(WM) ALSO Youth’s work to support the LGBT community has officially expanded into Manatee County, allowing them to reach more LGBT youth than ever before.

The organization plans to open its renovated Bradenton location with an outdoor event Jan. 23 in the former home of Prism Youth Initiative. The two LGBT-focused nonprofits finalized their merger late last year.

The union was ideal, representatives shared with Watermark ahead of time. ALSO Youth has focused on advocacy, leadership, support and outreach for LGBT youth since 1992 — while Prism began its likeminded work to empower LGBT youth in Manatee County in 2010, most notably through its annual Manatee Pride celebration.

The organizations originally intended to announce their merger at the festival’s seventh outing last March. It was ultimately canceled in response to COVID-19, which also forced each group to suspend in-person offerings for most of 2020.

The pandemic didn’t halt progress; ALSO Youth Executive Director James Robinson joined the organization in April and planning for the expansion of services continued. Programming was held virtually while he and the board moved forward with the merger, finalizing details in September.

Despite the year’s many challenges, he says “ALSO Youth did relatively well during COVID.” Robinson credits “the tremendous community support for the organization” and the dedication of its growing board and staff.

“We’re in a really good place,” he says. “We have the team to support the work that we need to do and we’re expanding.”

Ahead of reopening the Bradenton location, which has received financial support from organizations like Project Pride SRQ, ALSO Youth has resumed in-person programming at its Sarasota headquarters. Robinson says they’re able to do so safely in both locales thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

“They’re paying for a cleaning company to come in every other week to sanitize,” he says, “and for a lot of the masks, hand sanitizer and thermometers. Both of these spaces are ready to reopen in a COVID world.”

In addition to maintaining regular programming, ALSO Youth will also assume stewardship of Manatee Pride. As “the celebration traditionally financed Prism,” Robinson says, “that will continue. Whatever income is generated will continue to serve young people in Manatee County.”

He adds that the festival is likely to return in 2021 but won’t be held in its traditional month of March. Like the organization’s other critical fundraisers — including the ALSO Youth Turkey Trot and ALSO Prom — details remain uncertain as COVID-19 continues to impact Florida.

In the interim, ALSO Youth is focusing on supporting the LGBT community and its allies however it can. In-person activities are scheduled throughout January, complementing continued virtual efforts as their presence in Manatee County grows.

“The opportunity is here for us to really go in and make ALSO Youth a part of the community,” Robinson says. “Aside from reaching a whole different cohort of young people, the idea of creating a partnership and becoming a viable and visible presence is definitely a goal. Things look pretty bright for 2021.”

To learn more about ALSO Youth, its events or to make a donation to support their work, visit ALSOYouth.org.