Charlatan Magazine

Point Foundation

Membership Warehouse Guru Creates Largest LGBT Scholarship in the World

When American Airlines, Estee Lauder, even Hilton got behind the LGBT movement last month at Pier 60, they raised half a Million dollars in academic scholarships for America’s gay youth. Contributor MICHELLE SHAIL chats with the Point Foundation’s founder Bruce Lindstrom, and checks in with the leaders and champions empowering change and impact in society.

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Point Foundation Founders Bruce Lindstrom and Carl Strictland via Broadway World

How do we motivate our children to do things like communicate, participate, and cooperate in the group? Well, I guess that depends on what ‘group’ you’re talking about? As a Mother of three, I wrestle with this question daily: A question that dares to tread beyond my role as a mere Project Manager, but to explore, test and tether the reigns of becoming a real Change Agent. Children, you see, are merely a reflection of our reality, and when they fail to sync with our script of social normality, the inevitable disconnect between parent and child ensues.

Corporal punishment, for instance, was until recently a socially acceptable way of ‘teaching’ a child. But as that model of discipline fell out of legal and social favor in the 20th century, it was replaced by an even more vitriolic form of coercion: Emotional Punishment. Withdrawal of affection and public condemnation are tactics that confuse an adult’s moral imperative with a child’s right to participate in and experience the present. “The unkindness of your family makes you astonished to find friendship elsewhere,” Jane Austin wrote in her novel, Sense & Sensibility. In this, the English author reminds us that disavowing a child was encouraged in the 19th century if for example they were conceived out of wedlock, born sickly, unable to find work, and particularly those who chose to marry outside their parent’s social parvue. The Victorians displaced an estimated 3 million children and teenagers into orphanages if and when the child’s interests ran contrary to their own.

Bruce Lindstrom, a member of the founding management in the Membership Warehouse movement, knows a thing or two about unkind insular environments. As a teenager, he revealed to his evangelical Christian parents that he was gay. Unable to reconcile external messages with their son’s identity prompted them to withdraw all emotional and financial support from him. During this “dark and painful time” Bruce turned his convictions towards education and innovation. I talked with him about how he converted his business savvy into facilitator for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth in America.

Our culture is crammed full of options for straight kids. Sports, clubs, even the teenager’s right of passage—the prom—strengthen our youth’s ability to communicate with their peers, be an integral part of a team, create alliances and resolve conflict. Conversely, teens in the LGBTQ community are too often marginalized, even excluded from the adolescent experience because they’ve adapted survival skills like deceit, pretense and isolation designed to protect them from the group’s contempt. Bruce, however, learned both business and people skills at the knees of Sol and Robert Price, the father-son duo of Price Club, which is today Costco. As a member of the executive team, Bruce learned how to “create a viable concept, form a management team, pitch to investors, and execute on the financial principles necessary to sustain a business.” Then, he embraced their passion to give back.

True to his entrepreneurial core, Bruce can spot a gap between need and availability. He was startled to discover that among all the national youth programs, not one addressed the scholarship needs of LBGTQ youth. So, he and his partner Carl Strickland established the Point Foundation in 2001. Like most passionate entrepreneurs, they began by building a website themselves, endowed the foundation with their own money ($350,000 to be exact), and summarily awarded 8 scholarships to young LGBTQ adults. What was the biggest challenge in starting and growing Point Foundation, I asked Bruce? “Creating not just an ordinary scholarship program for giving money away, but a Development Program that addressed a human issue. Fulfilling our vision of empowering promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic potential required a network of people, resources and passion. But to make a significant impact on society, despite the obstacles often put before them, required they form a community of their very own.

Twelve years on, the Point Foundation is the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students of merit. On April 15th, a gala hosted by David Burtka was held to honor recipients of the prestigious scholarship and the leaders and champions of the LGBTQ community. To date, Point Foundation has had 8,882 donors that include corporate sponsors like American Airlines, Time Warner, and Goldman Sachs, and celebrity support and endorsement has coalesced to raise upwards of $26,000,000! The original 8 Point Foundation Scholars has grown to 76, and over 145 alumni are today leaders in influential positions throughout the world. The financial support opens the door to a broader program of leadership training, mentorship, and the grace of a community which ensures these young adults become positive examples for “building a more inclusive and equitable society.”

I was curious what surprised Bruce the most about his life’s work in the last 12 years. “There were a lot of doubters in the beginning. We started this conversation at little dinner parties that Carl and I hosted. But ideas-to-execution requires more than a glass of wine. We backed it personally and little by little there was a shift from doubt to support. I continue to be amazed by the growth achieved by our scholars and alumni, and the tireless work of a tremendous staff, board, mentors and donors. Carl and I may have started Point Foundation, but the success comes from each and every individual affiliated with the foundation and with the alliances we create and nurture.”

Change begins with one individual. Bruce Lindstrom’s executive business experience reshaped how we consumed bulked goods. But as Co-Founder of the Point Foundation, he and Carl have single-handedly redistributed societal norms, too. By enabling, encouraging and incentivizing openly gay high school students to join the echelons of America’s top colleges and universities, they effectively fuse their ethos of LGBTQ leaders into the champions of tomorrow.

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