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Member Spotlight | YES Institute

on July 26, 2021 / by Riley Kaminer ,


Read Time 3 Minutes

Mission: Prevent suicide and ensure the healthy development of all youth through powerful communication and education on gender and orientation.

Launched: 1996

HQ: Miami

Website: YesInstitute.org

 

The Miami-based, non-profit YES Institute is on a mission to make the world a more inclusive place, free of youth suicide, violence, and discrimination.

When Executive Director Joseph Zolobczuk was growing up in western New York, he experienced anti-gay bullying, including before he himself was sure of his orientation. “I moved to Miami when I was 18 and sought out YES Institute for support to help me come out to my family,” Zolobczuk told Tech Hub South Florida.

Zolobczuk and Dursun

Ever since he used YES Institute’s services, Zolobczuk has given back to the organization. He initially worked as a volunteer, then as an intern, before eventually taking helm of the organization in March 2019.

YES Institute provides a range of resources to the South Florida community, all having to do with diversity and inclusion on the topics of gender and orientation. The Institute puts a particular emphasis on young peoples’ lived experiences.

Umut Dursun, YES Institute’s Executive Director of Education, explained that they “courageously encourage everyone to share authentically about their experiences” with gender and orientation. In his estimation, the process of dialogue and sharing helps to eliminate “the shame and the stigma around these topics.” 

But combatting this stigma can be an uphill battle. Dursun shared his experience transitioning from female to male after his service in the Marines, and then working as a teacher in Miami-Dade County’s public schools. “I had to deal with my own identity: do I be out and visible, which is who I am and what I’m committed to, so I can be that role model for youth and others? But also by being visible, what does that mean for my career and my trajectory and my livelihood.”

YES Institute offers bilingual English-Spanish training sessions to a wide range of corporations, including an international insurance company, a major record label, and regional healthcare systems. Zolobczuk explained that these sessions “allow us to help employees make it a more inclusive environment when it comes to gender and orientation, but also other diversity topics like racial and ethnic background and women in the workplace.” The courses also enable YES Institute to reach the parents of young people who might be grappling with some of these difficult questions about their identity.

Dursun at a Panthers game

Zolobczuk said that offering these kinds of workshops are crucial for businesses in 2021. “If you don’t have a safe workplace, you don’t have a workplace,” he said. Dursun added, “Candidates are looking for companies that are committing to inclusion, not just ticking boxes.” He explained that in today’s competitive talent market, a lack of focus on diversity and inclusion can make you lose out on top talent, ultimately affecting your business’s bottom line.

2021 marks the 25th year of operations for the YES Institute. “It means something for any company to get to 25 years. I think it’s especially impressive for a nonprofit to get to 25 years,” said Zolobczuk. “It’s very special that I got to see the birth and inception of YES Institute and now see where we are today.”

YES Institute has been involved in various initiatives at Tech Hub South Florida, including its coffee talks. The non-profit has a presence in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, and is interested in working with organizations all around South Florida. Learn more by visiting their website, YESinstitute.org.

Member Spotlight | YES Institute