Serving the under-served

Operation: Kid Equip founder steps in as JGN board president

by Crystal A. Proxmire

Michael Menachem Kniespeck is well known for his charitable community activity. As the founder of Operation: Kid Equip, he helps ensure that thousands of less fortunate children receive backpacks full of school supplies each year. The 36-year-old is the chief financial officer for Kids for Kicking Cancer, and also a consultant specializing in helping others develop nonprofits that address the under-served or overlooked needs through the delivery of humanitarian aid and service.

Now, he is bringing his 20 years of community service experience to the board of the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan, an organization he says "provides a safe space within the Jewish community for GLBT Jews, parents, siblings, friends, fellow congregants and allies to come together for educational programs, monthly socials and the JGN Family and Friends Group."

JGN also presents programs at local Jewish schools about sexuality awareness and bullying. "In the near future," Kniespeck added, "JGN will also be hosting a series of seminars for elderly LGBT lesbians that will address some of the key concerns for this small, but often overlooked, group within our community."

In Kniespeck's one-year term as board president, he hopes to raise awareness about the resources available through JGN - not just to Jewish Gay people, but to everyone. "All of the programs and services have been carefully developed to help anyone who walks through the door," he explained. "I want to show that anyone with a heart and mind can step forward. It doesn't matter who you are, what you believe in, or who you happen to sleep with at night. JGN is open and embraces everyone who joins in our mission and vision."

Kniespeck is no stranger to the struggles and harassment that are often experienced by people of marginalized persuasions. In the 1970s, he had a cousin who was shot to death near a gay bar in Detroit, and it is in honor of his cousin's memory that he has taken on his role within JGN.

Kniespeck was also physically and emotionally abused as a child under the suspicion that he might be gay. "No matter if someone is gay, or is perceived as gay, these are not struggles from a different time period," he said. "They still happen today, especially within some of the tighter ethnic and religious groups within our communities."

Rather than settling for the negativity he experience, Kniespeck has taken on a new mission to get people to see LGBT issues as human issues, and the connections between violence and family. "Even in some parts of the Jewish community, these negative situations can be the springboard for positive work and change," he said. "Many people don't know we're here to support them, and we are working to increase that awareness through programs and services."

For more information on Jewish Gay Network, visit http://www.jgnmi.org.

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