Although she only joined Housing Works last spring, Kate Franza is likely to become one of Housing Works’ most celebrated staff members. A number of clients have sang her praises, from her dedication to helping others beyond office hours to her no-nonsense approach to running the Transgender Evening Program (TEP).
Since Kate begun facilitating TEP in 2012, the program had its highest number of attendees ever, and she is hoping to send at least 10 TEP attendees to the 2013 Philadelphia Trans-Health conference this year.
When we sat down this last January at Think Coffee in the West Village, I remembered that Kate is probably best described in one word: stunning. She quietly commands a room, which has undoubtedly served her well, as she can run up to 14 groups per week at West 13th Street. Although she is reluctant to state her accomplishments, within minutes it became very evident that she is just on the precipice of her professional career.
We sat down to discuss her professional passions, what inspires her, and the true power of a hot meal.
-Sunny Bjerk, Housing Works’ Communications Manager
Sunny Bjerk: Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us what you do at Housing Works and how long you’ve been working with us?
Kate Franza: I’ve been at Housing Works since June 2012, and work as a case manager in the Adult Day Health Care at West 13th Street. I also facilitate groups, such as cognitive therapy, relapse programs, self-parenting courses, as well as the Transgender Evening Program.
SB: How did you first hear about Housing Works?
KF: Well, in college I was a member of the National Association of Social Workers’ LGBT group and was super involved in the NY chapter, which was particularly focused on LGBT rights and services. Through the NY NASW chapter, I learned about the opening at Housing Works and after learning more about the organization, I immediately applied and here I am!
SB: Did you always know that you wanted to be a social worker?
KF: Well, I have always been passionate about gender and sexuality issues, whether that be studying human development at the University of Rhode Island or advocating for the rights of the LGBT community. And as a bisexual woman, I think one of the best things you can do for someone dealing with LGBT issues is to help them see that they aren’t alone or experiencing these challenges in isolation. And, I guess wanting to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives always made me think that becoming a social worker would be the right fit for me.
SB: I know your Transgender Evening Program attendees are so fond of you; I’ve heard them sing your praises as far and wide. Can you tell us a little bit about TEP?
KF: Aw, they are so sweet and I love working with them. The Transgender Evening Program is a weekly group that occurs every Wednesday and Friday night at Housing Works’ West 13th street location from 3:30-5:30pm. Anyone can come to TEP, regardless if they are HIV-positive or aren’t a Housing Works’ client, as long as they identify as transgender. There’s no commitment, but I think people keep coming back because it empowers people to talk openly about their concerns and be heard by like-minded people. At TEP people can receive referrals, supportive services, or just come for a hot meal and clothes.
KF: Yes, you’d be surprised. Transgender women often don’t even have the clothes of the gender of which they identify to go to the doctor or to receive services, so clothing donations help them live their lives as their chosen gender. Additionally some TEP members are homeless and staying in shelters, so every bit of clothing helps.
SB: Can you give us an example of how you’ve seen TEP improve lives?
KF: Well since I’ve been here, I’ve seen three people obtain housing through TEP’s services. One attendee who is HIV+ and who began to come to TEP and has since gone onto to ADHC and has been sober for three months now. I think TEP gave her the structure and foundation to adhere to a healthcare plan and the self-empowerment that comes with knowing that there are people out there rooting for her.
SB: Do any TEP attendees participate in GENDA advocacy?
KF: Yes, a lot in fact. Some of the TEP clients are active members of the NY State trans rights coalition, and our clients have worked on writing their personal stories of discrimination in an effort to work towards passing GENDA.
The TEP folks are also encouraged to attend Housing Works’ bi-weekly GENDA advocacy meetings, which prepare them for the trips to Albany where they can meet with NY state legislators.
SB: Does TEP ever run any offsite events?
KF: Yes! Right now we’re fundraising to go to the Transgender Health Conference in Philadelphia this June. We need to raise at least $1,000 for everyone’s bus fare and food, and we hope to take around 10 people.
SB: How do you think Housing Works’ TEP program differs from other transgender community programs in the city?
KF: Well, TEP offers a hot meal, and the purpose of the hot meal isn’t just to eat but to create a sit-down, family-style meal so our attendees feel like they are nourishing their bodies as well as their relationships.
They all take turns preparing, cooking, serving, and then cleaning up, and I think they really enjoy it. Over the meal, they get to know each other better and really come together as a family.
SB: What advice would you give to someone who may be nervous about coming to the Transgender Evening Program for the first time?
KF: Well I’ve had a lot of regular attendees who were initially nervous about coming to the group, so I think this is pretty common. I would suggest to anyone interested that they call or email me first so I can answer any questions or hesitations that they may have, or come meet the group beforehand to see if it might be a good fit. We want people to know that everyone is welcomed.
You can learn more about Housing Works’ Transgender Evening Program by emailing Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to learn more about Housing Works’ GENDA advocacy group, please email NYS Director of Advocacy and Policy Carmelita Cruz at email@example.com comments powered by Disqus