Affirmations, AYA Youth Collective Receive BCBSM Foundation Funds to Provide Wraparound Services to At-Risk Youth, Members of the LGBTQ+ Community

Jake Newby

| 5 min read

Inclusive community spaces that provide wraparound services and gender-affirming care for Michigan residents of all sexual orientations and gender identities are few and far between. Two of the few are working to expand their services and their footprint in their respective Michigan communities to serve as many people as they can in 2024 and beyond.
The AYA Youth Collective and the Affirmations Community Center each received $30,000 Community Health Matching grants from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation in 2023. This pair of non-profits immediately implemented impactful services that led to tangible change in their communities.
“I have a client story, of a client that came to us who was in a violent relationship, a violent marriage,” shared Executive Director Cheryl Czach. “We were able to connect them with resources to help them not only navigate divorce but find temporary housing. They were unemployed, we were able to find them employment. We were able to meet some food insecurity needs that they had for their family, they had small children. Having the capacity to reach our community in that way is something that wouldn’t have been possible before we received these funds. So, we’re incredible grateful.”

AYA Youth Collective combats homelessness, poor overall health among Kent County youth by launching telehealth micro suite

AYA’s drop-in center provides hot meals, laundry services, a computer lab, lockers for storage and more to more than 700 Kent County and West Michigan young people aged 14-24 every year.
AYA CEO and Executive Director Lauren VanKeulen is proud of the comfort provided at the drop-in center and the 90+ housed by the organization since 2012, but over the past couple of years, the organization had a drive to do more in terms of wraparound services it provided to at-risk youth, especially in terms of combatting the rise in homelessness Michigan has seen since the COVID-19 pandemic.
VanKeulen said the top three barriers youth acknowledge when attempting to access care are:
  • Fear of the system
  • A prior bad experience
  • Lack of transportation
AYA is knocking those barriers down and addressing social determinants of health by partnering with a federally qualified health center to launch a telehealth micro suite, on site in Grand Rapids.
“Through the telehealth micro suite, youth have access to behavioral health, physical health, psychiatric care and even screening for dental services,” VanKeulen said. “We offer transportation, too … this has been really powerful for young people to be able to access all of these kinds of care on site at AYA.”
BCBSM Foundation funding has also allowed AYA to bring a Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) specialist on site.
“That has been absolutely transformative,” VanKeulen said. “Prior to having Rachelle on site, we had a success rate of less than 3% success rate in enrolling youth in Medicaid or food assistance. We’d work with them to try and get the paperwork filed, but some of the barriers in place would stop them from receiving those benefits. Since Rachelle has been on site, we’ve had a 100% success rate with more than 200 young people. Which is so powerful for the youth that receive.”
Finally, AYA use funds to grow its crop of on-site therapists.
“We have additional therapists who come on site, do wellness activities, crisis interventions and other practices,” VanKeulen added. “Our goal was that over 800 youth would have access to telehealth services in a two-year span and we will well exceed that goal.”

Affirmations streamlines patient intake process, billing process in southeast Michigan to increase volume of clients treated

The Affirmations LGBTQ+ community center received so many requests for therapy services over the past few years that the organization knew it had to expand to meet the demand.
“Our waitlist for clients who wanted to see a therapist was growing. We knew we had to take action and expand the program,” Czach said of the Oakland County and southeast Michigan clients Affirmations serves.
The BCBSM Foundation’s Community Health Matching grant helped Affirmations meet its growing demand of client requests by moving its part-time health and human services (HHS) assistant into a full-time role.
“This immediately changed capacity for our therapists,” Czach said. “Prior to change, our therapists were doing all the client intake, which was a lengthy process. Having this full time HHS assistant allowed us to revamp that process, where they took on some of that client intake process. It also allowed us to look at our billing processes and our client experience.”
Since the life of the grant began for Affirmations, the organization estimates it has seen about 200 clients, a figure that puts Affirmations well ahead of its pace of clients served in 2023.
“We also were able to refine how clients interact with Affirmations and our behavioral health services,” Czach went on. “This could be anything from answering questions to navigating billing issues. It allowed us to have this hands-on, point-of-contact person besides the therapist that could offer wraparound care for our clients and help them navigate administrative processes that can sometimes be very difficult.”
Czach added Affirmations hopes to continue expanding its HHS department by potentially hiring more therapists and more telehealth therapists, to one day provide resources to clients outside of their immediate geographic location.
“We see this as an area of growth for the organization,” Czach said. “Again, we’re so grateful for the partnership with the BCBSM Foundation for helping us get to this point and we want to continue to expand these services.”
“It’s vital to support all-inclusive organizations like AYA and Affirmations that go above and beyond each year to provide resources to as many people as they possibly can,” said Audrey Harvey, executive director and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation. “We’re excited to see grant dollars translate to swift, meaningful change for the individuals in those areas who may not feel welcomed or accepted elsewhere in their communities.”
Visit the BCBSM Foundation website to learn more about the Community Health Matching Grant Program, including eligibility, proposal requirements, and more.
Photo credit: AYA and Affirmations
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