Jessica “Jessie” Pocock was homeless at 13. She couch-surfed in unsafe places while struggling with substance abuse. At 17, she got sober, and this year she’s celebrating 20 years of sobriety.
“Along my route, I connected with trusted adults and I began to grow,” she said. “I needed to know I had a future, and they told me I did. My life became so much bigger.”
Since becoming the executive director of Inside Out Youth Services, Pocock has been committed to making sure teens and young adults have a safe space they can go and meet trustworthy people, gain skills and help launch them into the next phase of their lives.
Established in 1990, Inside Out Youth Services is a LGBTQ youth education and advocacy center that serves teens and young adults ages 13-24. It is the only nonprofit in El Paso County that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and questioning youth. It serves about 350 teens and young adults annually.
“We do everything from helping them build social, emotional coping skills to healthy relationship skills to providing a place where young people can be free to live exactly who they area and make friends and not have to put on a bunch of layers,” Pocock said. “We still live in a pretty homophobic, transphobic world but when they come here, they walk a community center where they are loved and embraced for exactly who they are — a member of the LGBTQ community.”
A Colorado Springs native, Pocock earned a degree in sociology from Colorado College and a Master of Public Administration at UCCS. Before being named executive director at Inside Out nearly three years ago, Pocock served at other nonprofits and in pro-equality initiatives, such as One Colorado’s Southern Colorado efforts to advance statewide pro-LGBTQ and equity legislation.
Pocock mentally balances her work in social justice by using poetry as a creative outlet. This year she committed to working on a manuscript. In late summer, she was accepted to the Poetry Collective at Lighthouse Writers Workshop for a yearlong intensive manuscript project.
Despite progress, Pocock said family and community rejection still exists today for LGBTQ youth. Inside Out has a therapist that works with families and the organization is committed to transforming the community to create a better world for those in the LGBTQ community.
“Inside Out cannot be the only space in Colorado Springs that is affirming of LGBTQ youth. We need a whole city that does that,” she said. “We’re working to increase connections and transform our community.”
An estimated 20-40 percent of homeless youth identify as part of the LGBTQ community, and Pocock said about one-third of the youth who visited Inside Out last year were homeless. LGBTQ youth are also three times more likely to commit suicide than non-LGBTQ youth — but having one adult who they can trust and talk to reduces that risk significantly. “By just using a young person’s preferred pronouns, you reduce suicide by 60 percent. There are really simple things you can do to show a young person that you support them,” she said.
When youth arrive at Inside Out, they are often distrustful. Pocock said it takes time to work through those barriers, but the goal at Inside Out is to empower LGBTQ youth and help them become advocates for themselves.
“The work we do here is really dynamic, but the bottom line is we’re saving lives and that is so critical to me. We have young people tell us so often, ‘I was suicidal when I got here and now I’m not,’” Pocock said. “Our goal is to save a life and help launch that life into adulthood and then into queer leadership for our world. That is what I live for. Young people come to our center, and they change, they grow, they develop, and they strengthen their lives — and it is so beautiful.”