U of A’s Fyrefly Institute making a difference in the 2SLGBTQ+ community

Support from the United Way helps create a safe place for young people.

Fyrefly Institute at U of A pride parade on campus.

More than 40 per cent of young people in Edmonton who are experiencing homelessness are part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, according to Homeward Trust, an organization dedicated to ending homelessness in the city. 

“The issue is that 40 per cent of resources don’t go to them,” says Evan Westfal, program manager at the U of A’s Fyrefly Institute for Gender and Sexual Diversity. “A lot of youth we see have fallen through the cracks.”

Fyrefly is working to fill that gap through the Community, Health, Empowerment and Wellness (CHEW) Project, with help from collaborators like the United Way. 

CHEW staff help support young people through difficult situations including homelessness, food insecurity and lack of access to mental health support and other resources. The United Way supports CHEW programs such as the Family Resilience Project, which offers free counselling to queer and trans youth. This year, that program has provided more than 90 hours of counselling to more than 20 individuals. Almost all the funding was provided through the United Way. 

Through creating pathways for youth to succeed, the CHEW project has become more than just a place to go.

“To me, CHEW means family,” says Dominika, a CHEW Project participant. “An inspirational family that everyone should have. It’s a loving, caring place you can call home, with different people from different walks of life and backgrounds coming together making a big family. And it’s a safe place and that makes it even better.” 

In addition to the work being done through the CHEW Project, the Fyrefly Institute hosts other programming including educational outreach and conferences, Indigenous-based programming and summer camps. In the last year, the institute has reached more than 7,000 people, including more than 2,600 teachers and others who work with young people. 

​​"The partnership between the United Way and the Fyrefly Institute is an important example of how powerful collaboration can be,” says Chancellor Peggy Garritty, honorary chair of this year's United Way campaign committee. “When we give back to our communities, we are uplifting individuals who will go on to become the next generation of leaders and problem solvers.”

While numbers and stats help quantify the impact of the Fyrefly Institute, they’re not what matters most. 

“One of the most important things for our youth is just being able to be happy and envision a more hopeful future,” says Westfal. “And our collaboration with the United Way provides us that opportunity.”

The U of A's annual United Way fundraising campaign is running until the end of the year. Consider giving today.

The University of Alberta is committed to the safety, health and well-being of our faculty, staff and students. Every day, we advance this commitment to safety through the Culture of Care.