Anguish into action: The Dru Project empowers LGBTQ+ youth through advocacy and education

Close friends of Pulse shooting victim start nonprofit

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Drew Leinonen was among the 49 killed in the Pulse nightclub massacre in June 2016. Three of Leinonen’s close friends started a nonprofit to continue his legacy.

“We didn’t want him to be just a number, and so we go together to try and figure out how to preserve the best parts of our best friend,” said Sara Grossman, co-founder and communications director of The Dru Project. “While he was alive, he was a huge proponent of safe spaces for queer youth, and so that is exactly what we wanted to do.”

The Dru Project empowers LGBTQ+ youth through advocacy and education.

“We have scholarships for LGBTQ students going to college, grad school, or trade school. We have grants for Gay-Straight Alliances to help them thrive, and we also have a curriculum, a GSA guide to help these groups and clubs learn about their history, and some games and activities to really bring their clubs to the next level,” Grossman said. “In fact, we’re working on editing that this year to make it more intersectional when it comes to race and gender, so we’re extremely excited to release that later this year.”

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The group is now accepting applications for The Spirit of Dru Scholarship until May 15, 2023.

“To date, we have given out more than $150,000 in scholarships, which we’re incredibly proud of. And this year is no different. We have five scholarships at $5,000 each and a grant toward a recent graduate that is struggling with student debt,” Grossman said. “We don’t want to be prohibitive to where the money goes or how they use it. We just want people to be able to continue their advocacy. Anybody in grad school, trade school, or undergraduate is eligible. Seniors graduating from high school are eligible.”

Grossman founded The Dru Project with Brandon Wolf and Shaun Chaudhry. She said it’s their way of turning anguish into action.

“What gives me hope is seeing the next generation who’s going to be fighting our fight. It’s these kids who are walking out of school right now and going to their capitol to protest and anything that we can do to help support them. That is my healing from the Pulse nightclub shooting,” Grossman said. “Just ensuring that these kids know their history, and also are creating their own future.”

The Spirit of Dru Scholarship is open to any LGBTQ+ student nationwide. You can apply by clicking here.

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Julie Broughton's career in Central Florida has spanned more than 14 years, starting with News 6 as a meteorologist and now anchoring newscasts.