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Together 2021: Mandy Lussier

In 2021, Legacy Place is again recognizing inspirational people through its annual TogetHER event. This year it selected heroes nominated by individuals in the broader community.

TogetHER 2021 received dozens of inspiring nominations for educators, philanthropists, essential workers, businesswomen, community leaders, entrepreneurs, and activists. From these earnest nominations and compelling stories, the Legacy Place team chose five fascinating people for the recognition.

Legacy Place hopes that TogetHER the community will celebrate all the people who positively impact our individual lives and our region, including Mandy Lussier, the Program Site Manager for Youth on Fire. Located in Harvard Square, Youth on Fire is a program of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and serves as a drop-in center for homeless and street-involved youth.

While pursuing a degree in psychology at University of Massachusetts Boston, Mandy Lussier attended a Pride parade. Little did Lussier realize a button thrown from a float that day would lead to a long career as an advocate and counselor for homeless youth with the organization the button represented. Working full time while going to school full time is hard for anyone, and Lussier thought it would be more fulfilling if they were doing work that was also meaningful. After volunteering at the organization the button represented, the staff’ and members’ transparent and honest conversations about sexual health and drug abuse—as well as its overall judgement-free approach—Lussier believed Youth on Fire was an agency they could get behind.

Youth on Fire services youth ages 14 to 24. It employs youth development models, harm reduction, and works with homelessness and those who are unstably housed. The needs of the people seeking help from the organization vary greatly. Programming ranges from providing a place to have a hot shower and a meal or a mailing address (at which to receive important documents) to supporting a member who is navigating public services, transportation challenges, job applications, the interview process, and/or medical or mental health needs.

In 2016 Lussier moved from full time case management at YoF to managing the center overall. This includes programming the center (both virtually and onsite) with social and support-related opportunities, such as a queer coffee hour, groups dedicated to drug use and abuse, hosting game nights and discussion groups. It also includes the day-to-day running of the operation, which employs only four people and yet manages to service hundreds of kids each year. Lussier dreams of a day when YoF can allocate more time to each client or be open more days or hours to help more homeless youth. Public speaking engagements, advocating for homeless youth, street outreach, bringing members to panel discussions, and collaborating with other non-profit organizations are other tools Lussier and her team employ to keep grants and donations coming to the center. But there’s always more need.

“The thing that is most misunderstood,” explains Lussier, “is the belief that people chose this life. I’ve heard folks suggest that the homeless shouldn’t be on the street begging, or that they could “just get a job.” How would you do that without even having a phone number or address? How will you keep your uniform clean? How will you wake up on time for work? When you go to a job interview, where will you safely store the massive suitcase or backpack that holds all your worldly possession? How do you get a paycheck deposited without a bank account?

“People think if they donate money that the homeless will just spend the money on drugs or alcohol and supporting their ongoing trauma. There are plenty of Youth on Fire members who are homeless but who also go work and school each day, or whom have multiple jobs. The hardworking and employed person readying your room at a hotel or serving you coffee can be homeless.”

Make a donation to Youth on Fire here.

Fun Facts about Mandy Lussier

Hobbies: Being outdoors hiking in the woods or near the water.

Pet: Mouse, a Chihuahua who loves to “hike his butt off”

Favorite Quote: “In a society that profits from self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.”—Carolyn Caldwell

Inspiration: Partner Robyn, as well as humor and joy.

Favorite word: Queer. As in a political statement, an identity, and as an inclusive term for the LGBTQAI community.