Laurie Pitts
File Photo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An influx of new staff members over the past several months at a local LGBT youth services agency is signaling increased growth for the organization, as it tackles school outreach, youth homelessness prevention and other programs designed to support LGBT young people.

The transition, which has brought three new staff members to Time Out Youth since last summer, also marks the end of a nearly five-year experience with the organization from outgoing youth services and programming director Laurie Pitts. Joining the organization as an intern in 2007, Pitts was later hired to work for the group in February 2009. Her last day at the organization was March 27.

In her several years at Time Out Youth, Pitts has seen the organization grow into a stable, well-networked and outspoken advocate for Charlotte’s LGBT young people. She credits some of the stability to former executive director Steve Bentley. Today’s growth, she said, can be attributed to current director Rodney Tucker.

“He has an incredible vision and isn’t afraid to go for it,” Pitts said. “We’re also in a much more stable place than we have ever been which gives us the leeway to look ahead.”

With the increase in the organization’s programming has come an increase in community support and awareness.

“Historically the [wider] community didn’t know we were here and that was sort of by design,” Pitts said. “The goal was to create a safe space for youth. We didn’t do marketing. We didn’t do outreach. We didn’t do a lot of press or get a lot of media attention. In the past four years, that’s all changed. Our name is out there more and we’re letting more people in.”

Time Out Youth’s recent school outreach efforts are just one example of the group’s initiative to widen its appeal. Recently, the group partnered with the national Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to distribute “Safe Space” kits to school counselors and officials at every public middle and high school in the metro area.

School outreach coordinator Micah Johnson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Luther College and a master’s in social work from St. Ambrose University, brings six years of experience of child welfare, substance abuse and mental health to his position. Johnson joined Time Out Youth last summer. School officials and students are responding positively to the outreach and Time Out Youth’s support of local gay-straight alliances and other high school LGBT student groups is growing.

Pitts, who pulled double duty organizing both youth programming and services, will be succeeded by two new staff people. Sarah Awlran, a Charlotte native and former YMCA of Greater Charlotte employee, joined as Time Out Youth’s director of youth services in mid-February. She received here bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and she’s currently pursuing a graduate degree in marriage and family planning at Pfeiffer Unviersity.

O’Neale Atkinson also joins the organization, coming on board as director of youth programs on April 1. Atkinson, who earned a master’s in social work from the University of South Carolina, has worked as the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte’s operations manager since June 2011 and briefly worked as qnotes’ editor in spring 2012. [Ed. Note — At press time, the LGBT Community Center was still in the process of hiring a new operations manager. Stay tuned to for more on that story.]

Both Awlran and Atkinson are excited about their futures at Time Out Youth and the organization’s recent upward trajectory.

“I’m excited to see where these changes lead us,” Awlran said.

Atkinson is most excited about increasing capacity for in-house programming and the increased school outreach.

“I’m excited to engage with staff like Micah,” Atkinson said. “The more we can do outreach in school and a have a presence in the school system, the more we are casting a wider net to engage more youth.”

Awlran said Time Out Youth’s current clients and youth members are adjusting to the changes.

“Just to see the welcome that so many of the youth have given me,” she said. “They immediately treated me like a member of the family. That says a lot on their part.”

Though the staff additions are positive steps, the accompanying transition by Pitts is somewhat bittersweet. She’s moving to Asheville with her wife and her daughter, where she’ll be a stay-at-home mom. The departure evokes a range of emotions.

“The truth is, I have two families — I have my wife and my child and I have my Time Out family,” Pitts said. “Some of these youth are just as much mine as my own kid and I love them. I can’t imagine my life without them, but I think now is the perfect time for me to leave and have someone else come in with some new blood with new ideas and new energy.” : :

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.