Matthew Yekell, 17, of Houston, Texas, a senior at St. John's School, organized collection drives involving 19 schools last year to gather donations for a drop-in center serving LGBTQ+ youth, spruces up donated apparel that is worn or damaged, and cooks a meal once a week for homeless young people at the center. “I grew up afraid of what could happen if my parents knew I was gay,” Matthew said. But after years of being afraid to be himself, Matthew came out to his parents, who supported him. Unfortunately, not all LGBTQ youth are so lucky, he said. “Many are kicked out of their homes by their families.” Tony’s Place provides these young people with food, hot showers, laundry facilities, clothing, hygiene kits, computer access and other services. But its work was in jeopardy after Hurricane Harvey destroyed the warehouse where the facility’s donations were kept.
In October 2018, Matthew reached out to gay rights activists in schools around Houston to host donation drives for Tony’s Place. He was responsible for picking up all of the donations, cleaning and organizing them, and delivering them to Tony’s. Since some of the donated clothing was worn, stained or torn, Matthew began “revitalizing” those pieces, using donated fabrics and supplies and working with interested students to redesign them into stylish pieces. He also took it upon himself to cook a weekly dinner for Tony’s Place every Saturday. Using a $3,000 prize he won to purchase food, he and his mother feed 40-50 hungry young people every weekend; last year, they served more than 1,000 meals. In addition, he researched and posted an online resource guide for homeless youth who are not able to come to Tony’s Place.