CHARLOTTE – In December, Time Out Youth (TOY) hired a new executive director, Rodney Tucker. Long-known for his involvement and work with the community in a variety of ways, Tucker says he’s looking forward with optimism and excitement for TOY’s future growth.
“I see the history of Time Out Youth as 20 years to build on,” he says. “It’s exciting for me to come to an organization that has been around and sustained for 20 years.”
Tucker is a native of nearby Oakboro, N.C., and a former employee of the Regional HIV/AIDS Consortium. He’s also a former development director for the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network and most recently served as executive director for the Hickory-based AIDS service organization, ALFA.
Tucker holds degrees from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, including a master’s degree in Christian education with a focus on child and family development. Starting his career as a minister to homeless and at-risk youth in New York City, Tucker says the opportunity to work at TOY brings him full circle.
“It fits more clearly with my education than other jobs have,” he says. “A core part of me will always be a minister and my goal in seminary was to work in the inner city with disenfranchised youth and homeless people. I’m back doing what I wanted to do with my career.”
With Tucker’s hire, TOY’s staff gets a bump in expertise.
“Everyone is a master’s-level clinician,” he says. “We have two program staffers who have master’s degrees in social work and me with my degree in counseling. It automatically ups the bar with the types of services that youth will receive when they come through the doors here.”
TOY’s services and connections with the broader social service community in Charlotte have grown tremendously over the past few years. Tucker’s predecessor, Steve Bentley, shepherded the group through a period of rebuilding, rebranding and re-growth, including outreach to other professional child welfare organizations and an involvement in county-wide children’s initiatives.
“The board is ready for TOY to be a state leader and national model,” Tucker says.
Already, TOY’s youth and staffers are traveling the state with their speakers’ bureau program and talking to organizations and community leaders about gay-straight alliances, safe zones and how TOY’s support services function.
Locally, TOY’s direction will take a decidedly more advocacy role with increased outreach to schools and LGBT student leaders.
“Working with the school system is a big push you’ll hear more about from TOY,” Tucker says.
The group is already forging ahead with related plans. One full-time staff person, shared with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte, is working to help develop and sustain LGBT high school student leaders and LGBT student organizations.
“One of their first events was a dance for all the gay-straight alliances in Mecklenburg County,” Tucker says of the recent fall activity. “We had 45 youth together for a night to meet each other and to start building a network across school boundaries.”
In all, students from eight different high schools attended the event.
Helping to shape future community leaders is an important part of TOY’s mission. It will require more community involvement, Tucker warns.
“Part of me is shocked that the gay community has not been as involved as volunteers with TOY,” he says. “I want more people to come into the doors and meet these kids. Our LGBT community has to be the ones to be the mentors and provide example leadership to help our youth grow into the next set of leaders.
With big plans, Tucker says TOY will need to up their ante on fundraising. His predecessor and the board have provided solid financial footing with a six-month cash reserve on hand.
An increase in programming capabilities will take more, though, and among the many items on Tucker’s wish list is the potential for future partnerships and funding from local, state and federal agencies.
Beyond fundraising and programming, Tucker’s chief mission remains with the welfare of the youth his group serves and ensuring that LGBT young people and their need to have a place and voice at the table.
Tucker says, “Part of the work that I want to do is in the areas of people working with children and youth, to be the voice of the LGBT and to make sure that someone keeps bringing that to the forefront in professional settings.” : :
info: Want to learn more about Time Out Youth and how you can get involved? Visit their website at timeoutyouth.org or call 704-344-8335.