by Megan Hageman
Noah Kling is determined to give LGBTQ+ students something he lacked growing up: hope.
Kling spent his childhood suppressing his sexuality and enduring negative treatment–and eventually rejection–from his conservative Christian family and community. He struggled to find acceptance and his place in the world, leading to an early life littered with alcohol and other drugs, homelessness, and multiple suicide attempts.
In his late 20’s, something changed for Kling. He enrolled in a two-year college and threw himself into volunteering with an organization assisting youth living with HIV. Inspired by this work and determined to save others from following his path, Kling founded Proud Scholars, an organization dedicated to providing educational services and scholarships to LGBTQ+ students across Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.
The Buckeye Flame connected with Kling to discuss Proud Scholars’ full range of services, the greatest needs for LGBT students, and the importance of this work.
What services does Proud Scholars offer?
From an organizational standpoint, we offer scholarships to LGBT youth and families. We have our volunteer program that helps them repay their student loans – they give the community hours and we make payments to Navient or Sallie Mae. We have social networks for faith, for business, we started our youth program this year, and it’s all designed to help parents and youth understand there are people out here that can help them.
We’ve also partnered with the homeless shelter here because they have an LGBT youth program. We are a stepping-stone to help these youth first recognize there is hope. And secondly, to help them utilize the resources that will help them get into school, get the resources they need to manage their education, and eventually get on a path of self-sustainability where they can have a life. Their lives have value, they can find careers and jobs, and it turns into a success story.
What do you offer for younger students?
At first we were just focusing on 17-24 year old students. But, then we started getting parents coming to us saying things like, “My child is 8-years old and he’s gender fluid and he’s having problems with teachers, educators, and kids at school. What do we do?”
They had enough of a voice where we decided to launch our youth program designed specifically to help them. We collect school supplies, plan youth events that allow them just to be themselves, and we give them social support. So, at this point we are focusing on 5-24. But, at the same time we launched our youth program we also launched our adult education program. If you’re 25 and above and going back to school, we have a scholarship fund for that as well.
In the areas you serve, what are the greatest needs for LGBTQ+ students?
It’s all over the board. We have some students that just need the money for their tuition. We’ve had some students who are living in their cars and trying to go to school. We have some students that have their tuition covered and have their meal plans, but their housing is too unstable and they need help with that. Every situation is different.
During COVID-19, how have your services changed?
What we’re doing with the youth program is we have collected all the school supplies and we’re going to build packs to send to their house. So that way, regardless of whether they are in school, out of school, on laptops or iPads, they can still get the supplies they need.
I think every organization right now is going through a learning phase with the quarantine. We’re just trying to figure out our new norm with funding and fundraising and recruiting volunteers to help with the board and such.
Why do you believe this work is so important for these students?
It’s important because I was there. I lived the experiences. The decisions I had to make when my family turned their back on me because I left the faith were preventable. Everything in my life was preventable. At 12 years old I didn’t need to be suicidal. When I was 23 I didn’t need to be homeless. With enough social support, my hope is that we can reach these kids to show them the assistance is out there and it doesn’t need to be as poorly constructed as my life.
- Support Proud Scholars through donations or by volunteering for the organization’s board or local chapters through their website.
- Learn more about the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth by reading the GLSEN’s School Climate Survey.
Megan Hageman is a Columbus, Ohio-based freelance writer working within the field of social media and content marketing. Her writing ranges from articles on non-profits to advice for working women and California weddings. Learn more at https://www.meganhageman.com/.