Beth Panilaitis, 29 

Executive Director, ROSMY

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST

Beth Panilaitis looks at her job as a calling. "I feel privileged to be part of the solution and lifeline to LGBTQ youth in Richmond," she says, referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth her organization supports.

In the two years that Panilaitis has served as its executive director, Rosmy has significantly expanded the number of programs aimed at supporting sexual minority youth despite budget limitations, including the creation of a junior board that leverages young professionals in the community for outreach.

Just because there's an economic downturn doesn't mean needs go away," Panilaitis says. "You have to be creative." Under her leadership, Rosmy's dedicated volunteer base addresses the emerging needs of a population that has doubled in recent years.

Kids are coming out at younger ages, Panilaitis says. As a result, the organization has created programs specifically for 12- and 13-year-olds, a need the group didn't see 10 years ago. "We've gotten an increasing number of calls from parents and students who are looking for resources," Panilaitis says. "For us to truly address our mission and live into it, we need to create new programs and be innovative. If not, we're not serving the youth."

In addition to providing a 24-hour support hotline and drop in hours for crisis intervention for those who might be contemplating self-harm, Rosmy leads Institute for Equality training for human service providers and school staffers, something Panilaitis believes is critical these days.

"I don't want Rosmy to be the only safe place in Richmond for these youth to come to be safe," she says. "Schools are where the vast majority of these youth are experiencing bullying," — a problem that requires training to address those unique situations.

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