Prizm News / April 1, 2018 / By Kayla Beard
Proud Scholars eyes expansion into Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Akron and beyond.
By Kayla Beard
Noah Kling, like too many LGBTQ people, remembers what it was like to be abandoned.
“When I came out to my parents, I was cut off, essentially. They locked the door behind me,” he says.
Kling now works to support LGBTQ youth when they need it the most. He’s the founder and chief executive officer of Proud Scholars, a Cincinnati-based group that works to mentor young people as they explore potential careers, connect them with internships and social services, and offer scholarships as they pursuetheir education.
“Whether it’s dealing with their families (or) everyday bullies,” paying for school or finding a job after graduation, Kling says, Proud Scholars aims to support students in as many ways as possible.
The nonprofit founded in 2015 has awarded three scholarship awards since its founding and also offers a program though which students can earn money to pay off loan debt in return for volunteer hours.
Kling grew up in a conservative Christian environment and says he never felt comfortable at home.
“The weight of recognizing who I am and being taught the Bible…at 10 years old, that was too much for me to put on myself. My first attempt at suicide was 12 years old. I knew that I wasn’t in a safe place.”
He had to figure out a lot of things for himself after being cut off from his parents at 23. Like many young people, he says he didn’t know what to do. He managed to avoid homelessness by selling personal belongings and moving between temporary living arrangements, but he struggled with alcohol addiction for a while.
“By the time I was able to stabilize myself, I was 27, 28 years old,” Kling says. By then, he was too old for scholarships to pay for college, and he didn’t know who might be able to teach him how to function on his own.
With Proud Scholars, Kling says his goal is to prevent the same things from happening to other LGBTQ youth. In addition to its scholarships, mentorship and volunteer programs, other programs the organization offers and is developing include:
• A network of inclusive schools to help LGBTQ students and, especially, their guardians make sure they’re choosing schools where LGBTQ students are safe and accepted.
• An interfaith network to help young people with spiritual needs, something Kling says is “really important for me because I’m coming from a religious background where there isn’t any acceptance at all.”
• An archive for LGBTQ history and a “white paper library” with materials submitted by people within the LGBTQ community explaining things like conversion therapy and other experiences we’re still dealing with.
“We can tell people, ‘This is what it’s like to live in this community,’” he says, adding that the goal is to teach straight parents what they can do to help their LGBTQ children.
So far, Kling says, operating the nonprofit hasn’t been easy.
“With a lot of our programs, we are in uncharted waters because nobody has ever done it before. We recognize that there are things that we just don’t know.”
Still, he has big goals. Proud Scholars is working to recruit chapter teams in other cities such as Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland and Akron; Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Evansville, Ind.; and Louisville and Lexington, Ky.
The organization recently applied for a grant award that would allow Proud Scholars to have up to 30 people in its volunteer-based scholarship program, but Kling says he’ll be happy if enrollment reaches even 10 people by the end of the year.
“Slow and steady gets us there,” he says.
Proud Scholars boasts a mission to support LGBTQ students and their families. When Kling speaks about it, however, he does so with an urgency that makes the matter much more personal.
“From my perspective…I was in some really bad places,” he says. “I know that kids are in those places today. We have to reach them. We have to let them know that there are people who are there (who understand), even if they don’t see us.”
“We have kids dropped off at the homeless shelter on their 18th birthday. It’s not something that happens once a year. It’s something that happens once a month. … That’s why I think that our mission is critical.”
Kayla Beard is a journalist in Athens whose work has appeared in publications that include The Columbus Dispatch and Dayton Daily News. She’s a graduate of Ohio University.