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Stoneleigh Fellow Kee Tobar’s work in LGBTQ youth homelessness is personal

Kee Tobar. May 23, 2018 Category: FeaturedLongPeopleQ&A
Oftentimes, the professional is personal. Such is the case with Kee Tobar.

Tobar is an attorney and fellow with the Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellowship, which places post-grad professionals with Philadelphia organizations focused on juvenile justice, child welfare, education and health for the purpose of improving postsecondary outcomes for those org’s young clients.

She’s one of five 2017-2019 Stoneleigh Fellows, a group that includes Seth Morones-Ramírez (The Field Center), Rashni Stanford (People’s Emergency Center) and Lizzy Wingfield (Education Law Center).

A self-identified queer, Black, gender-variant woman currently working with homeless and LGBTQ youth in Community Legal Services of Philadelphia’s (CLS) Youth Justice Project as part of her fellowship, Tobar also led the Juvenile Justice Working Group for Philadelphia’s 100-Day Homelessness Challenge and helped launch the Legal Center for Youth Justice and Education.

We asked Tobar to tell us more about her work. Here’s what she had to say about the unique struggles of LGBTQ youth, her continuing goals for the next year and her tips for navigating relationships within coalitions.

Tobar’s responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

From our Partners


Can you describe your work with the Youth Justice Project?

My project at CLS is centered on leveraging civil legal services advocacy, i.e expungements, as well as SSI, SNAP, TANF and WIC benefits advocacy, to reduce and prevent youth and young adult homelessness, specifically for transition-age, system-involved and LGB/GNCT+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual/gender non-conforming trans+] youth.

I also use my direct service advocacy to influence and make recommendations for systems and policy change.

Why did you decide to be a part of the Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellowship?

Stoneleigh offered me a unique opportunity to work on an issue with populations that I’m extremely passionate about: LGB/GNCT+ and system-involved homeless youth. The amount of organizational support, mentorship, and training you receive as a Stoneleigh [Fellow] is remarkable and I feel very lucky to be Stoneleigh Fellow.

How did you get interested in providing legal services for young people experiencing homelessness?

This particular demographic unfortunately interfaces with a variety of systems by proxy of being a vulnerable population and thus have variety of legal needs. I truly believe that connecting these youth to civil legal services early on can serve as a powerful prevention mechanism and can really reduce negative outcomes for this population.

Youth justice and policy has been my focus since my second year of law school and especially since becoming a practicing attorney. I am invested in this particular area because as a queer, Black, gender-variant woman from a working class background, there were so many obstacles and opportunities for me growing up to end up in many of the situations the youth I serve find themselves in today.

I do this work simply to see mirrors of myself, in the queer and poor youth that I serve, not only survive but also thrive. I’m convinced serving this population is my personal purpose.

What are some challenges that you have faced while working with the Youth Justice Project and the youth that the org serves?

Challenges of the job include the transient and unpredictable nature of a youth’s schedule and life. Being a holistic practice and being youth-friendly means being flexible in a way that many legal aid organizations have not traditionally practiced.

I’m excited, as part of my project to address that very issue, in creating best practices for organizations like legal services organizations to become more youth-friendly, with hopes that we can leverage our expertise and services in partnership with youth, in a way that can really positively affect a young person’s life.

What is your involvement in launching the Legal Center for Youth Justice and Education? What are some goals for it?

I worked on launching the Legal Center as an attorney at Juvenile Law Center before my stint at CLS. One of the goals includes providing information, in the form of other state’s examples and best practices, for stakeholders interested in securing a better education for justice system-involved youth.

You led the Juvenile Justice Working Group for Philadelphia’s 100-Day Homelessness Challenge. What did you learn from that? What were some goals? What were the results?

I learned the power of systems and organization collaboration in securing better outcomes for our youth. When we can work together and agree on a plan of action, we can get a lot done.

One of our goals was to get more emergency beds for youth and we were able to do that. Another of our goals was to bring prevention ideas to the conversation and we successfully did so, and was able to get the conversation and consequentially actions, going in the right direction for system-involved youth. Getting funding for the position of a youth community navigator and bringing more youth voice to policy was also a great accomplishment.

It seems like they’ve done work on a lot of coalitions. What are some tips that you can provide for those navigating the relationships?

I’ve learned a lot from being able to be a part of great coalitions. I’ve learned the power of listening in finding solutions. Being an active listener is extremely important in finding the gaps and thus creating solutions.

I’ve also learned the power of systems collaboration. Young people do not live siloed lives, so it is important that systems do not practice in a siloed way. Different systems and different advocates must stay in constant communication with each other, if we really desire to efficiently and successfully help young people.

Lastly, it’s important to be informed and to understand how each external partner organization and system works in order to facilitate realistic goals and progress.

Psst, the Stoneleigh Foundation is hosting info sessions for nonprofits interested in applying to host an Emerging Leader Fellow in 2019-2021 on June 18 and July 19. Learn more here.

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