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Parents Inspired By Gay Son, Give Back to LGBTQ Youth

BY EVE KUCHARSKI

Madelyn and Jim Cosens are known for serving up some of the best mac 'n' cheese for dinner at the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park every fourth Monday of the month.
"Initially, when we went down, I wanted to try some fancy cooking and I made some enchiladas that had a whole bunch of cilantro on it," Jim said. "Somebody looked at it and said, 'What's that green stuff?' Now, we don't go too overboard."
The Cosenses, both 62, have been volunteering at the Center – a youth social services agency provide short- and long-term residential safe space and support services for runaway, homeless, and at-risk LGBTQ youth – for two years now.
"It probably all stems from when our son came out to us about seven years ago," Jim said. "We really didn't see many of what you might think are traditional indicators that somebody might be gay or lesbian. It just never registered."
They said that although they didn't expect their son to be gay, they never stopped loving and supporting him. However, their giving attitude took a long time to foster.
"One of the things we did early on was, because we had so many years of wrong thinking, we did a lot of reading and listening to stories," Madelyn said. "We talked to our son and some of his friends. It was a process and it wasn't something that happened right away, but we tried to educate ourselves as much as possible."
Eventually, they began to get acquainted with some of the deeper issues in the LGBT community.
"It was through that whole experience that really caused us to kind of step back and look at what's happening with this community of people," Jim said. "We saw that in many cases, this group of folks are really being marginalized. I really started getting disturbed when read some of the statistics around the impact on homelessness and suicide rates and things like that with the LGBT community — especially when they just come out."
Those statistics can be tough to look at. A 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24, and the chances of LGB youth seriously considering suicide is nearly three times greater than heterosexual youth.
According to the Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, among the transgender community rates of suicide have reached 40 percent, 92 percent of those attempts before the age of 25.
Many of these issues stem from LGBT youth who are experiencing homelessness, which the Center has made its mission to end. The True Colors Fund found that of the 1.6 million youth that become homeless each year, 40 percent of them fall into the LGBT category. That's why the Cosenses decided to do anything they could to help.
"We're not going to change the world once a month serving dinner at Ruth Ellis, but we're doing what we can at this stage," Madelyn said. "Serving doesn't have to be just in an organized situation. Serving can be whoever you're meeting in your daily walk of life."
And though she loves the role she plays now, Madelyn said that she hopes to be able to expand her volunteer work too.
"I'm not sure I want to do any more meal things. I'm more relationship-oriented. I would jump in if there was another way to help with families, if there was another way to help them work through it," she said. "To me, that's more where my passion is, and could be used, for both of us."
The Cosenses urge others to volunteer too, but to be mindful as well.
"One of the biggest things I think we've learned in the past few years is that we have to go in there realizing that for some of these kids, we might be their worst nightmare – white people from the suburbs coming in to serve," she said, adding "We have to go in with a real humble spirit. We're there to serve, we're there to help. When we can bond, we do."
Jim said, "We don't push it."

6th Annual Bowl-A-Rama

Ruth Ellis Center Bowling Fundraiser
Dec. 7
6-9 p.m.
Hartfield Lanes Family Fun Center
3490 12 Mile Road, Berkley
Tickets: $40 in advance, $45 at the door, $25 student
Ugly sweater holiday competition, 50/50 raffle, silent auction, pizza and pop
Visit http://www.ruthelliscenter.org to purchase tickets or call Amy Flory at 248-321-3635.



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