Ali Forney Center



"The great thing is that staff does not need to do anything on their end. If staff does make a mistake, the product seems to quickly catch and quarantine the problem."

— Gregg Parratto, information technology manager

Norton Security Saves Ali Forney Center Time and Effort

Transgender teen Ali Forney fled his home at age 13. He bounced from foster home to foster home before ultimately ending up on the streets. Forney continually helped other youth that were facing similar difficult circumstances, and he became a public advocate for improving safety for homeless youth until his life was tragically cut short. Forney was murdered in 1997.

Operating 12 branches throughout the boroughs of New York City, the Ali Forney Center was founded in 2002 in his memory. Since its launch as a tiny program with six beds in a church basement, the center has grown to become the largest agency supporting homeless LGBTQ youth in the world.

A Continuum of Support That Transforms Lives

In 2013, the center served 1,400 clients — offering 20,000 services and serving 150,000 meals to youth ranging in age from 16 to 24. In an average week, the organization sees more than 250 new clients. To protect its IT and sensitive client data, the center relies on Symantec software. 

It provides a comprehensive and continuous set of supportive services, including a drop-in center that offers hot meals, health services, education, and referrals to other programs; emergency housing for up to six months; and transitional housing for up to two years, with support for maintaining employment and continuing young people's education. 

Through these extensive, on-site services, the organization's goal is to transform the lives of homeless youth so they never have to go back to the streets again. 

An Increased Need for Services 

After the recent successes in marriage equality and given the spotlight on the LGBTQ fight for equality, demand for the center's services has increased. Young people are hearing the positive message that it's OK to be gay and are coming out younger and at higher rates. 

These changes have also resulted in more youth needing the center's support. When marriage equality passed in New York State, the center's waiting list went from 150 to 220 youth and remained at this level for several weeks.

A Safe and Secure IT System

Gregg Parratto, information technology manager for the Ali Forney Center, processes the organization's help desk requests, researches and manages its technology, installs all software, maintains computers, and is the project manager for IT-related tasks. "I am all-in-one — much like the Norton of IT," Parratto quips.

He recently requested Norton software through TechSoup because the organization's security was being affected by viruses and malware. Parratto finds this security product particularly helpful because it is "all encompassing." He continues: "It optimizes computers, keeps them clean from typical viruses and malware, automates product updates, and as an added bonus, does not slow computers down."

This final feature is critical; Parratto has used other security products in the past that slowed computers down and decreased the organization's efficiency. 

Preventing Malware Turned Out to Be Easy 

Parratto told TechSoup that installing Norton was quick and especially simple to renew. After he requested the product renewal through TechSoup, "It was only a matter of clicking the 'Renew' link and copying and pasting the new product license number."

He said he didn't require any installation assistance as the "instructions that TechSoup provides along with the licenses are very clear and simple." This process was key because he had to aggressively roll out security protection on all of the organization's computers simultaneously. 

Choosing Norton Is "a No Brainer"

Since installing Norton, security is no longer a huge undertaking for Parratto and the Ali Forney Center. "I do not get a lot of requests to clean up viruses for staff now, whereas it was a daily chore when I first came on board," said Parratto.

The automation that Norton provides saves Parratto and the organization considerable time and effort. This is especially important because Parratto is a one-person team. "The great thing is that staff does not need to do anything on their end. If staff does make a mistake, the product seems to quickly catch and quarantine the problem," Parratto noted. In this regard, Norton does much of the work for Parratto and saves him the extra effort of sending out regular reminders to staff. Parratto describes it as "a lifesaver, quite frankly." 

With the Ali Forney Center's security functioning smoothly, the organization can place increased focus on its growth in 2015. In an effort to support many of the individuals on the waiting list, the Ali Forney Center plans to expand its drop-in services to be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This change will make the program the nation's first 24-hour drop-in program for homeless LGBTQ youth. For the youth of New York City with nowhere else to turn, this could make all the difference.

This story originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog. It was written by Jon Rush, relationship manager, TechSoup.