WHEN CHRISTOPHER WOOD was a teenager growing up in Virginia, he came out to his parents as gay. They rejected him and kicked him out of the house. As Wood describes it, a cell phone saved him from becoming permanently homeless. It wasn’t a smartphone; it was a flip phone, but it allowed him to contact a friend who found him a temporary safe place to sleep. The way Wood sees it, mobile technology saved his life. Now he’s working to provide the same lifeline to teens today whose circumstances mirror his own years ago: young, alone, and at risk.
Wood is the co-founder of Connect 4 Life, an initiative of the LGBT Technology Partnership and Institute to provide homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth with mobile connectivity. Working with Cricket Wireless, Connect 4 Life distributes ZTE smartphones—loaded with unlimited talk and texting and 10GB of data—to organizations that work with these teens directly. The group launched a pilot program in Washington, DC, earlier this year, and Wood hopes to expand the effort across the country soon. The ultimate goal, he says, is to provide phones for more than 5,000 homeless LGBTQ teens in 200 cities and rural communities.