Philanthropy Under 40: A Conversation With the Fenway Health Young Leaders Council

The Young Leaders Council (YLC) is an initiative of Fenway Health to empower emerging LGBTQIA+ leaders and allies to shape their community’s future. YLC donors are individuals in their 20s and 30s who are dedicated to advancing Fenway’s mission through special events, programming, and philanthropy. Their unique and diverse voices support Fenway Health in providing the highest quality healthcare, education, research, and advocacy for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and all individuals in our neighborhoods and beyond.

Recently, we spoke with YLC Steering Committee members Julian Serrao and Casey Liston about their experiences with the YLC, community building, and philanthropy.

Thank you for chatting with us, Casey and Julian! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?

Julian Serrao (he/him/his): I’ve been part of the YLC Steering Committee for a few years and a YLC member for longer than that, and I’m currently one of two Steer Co co-chairs. I work for a boutique management consulting firm in Cambridge.

Casey Liston (she/her/hers): I’ve been part of the YLC and Steer Co for a little bit over a year now. I’m a development officer at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

How did you both get involved with the Young Leaders Council at Fenway?

Casey: I first heard about the YLC socially through knowing people who were in it, but I got involved for the first time actually through working at Planned Parenthood. I’m in the Young Friends of PPLM there, which is their version of the YLC, and I wanted to find ways for us to engage with and partner with Fenway’s YLC. After we held a collaborative event together in January 2020, I started to learn more about the YLC.

I’ve been a patient at Fenway Health for about nine years now, and I thought the YLC would be a great way to get more involved with the community. My passion is young philanthropy; I love working with young donors and engaging them in philanthropic work. I think it’s a great way to change the landscape of what philanthropy looks like and build that pipeline for the next generation of leaders.

Julian: I heard about the YLC through the Fenway website and decided to become a donor. What really made me interested in donating to Fenway was the health care I received when I moved to Boston. Becoming a Fenway patient was the first time I felt like I could bring my whole person to my medical care. I didn’t have anything to hide. I didn’t have that weight on my shoulders every time I went to the doctor, and I had providers who were inquisitive about my personal life and my mental health as well as my physical health. It was a very stark experience and helped accelerate my coming out process.

That was what initially made me want to contribute to Fenway financially. Over time, I learned about all the research being done by The Fenway Institute and Fenway’s advocacy in so many communities. I wanted to play a role in that.

What makes the YLC special to you?

Julian: What makes the YLC unique is that it’s made up of young people who are willing to put their money behind a cause and make a difference by giving their time and financial resources. Often, people under the age of 35 don’t think they can make an impact unless they have millions of dollars to donate. But a couple of hours or a couple of bucks, times a group of people, really can be influential and can encourage organizations to be more inclusive and connect with communities that haven’t always been brought into the wider LGBTQIA+ fold.

What strikes me about Steer Co is that it’s a group of very passionate people. They’re dedicated to finding ways to make a difference in the community and leverage Fenway as a resource to make that happen, while also spreading the word about Fenway itself and the good work it’s doing.

Casey: My favorite thing about the YLC is that it’s truly a peer-led group. Coming from a development background, I was shocked to see that it was actually the members of the YLC who were leading it and were empowered to control the direction of the group, plan events, and find ways to connect with the community. I thought that was really cool to see a thriving young donor group operating on that model and I think it really speaks to the commitment that members have to Fenway Health and to each other.

In my personal experience so far being on Steer Co, I’ve loved being able to work with people I might otherwise never have met and forge these important connections personally and professionally. Working with Julian on AIDS Walk & Run Boston has been such a phenomenal experience, and I don’t know that if we hadn’t both raised our hands for this, we ever would have crossed paths. It’s been such a pleasure to work on projects together.

What was it like taking part in an in-person fundraiser like the AIDS Walk after a year and a half of pandemic lockdowns?

Casey: Julian and I were the co-chairs of the YLC’s first ever AIDS Walk team. We saw this as an excellent opportunity to not only contribute to a great cause financially and with people power, but to bring YLC members together in person for a masked, outdoor event after such a long period of isolation.

Our AIDS Walk fundraising ended up being incredibly successful, despite concerns around what I call “donation fatigue.” By that I mean that there have been so many crises and causes in recent years to donate to, and LGBTQIA+ rights have certainly been one of them. [Editor’s note: Team YLC raised over $5,500 for this year’s AIDS Walk!]

Julian: I chose to lead this initiative with Casey because I hoped that this would be the start of yearly YLC participation in the AIDS Walk. Our group already fundraised annually for Harbor to the Bay, the Men’s Event, and the Dinner Party, and this was another opportunity to help our community. One of the things I love about the LGBTQIA+ community is that we keep becoming more inclusive, adding more letters, updating our flag. Oftentimes, communities can exclude, so it’s great to see the LGBTQIA+ community expanding to bring in more people and fight for their rights.

Before the COVID pandemic, there was another pandemic called HIV/AIDS, and it wasn’t met with the same resources. It wasn’t met with the same care and humanity and collective knowledge sharing between governments and corporations. I wanted to remind people that, while we’ve made great progress in part thanks to the work of Fenway Health and other organizations, there’s still no cure for AIDS.

I think it’s important to not forget our past, and the challenges that have been faced by marginalized people. Growing up in a time when gay marriage is legal and some people have their rights, we need to remember where we’ve been and continue to advocate for all members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

What does philanthropy mean to you?

Casey: Philanthropy to me is about the redistribution of resources. It’s sort of a Robin Hood endeavor, moving the wealth to where it’s most needed. It’s about making sure that the people your organization serves are having their needs met when all other systems are failing. Non-profits exist to serve the underserved.

I think too often in philanthropy, the focus is on what the benefits are for a donor – invitations to events, group memberships, etc. But fundamentally, the benefit of engaging in philanthropy is making a real impact on those underserved communities. There’s a lot of power in leading donor groups like the YLC, where you can act as a sort of liaison between the non-profits that are doing that on the ground work and the people who have the resources to support them.

Julian: Philanthropy for me means putting a stake in the ground and saying “this is what I stand for. I believe in this cause, and I’m willing to put my time, energy, and financial resources into it.” Philanthropy is a verb. It’s active participation. It’s not just about giving money; it’s about giving your heart to something and having conversations – sometimes difficult ones – to raise awareness.

At the end of the day, it’s about people: giving to people, supporting organizations that serve people. Part of being in a community is putting our resources towards shifting the conversation to helping those in need.

Please visit our site to learn more about the YLC of Fenway Health and how you can help support our work.

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