Today (July 20), the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT Youth in New York is breaking ground on a new 18-bedroom facility called the Bea Arthur Residence, thanks to a series of "Golden Girl" related miracles. MTV News caught up with Carl Siciliano, the center's Executive Director, to talk about near-disasters, prayers to Bea, and miracles.
"When ["Golden Girls" star] Bea [Arthur] first came to us back in 2005, it was like the queen coming to her lowly subjects," Siciliano told MTV News, "except that she didn’t treat us at all like that."
Nearly 20,000 homeless youth under the age of 24 live in New York City, and 40% of homeless youth nationwide are LGBT. In 2005 the Ali Forney Center was doing its best to help keep those kids and teens off the street -- with extremely limited resources.
"We were a tiny little organization at that time," he said. "We were only able to shelter 12 kids and we were just living completely hand-to-mouth."
Bea found out about the Ali Forney Center through a friend who knew about Carl's work and knew the shelter was in trouble. The friend called Bea to ask if she'd help with a fundraising benefit.
"Bea was just really upset to learn that there were so many young people who were being thrown out of their homes for being LGBT," Siciliano said. "She immediately agreed to do the show."
"We had very little support at the time, and there was very little awareness in the broader community about the work we were doing and how important the need was," Siciliano recalled, "so to have a cultural icon like Bea Arthur saying how critical it was that LGBT youth should be cared for, saying how wrong it was that so many of them were thrown out by their parents...it just meant the world to me."
Carl Siciliano cuts the cake at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Bea Arthur Residence on July 20
"It was just like a miracle," he continued. "Her association with the shelter has always felt miraculous."
A second miracle occurred in 2009, a few months after Bea Arthur had passed away.
"It was the height of the recession and our donations had dropped way off," Siciliano said. The shelter fell behind on their rent for several properties, and Siciliano said he feared they'd have to cut back their services, even though they were already turning away between 115 and 200 kids every night for lack of space. Then things got even worse.
"One morning on my way to work I got a call saying our landlord was threatening to bring up eviction proceedings against us," Siciliano said. "We were overdue a month and a half on our rent. I was scared to death, and I felt so overwhelmed I pulled off to the side of the road and said my prayers."
"I guess I may have a more liberal sense of who I’m willing to pray to," he explained, laughing, "because if I think anyone up there is willing to care about me or my kids, then I’m going to pray to them. Bea Arthur was definitely in the list of folks that I called out to that day."
When he arrived at the office, he got a phone call informing him that the Ali Forney Center was listed as the top charity in Bea's estate. A few weeks later, a check for $300,000 arrived in the mail.
"It completely changed our circumstances," Siciliano said. "I really don't know what would have happened if that hadn’t occurred."
Six years later, the shelter has made a full recovery, and Siciliano said he's honored to be able to name the first building they'll own outright after Bea Arthur. Metro reports that when the renovations that began today are completed, "the center will have 107 beds in all for its drop-in center, emergency shelter needs, and its longer-term full-service program that works to turn teens into independent young adults."
"I don't feel like any of this would have been possible if it hadn’t been for Bea’s support," Siciliano said. "She really put us on the map, and in many ways, she put the issue of homeless LGBT youth on the map."
"I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude, and very happy, very proud," Siciliano told MTV News. "I hope Bea is giving us the side eye from heaven, giving us a smile."
Thank you for being a friend, Bea.