New non-profit to serve Thanksgiving dinner to homeless LGBT youth

By Jason A. Michael

DETROIT - Mike Matthews, Jr. is a man on a mission. At 24, he's now the CEO and founder of his own non-profit organization, the Red Tie for Youth Foundation. The agency received its 501c3 status in April.

"I've been working in the HIV prevention world for about five years now and there are some great organizations that are really making a difference," Matthews said. "But I saw some things that are lacking and I'm really just trying to fill a void. That's why I created Red Tie for Youth, to help other organizations reach their potential and to cater to high risk communities that aren't being served."

Matthews began fashioning the Red Tie brand in 2008, when he planned the first Red Tie Affair, a fundraiser that benefitted Mpowerment Detroit.

"The Red Tie Affair was all about encouraging people to talk to their kids about HIV prevention," Matthews explained. "The response from the corporate world was so great that I thought that this initiative was necessary and I wanted to do more."

Matthews produced the event for two years and over the course of that time convinced a great number of local celebrities to pose for the promotional campaign wearing a red tie, including gospel singer Vicki Winans, businesswoman Denise Illitch and newscaster turned politician Charles Pugh.

The success of the campaign encouraged Matthews to take Red Tie to the next level and incorporate the name as a non-profit. Red Tie's newest initiative is Food For Love. Through a partnership with Kaleidoscope Catering and Mpowerment Detroit, along with the financial assistance of corporate sponsor Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan, Red Tie will be serving Thanksgiving Dinner to homeless LGBT youth between the ages of 13-25.

"I've been a part of the executive board for Young Brothers United for over five years and I remember a conversation that we had with one of the young guys who used to come down," said Matthews. "He was homeless and living with a lover, and I just remember the situation that he was in, having to be always in a relationship and having to sleep with this person for a place to stay. Situations like those are in direct relation to how people contract HIV.

You get into situations where you don't really have sexual control so you make decisions that really affect your health. So Food For Love is a way for me to reach out to teens who are homeless or living in youth homes and get them access to great organizations like the Ruth Ellis Center and Mpowerment Detroit. And I thought providing a meal would be a great way to pull them in and let them know how and where to get help."

The meal will be served at Mpowerment Detroit's headquarters, located in Greektown at 743 Beaubien St., Suite 400, from noon to 5 p.m. Other groups and non-profits can order meals from the program though and distribute them elsewhere if they wish.

"We're encouraging churches and other non-profits to place orders with us so they can host their own meal program," said Matthews. "They're able to come in and pick up how ever many meals that they need to so they can distribute meals to the youth in their communities."

Red Tie will be taking orders through Wednesday, Nov. 24, and can be reached at 313-914-8012. Matthews plans to repeat the program again on Christmas day, and this campaign marks just the first in a series of new events he plans to roll out.

"Project Heal is a program that I really want to work on next, providing free therapy sessions for teens who are newly diagnosed with HIV," he said. "Then Reach Touch Change community outreach. That's something that's already done within other organizations but I want to touch places that don't have outreach workers. We want to continue the Red Tie Affair, because that's our way to reach parents. Lastly is our Roadmap To Health, which provides community referral services."

Matthews is busy filling out grant applications to fund additional programs, and he seems to have a knack for grabbing corporate sponsorships. It's a safe bet that the Red Tie for Youth Foundation will be on the local radar for some time to come.

So why, when Matthews could be doing anything with his life, did he decide to take on this mission and commit to doing this work full time?

"I just felt like it was my responsibility to do it," he said. "HIV is ravishing not only my community, but communities everywhere. So I'm just trying to do my part. I'm passionate about helping to stop this epidemic."

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