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Cocoon Collective NWA receives award for work with transgender youth

Nonprofit Cocoon Collective NWA is receiving the Agency of the Year Award at the National Association of Social Workers Conference in Little Rock this week. They are being recognized for their partnership with the University of Arkansas as an official internship site for the schools of Social Work and Occupational Therapy. I spoke with Aidan Alford (he/him) , a Master’s student and intern at Cocoon Collective about the group and their mission. 

The Cocoon Collective, founded in 2021 by executive director Sadie Ragan, provides a wide array of resources to queer and trans people between the ages of 18 and 24. Alford said Ragan saw a need in our area during the COVID pandemic and wanted to do her part.

“I mean, it's a need everywhere, but there's definitely a need in Northwest Arkansas,” Alford said. “But she started this because she saw the amount of hate and amount of disparities that trans individuals are going through. And specifically, we work with 18 to 24 year olds. And people often ask her like, ‘Why are you doing this? Why is this the age that you're doing?’ And she often answers with, like, the cognitive dissonance that you face during that time, especially when it comes to religious trauma. And specifically, we work with the homeless trans population. And I mean, most of the homeless population is made up of LGBTQ+ individuals, especially youth. And she really wanted to forecast that. And with a lot of the trauma that they face, they often face it with their parents and their families. And they've often gotten kicked out because of their opposing beliefs, and they're going against what they've been taught. And so that's kind of why she started it because she saw there was a need.”

Alford said Cocoon Collective is involved in a variety of efforts meant to cater to queer and trans youth.

“We host a monthly pride dinner to develop and foster community for individuals,” Alford said. “Because, as you can imagine, with a lot of queer and trans individuals, it's hard to find community, especially when you first come out. And you're kind of looking around, you're like, ‘Oh, my God, Where's everyone at?’ And it can be hard because you feel like you're the only person that's going through that. But in all actuality, you're not, you're just not looking in the right places. We're currently developing a shared housing program, which I'll get a little bit more into that…where we’re developing a living and shared place for two to three individuals, and where an employee of Cocoon Collective will be there, and they'll be teaching life skills for around six months. And they'll be teaching them how to cook, how to clean. Different things, and different things that we often take for granted. And we don't understand, but the thing is when you're in that trauma, and when you're in that state of despair, all the time and in survival mode, it can be hard to learn those skills, because no one's taught you or no one's taking the time, or no one has... Or you just don't know, you know? So we're in the process of doing that. We're in the process of taking donations, if anyone wants to give any donations, we're really about fostering the community. I'm developing a trans support group. And it'll be on the second Tuesday of each month at our headquarters. And so we just really want to have a support system, develop that and for people to feel like they're not alone.”

Aidan said the Social Workers Conference in Little Rock happens annually, and each award is a kind of superlative given to a member or group who stood out within the Arkansas chapter of the National Association of Social Work.

“Every year, they select the BSW Student of the Year, MSW student of the year,” Alford said. “And so we won agency of the year. And we knew a few people, but I had no affiliation, like with the nomination or whatever. But they just saw the good work that we were doing, and they were like, ‘Oh, my God, we would love to nominate you’. And the committee voted on it. And we actually got a spot in the running. And so it was pretty awesome. It was kind of unexpected for all of us. But I mean, it just shows that you know, this work is needed. And it's great publicity because it's not only in the NWA, but it's also across Arkansas. It's great. It's amazing. And I hope that we have more Cocoon Collectives behind all this, so I'm excited.”

In the meantime, Cocoon Collective is collecting donations for their future housing facilities.

“We will need things…I mean, just think of things that you would need for a house,” Alford said. “So furniture, non perishable foods, different things like that, clothing. Clothing is a big thing, especially for the trans community. So anything that is considered masculine, feminine and gender affirming. You can always go on our website…And you can click on the link and it will direct you to the donation and it will send an email to Sadie. We are big on social media so we post a lot on Instagram. That's probably the most active social media site that we have, next is Facebook… and we'll have our logo, it will just have a month and two hands…The symbol for the mouth, it means transformation, and the hand symbolizes helping and guidance and providing aid. And I feel like a lot of our clients when they come to us, they're in a state of despair and they're asking someone to give them guidance, and we're there for that.”

For more on the Cocoon Collective, the events and services they provide and how you can support their goal to support queer and trans youth in Northwest Arkansas, you can visit their website.

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Sophia Nourani is a KUAF producer and reporter.
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