SOJOURN and Partners Provide Youth Support

SOJOURN and Partners Provide Youth Support

Kevin C. Madigan

Kevin Madigan is a senior reporter for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

The upcoming Atlanta Pride Festival and the associated parade are the immediate focus of SOJOURN, the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, but the pattern of partnerships for Pride is repeated year-round in SOJOURN’s work with youth.

A workshop on preventing bullying is one example.

Held at the Epstein School early in 2015, the workshop was meaningful, said Robyn Faintich, the Conservative day school’s outreach and engagement coordinator. “Everyone walked away with something they were thinking about, something they wanted to take action on or share with another person, a colleague or a family member.”

The attendees were a mixture of professionals, clergy, parents and teens, Faintich said. “I think the impact on people was significant.”

SOJOURN Executive Director Rebecca Stapel-Wax and Assistant Director Robbie Medwed read to Epstein School kindergartners.
SOJOURN Executive Director Rebecca Stapel-Wax and Assistant Director Robbie Medwed read to Epstein School kindergartners.

The session included a screening of the documentary “Let’s Get Real,” a hard look at the prevalence of student violence. SOJOURN also invited the makers of the film to appear and answer questions.

“SOJOURN is now a resource for us as a result of that, and we have an ongoing relationship with them,” Faintich said. “I’ve reached out to them when parents ask us about how to handle a situation with their kids — questions about bullying, LGBT, coming out. Sometimes it’s a personal question, sometimes a professional one, like when colleagues are struggling with an LGBT issue in their family. It’s important for Epstein to know that SOJOURN is available to help in the community.”

At the Weber School, SOJOURN acts as a consultant to the new Gender & Sexual Diversity Alliance. English teacher and faculty sponsor Michael Bennett said students initiated the program.

“A few years ago a group of Weber students started going to the Pride Parade informally,” he said. That number grew the past two years, leading to the formation of the GSDA.

In its first year as an official club, its goal is to encourage kids to become allies, Bennett said. “It’s about giving them the vocabulary to understand in the context of gender and sexual diversity. It also gives them the skills to advocate for their peers, to become more informed citizens in the modern world. We talk about the way history has unfolded. This is all about education.”

Weber is committed to diversity, said public relations director Elana Frank, speaking the day that Muslim and Christian students visited the Sandy Springs high school for the Peace by Piece program. “We’re not one-size-fits-all.”
SOJOURN also holds reading programs for kindergartners and works with teen youth groups, including B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and the North American Federation of Temple Youth.

The Pride Parade from the Civic Center MARTA station to Piedmont Park starts at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11. SOJOURN is a grand marshal.

SOJOURN Executive Director Rebecca Stapel-Wax said her organization picked many of its Pride partners, such as the Davis Academy and Jewish Kids Groups, because of their connections to youth.

More than 40 Jewish organizations, including the Atlanta Jewish Times, are co-sponsoring SOJOURN’s Jewish Community Tent at the Pride Festival at Piedmont Park.

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