Loralei Cook, a self-described people person, loves to be social and do good for others — a trait that has led her to be an active volunteer in her Chandler, Ariz. community, particularly working to promote inclusivity and LGBTQ+ equality.
The 17-year-old created her own organization to advocate LGBTQ+ equality, volunteers for the Arizona chapters of both GLSEN as well as Project 9, and even runs her own online magazine to promote the creative work of young people from marginalized communities around the world.
“The main reason why I want to do these things [is] because I see a need in the community,” Loralei said, “and I really do want to make a difference, and see people engaged and happy where they are and participating in their community. I think it’s a beneficial thing for everybody.”
In December 2019, Loralei created Queer on Campus, which advocates for LGBTQ+ equality in schools through curriculum reform, anti-bullying legislation and inclusive sex education. She was inspired to start this due to seeing a lack of acceptance for LGBTQ+ youth in her own school, including witnessing bullying and harassment.
“School should be somewhere that’s a safe learning environment that you can grow in and develop in, and having these issues at school is going to impede that development,” she said.
Initially, the organization held seminars at local schools to discuss how they can become more inclusive and diverse. Once the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from doing in-person talks, the group decided to expand nationally. They have an online educational program that focuses on intersectionality, LGBTQ+ history and creating a safe space in schools.
She is currently working on expanding Queer on Campus’ team and hopes to have chapter programs in different states in order to reach more people.
“One of my goals is to expand that as much as possible so we can reach everybody in the United States who needs a service like that,” Loralei said. “Who maybe live in rural areas, or who maybe live in areas with low resources, so they can have the resources we do offer and some awareness and education and support.”
She is also an active volunteer for the Phoenix chapter of GLSEN, a national organization that works to prevent bullying of LGBTQ+ students in schools and bring education reform to ensure the needs of such students are met. For the past year, she has been a member of GLSEN Phoenix’s SHINE Team, a development program for high schoolers where they work on group projects to impact their local school communities.
GLSEN Phoenix’s Student Programs Coordinator Jake Harvey met Loralei through the SHINE Team, where he said she displays a positive attitude, eagerness to help and a passion for the work. He said they recently had a graduation ceremony for the students where they were able to nominate each other for different superlatives, and Loralei was awarded ‘best event planner’ due to her strong organizational and leadership abilities when it comes to taking on projects.
“She’s friendly and welcoming and that comes naturally to her,” Jake said. “I think people are drawn to her. She’s a welcoming presence and has that natural leadership.”
Additionally, Loralei is the Arizona State Chair for the Arizona chapter of Project 9, a youth-led political and civic engagement organization that connects young people to opportunities to engage with their state and local governments. She helps coordinate activities, plan events and look for opportunities for youth to get involved, whether that be internships, volunteer opportunities or other organizations.
Not content to stop there, Loralei used the extra time she found herself with during the beginning of the pandemic to create the Galliard International Review, an online magazine for young people from marginalized communities to share their experiences through poetry and prose. Since she started soliciting work in March 2020, she has received submissions from all over the world.
“I just wanted it to be a place for young people to share their work and to read others’ work and feel inspired,” Loralei said. “It’s just a really uplifting thing for me.”
Between all of her organizations and projects, volunteering has become a huge part of Loralei’s life. She does something to volunteer everyday, whether that be holding weekly meetings and Zoom sessions, running social media accounts or simply connecting with people.
“I’m proud of being involved with these organizations,” she said. “It’s definitely been an evolution for me I would say, seeing how far I’ve come with these organizations.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Loralei? Find local volunteer opportunities.