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Studio 54 Is Out for Education

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Annual fundraising gala for LGBT scholarship program at Warehouse Live
by Bradley Donalson
Photo by Julie Soefer

Out for Education, Houston’s LGBT youth scholarship organization, is turning back the clock and transporting everyone to the late 1970s with a “Studio 54” theme for its annual gala. President Bryan Cotton has promised that this year’s gala will be “the biggest and baddest we’ve ever thrown,” complete with a three- or four-foot mirrored disco ball.

The gala isn’t just going to be a great party; it’s going to be a great party for a great cause. Out for Education (formerly known as the PFLAG/H.A.T.C.H Youth Scholarship Foundation) is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing educational scholarships to Houston’s LGBT youth. It is one of the most successful LGBT scholarship-granting foundations in the country, having awarded over 350 scholarships totaling $1.5 million since its inception in 1998.

If you want a better idea about how much the organization is dedicated to the students, you only have to speak with Cotton or the organization’s vice president, Lisa Hopkins. Cotton took over the presidency of the organization this past August, and Hopkins was made VP shortly thereafter. Their dedication to the organization and the good works they do is positively infectious. This vibrant and amazing duo functions like two halves of the same mind—a mind totally focused on making life better for the students they serve. Don’t get them started if you aren’t prepared to be treated to stories about how scholarship recipients have come to them (or one of the other members of the board) with their thanks and heartfelt stories about how the people in the organization were the first to expect excellence from them, how the foundation has helped them feel like they belong to something bigger, or how donors are helping LGBT kids complete their college education. While Out for Education is mainly a scholarship organization, there is also a large mentoring aspect involved. The foundation is structured to build relationships with the recipients and provide them with a support structure they may not have had before.

Out for Education also gives donors a chance to get to know the scholarship recipients by chatting with them at events like the annual gala. When asked what donors could expect to take away from the night, Cotton says, “I want them to know where their money goes and to see who they’re supporting. I want them to meet the kids whose lives they are changing.” “That is absolutely true,” Hopkins agrees. “We can throw a great party, but what we want donors to take away is that ‘I had a great time and I got to meet the kid I’m going to help.’”

And Out for Education has a positive effect on more than just the students. Some of the recipients come from homes whose only exposure to the LGBT community is what they see at Pride parades. Many parents who attend this event are seeing the professional side of the LGBT world for the first time. It’s a chance to break stereotypes.

The gala is one of Out for Education’s biggest fundraisers, and the amount of money the organization has raised has been growing steadily. Last year’s “Art Pop” gala broke the $50,000 mark, and this year is already shaping up to be a record-breaking year. Cotton and Hopkins are hoping to raise at least $50,000 with “Studio 54,” and they’re quick to point out that “more is always better.”

This year, Out for Education will be honoring Gary Wood and Bryant Johnson for their work with the community. Wood and Johnson are president and vice president of OutReach United, an organization dedicated to focusing on the wellness of the whole person, connecting issues at both the global and local levels, and supporting organizations that are in line with that vision. According to Cotton, Out for Education prefers to honor people “who get their hands dirty and affect change.” Hopkins points out that Wood and Johnson “have done so much for the community as a whole—not just Out for Education—publicly and privately.” Also being recognized this year is honorary co-chair Terry Hamman. Cotton and Hopkins laud Hamman’s involvement, saying that he has been involved in education and supported Out for Education every step of the way.

The leadership at Out for Education—including new blood and “major power player” board secretary Sallie Woodell and former-recipients-turned-board-members Juan Lerma and Jordan Mills—invites you to break out the sequins, fluff up the hair, and enjoy diva-themed cocktails (including “Flaming Travolta” shots!) at their Studio 54 gala.

What: Out for Education “Studio 54” gala
When: April 17, 8 p.m.
Where: Warehouse Live, 813 Saint Emanuel Street
Tickets: outforeducation.org/tickets.

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Bradley Donalson

Bradley Donalson is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.
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