Marcus Handy, a 33-year-old Houston native, has always felt a special calling to take care of others who are facing hardships. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, the dedicated community volunteer even returned home right after graduating from college to assist her.
He stepped up again to serve local LGBTQ youth after the Pulse nightclub massacre. “It hurt me to my core because I could see myself in their position, with the bars and clubs I go to in Houston,” Handy says, recalling the 2016 shooting. Fifty-three people were wounded and 49 people were killed at the Orlando Latinx gay club. “After that, I was really inspired to do something with the community.”
For the last four years, Handy has volunteered at Montrose Grace Place (MGP), a local LGBTQ-affirming nonprofit that provides homeless youth ages 13–24 with food, supplies, and healthy relationships during their Monday and Thursday Youth Night gatherings (6 p.m. at Kindred, 2515 Waugh Drive).
At least 25 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, according to a 2015 study by Houston researchers. About 50 percent of MGP’s clientele are LGBTQ.
At MGP, Handy’s duties include mentoring, interacting, and giving out essential resources to the youth. He also makes sure that they are fed and feel safe enough to talk about their experiences. “They talk about what they’re going through, and sometimes it can be a lot to emotionally take on,” Handy admits. “But I’m happy to offer them support and mentorship, and hopefully brighten their day.”
Traditionally, Youth Night features a family-style meal and activities. But due to the COVID-19 safety precautions, MGP can only hand out to-go meals and other resources on Monday and Thursday nights. While Handy misses the extensive heart-to-hearts he used to have during Youth Night meals, he still shows up twice each month to greet the youth with a friendly (masked) face.
“Even if it’s not what they’re used to, the short interactions mean a lot for the youth,” Handy says. “It’s still important to recognize that any kind of interaction with a familiar face that has been supportive of you is better than not having it at all.”
MGP Executive Director Courtney Sellers describes Handy as a funny, kind, and caring volunteer who shows up for the youth no matter what. “He always makes it a priority to make it to Youth Night. [It’s easy to see] how much he cares for the youth.” According to Sellers, Handy was also instrumental in developing MGP’s annual gingerbread house competition, which is now the nonprofit’s largest fundraising event.
This year’s gingerbread decorating contest is happening online. Individuals can enter the competition by buying a ticket and their own gingerbread house to decorate by December 6, with participants submitting photos of their decorated houses to MGP by December 7. Guest judges will look over the decorated houses and announce the winners via Zoom on December 12. To raise additional funds, a virtual silent auction featuring donated items from local businesses will happen alongside the gingerbread house competition.
Handy says volunteering at MGP has been both a humbling and fulfilling experience. When he started at MGP, he was working at a stressful and thankless job that took a mental and physical toll on him. Connecting with the youth at MGP helped him focus on finding a purpose bigger than himself. MGP showed him that there was more to life, and that he deserved to do what made him and others happy.
“Everybody strives to find the thing that makes them feel whole and good about the energy they’re putting into the world. Volunteering at MGP gave me that,” he says. “MGP gave me the confidence to believe in myself.”
And according to Nick Wolny, Handy’s boyfriend of over four years, Handy has had as big of an impact on MGP as the organization has had on him. Wolny describes the MGP volunteer and board member as committed, loving, and capable of inspiring others through his passion.
“People turn up and get excited about MGP year after year because of Marcus,” Wolny says. “We have friends who actually became volunteers at Grace Place not because he asked them to, but because he shared his experiences at MGP. I feel like he’s [played a big part in MGP’s growth], and it comes from people being attracted to his energy and his positive light.”
Handy graduated from Texas A&M University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a focus in marketing. He has volunteered for the Montrose Center, Habitat for Humanity, and United Way. When he’s not volunteering with MGP, Handy works as a supply-chain manager at BH Cosmetics. He’s also a thrill-seeker who loves roller coasters, the outdoors, and drag shows.
His love of adventure is as strong as his passion for taking care of folks, especially in this time of crisis. “Now more than ever, people need to really care about each other, whether it’s through volunteering or donating time and money to causes they’re passionate about,” Handy says. “It’s important to champion something bigger than ourselves, no matter how large or small the contribution may seem.”
For more information on the Montrose Grace Place, visit montrosegraceplace.org.
This article appears in the December 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.