fund pie, We Are Family was awarded a $60,000 capacity-building grant funded over two years to pay for therapy sessions from affirming therapists for LGBTQ children. In addition to the financial contribution, SVP also will provide pro bono consulting services to help grow the internal capacity of the organization.

We Are Family (WAF) was created in Charleston in 1995 when the late founder Tom Myers recognized the need for support for LGBTQ+ youth. Inspired by his son’s needs, he started the organization to inform community leaders on ways to support queer youth. 

It generated support groups to create a safe space for people to connect and create community with people struggling with similar issues. The support groups are facilitated by WAF staff and volunteers who say creating a space for people to discuss queerness without judgment is incredibly constructive and affirming. 

WAF Executive Director Domenico Ruggerio explains that investing in the mental health of queer children is needed to “meet the moment” in this challenging time when trans youth’s very existence is part of a national debate. 

Thousands of hours of help, support

Thanks to the SVP investment, WAF has been able to provide more than 2,000 hours of therapy at no cost to the young people they are supporting. Whether gay, trans, lesbian, nonbinary or questioning, the therapy services pair a young person with an affirming therapist who will not attempt to convince them they are wrong or bad. 

Apart from the organization’s obvious homage to the timeless Sister Sledge song, We Are Family can offer LGBTQ people support that their birth families don’t offer them. This idea of chosen family, Ruggerio explains, is that kinship, community, and family does not have to be bonded by blood. 

Many of the youth who come to WAF don’t have accepting families. Children run the risk of being kicked out of their homes, so creating these support systems is integral to their safety. The Trevor Project cites suicide as being the second leading cause of death among people 10 to 24. Due to stigmatization, LGBTQ youths are four times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide, which experts say makes it extremely important for support systems to exist. 


“We can create our own families,” said Ruggerio.  “This is not only a survival mechanism for queer and trans folks, but it’s a liberating feeling to know you have this agency to choose your family.”

Queer people have always created these networks and an organization like We Are Family is continuing this life-saving work.

You can visit WAF’s website to see what other programs it offers, including reduced cost therapy for adults, support groups for Black Queer Charlestonians and a rapid microgrant for Trans South Carolinians. 

Tori Hyder is a staff member of the Coastal Community Foundation.

Love Best of Charleston?

Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.