A 2nd Act: So Kids Don’t Have to Feel Alone
one•n•ten improves self-esteem and self-acceptance among LGBTQ+ youth
“A lot of people have to wait until they retire to do something they’re passionate about,” Nate Rhoton’s stepfather observed. But Rhoton is so passionate about his work as executive director of one•n•ten, he says
it doesn’t feel like he’s working at all. Yet, he’s accomplishing so much.
There are many kids in Arizona for whom going to school, having a part-time job or playing sports is safe and comfortable. But what if it weren’t? What if every day you wondered if you’d be accepted, if you’d be included, if you’d be harmed? That’s the reality for Arizona’s LGBTQ+ youth population.
“I had spent 15 years in corporate management and finance,” Rhoton said. “I had done work on various boards, and nationally on human rights campaigns. But I was at a turning point. I wasn’t quite at midlife, but still felt like I was having a midlife crisis!”
He laughs. He was making money, but he didn’t feel like he was making a difference. And he wasn’t leaving work each day feeling fulfilled.
A friend recommended he step into the nonprofit space. He enjoyed fundraising — a dream come true for nonprofits. He saw it as a means by which to make change. At a 2015 dinner with Linda Elliot, one•n•ten’s then-executive director, he learned they were looking for a director of development. She suggested he submit his credentials. He did, and the organization welcomed him with open arms. The next step was director of finance and operations, and finally, he assumed his current role as executive director when Elliot retired in January 2018.
Adolescence brings with it lots of challenges, regardless of sexual orientation. The more than one youth in 10 who are LGBTQ+ face them as well, along with many other inner conflicts. “These can create immense pressure,” Rhoton said. “And it causes some kids to self-harm or develop suicidal ideations. We support them and give them the building blocks to be the best they can be.”
one•n•ten enhances the lives of youths 11–24 years of age by providing empowering social and service programs that promote self-expression, self-acceptance, leadership development and healthy life choices. Housing and workforce navigation, health and wellness programs and identity-specific programs provide the kind of support necessary for LGBTQ+ youth to live meaningful lives.
In addition, parents, teachers, counselors and other trusted adults need guidance to best support their LGBTQ+ youth. To that end, one•n•ten offers a monthly Parents’ Group. And the icing on the cake is one•n•ten’s Camp OUTdoors. The unique five-day, four-night summer program brings LGBTQ+ youth “out of the closet and into the woods,” developing leadership skills, working in collaborative ways and building a solid sense of self and community.
It was during Camp OUTdoors that Rhoton had an experience that made him realize the importance of their work. “It was my first year as a counselor,” he said. “I was in the 11- to 12-year-old cabin. Blue (a young boy with blue hair) was originally from Arkansas. When he came out to his parents, they kicked him out of the house and sent him to live with grandparents, who in turn had connected with us. Blue arrived at camp completely withdrawn. He built a wall out of the stuffed animals he had brought and crawled behind it.
“A day later, he came running up to me. I worried there was a problem, but he was ecstatic. ‘I’ve never been with kids like me!’ he told me breathlessly. And in that moment, I witnessed our major goal playing out in real life: to ensure that kids never feel alone.”
All of one•n•ten’s programs are free of charge, and the organization is 100 percent self-funded by a generous community. About one-third comes from local foundations, including the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Another third comes from fundraisers. And the final third comes from private donations.
“When our youth center was destroyed in an arson fire in 2017, the community came together to rebuild it. It was completely funded, and we opened with no debt,”
Rhoton said proudly.
And while the majority of one•n•ten’s participants come from Maricopa County, the organization has 15 satellites statewide, with the aim of growing to 22 in the coming year.
One of the Camp OUTdoors campers summed up this vital work in the camp’s closing survey: “The four days I spend at this camp make the other 361 possible!”
That says it all.