One year anniversary amid rapid growth.
In early 2016, Brian Poth and Nick Vargas began discussing the need for a LGBT center that would serve Tulare and Kings Counties. Both men had grown up in the area, located in the very conservative agricultural heartland of the San Joaquin Valley. Leaving the area after high school to pursue careers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, each returned home to find the lack of services dedicated to the LGBT+ community a jarring reality, especially after exposure to world class centers in California’s major cities. A core group was formed, comprised of friends who met at Visalia’s Center for Spiritual Living, and work began to create a center in Visalia. Within a few months, a board of directors was formed, space for a center was identified, and fundraising efforts initiated. A crowd-sourced donation site was set up, with an initial goal of $5,000. Donations rapidly surpassed that level, exposing the excitement felt in the community for the planned center. The target was upped to $10,000, and it didn’t take long to achieve that level of community support. The Center filed for and received 503(c)(1) status, becoming a full-fledged non-profit.
The Center held it’s grand opening on May 6, 2016. As part of the gala, works by local LGBT artists were displayed in the center as part of downtown Visalia’s First Friday Art Walk. TheSource LGBT+ Center joined several other venues displaying local art, and counted over 350 visitors.
Less than a month later, when the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was the scene of the worst mass-shooting in US history, the Center organized a candle light vigil in downtown Visalia. That Sunday, less than 24 hours after the tragedy, a somber group numbering in the hundreds gathered on Main Street to mourn the dead and injured, offer comfort to the survivors, and each other.
In the past year, theSOURCE LGBT+ Center has held bike rallies, marched in local parades, held book club readings, tabled at numerous community events, been featured in local media, helped coordinate the USDA’s Rural Pride convention (the first on the west coast), formed groups supporting the transgender community, and offered connections and referrals to hundreds of individuals looking for medical and social services.
On opening night it was clear the existing space was simply not enough. Within the past month, theSOURCE LGBT+ Center expanded, taking over the office next door to it’s existing location, doubling the space available. Another crowd-sourced fundraiser was tasked with financing the growth, and rapidly met it’s target.
The Center continues to expand it connections in the region, becoming the go-to resource for government and non-profit organizations looking to serve the LGBT+ community. We’ve recently contracted with Tulare County to educate our rural communities about PrEP and PEP. Speakers have presented at local GSAs, offering support and training opportunities to high school students. Training classes and seminars have been provided to the Sheriff’s Office, as well as local medical groups, on how they can better serve the LGBT+ population. Partnering with other local non-profit groups is creating a synergy in the region that bodes well for the future.
The Center’s first anniversary is only weeks away, and the growth has exceeded all expectations. Coming up in the near future is the first annual Bill Frolli Memorial Pride Ride, named in honor of one of the founding members of theSOURCE LGBT+ Center. Our Transgender Resources Program has three support groups that meet in the center. Addiction recovery groups also meet regularly in our facilities.
The support from the wider community was and is exciting to experience, and continues to grow each month, with Beneficial State Bank recently becoming a corporate sponsor.
As new individuals join the Board of Directors, and as the awareness of the center continues to spread, theSOURCE LGBT+ Center looks forward to continued growth and increasing support in the community.
Watch for further announcements from theSOURCE LGBT+ Center as we near the first anniversary, and plan to attend our Grand Re-Opening!
Facebook: http://facebook.com/thesourcelgbt (go like our page!)
email – Executive Director Brian Poth at email@example.com
– Community liaison Jim Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: then-councilwoman Amy Shuklian visits theSOURCE LGBT+ Center during it’s grand opening week in May, 2016. From left – Don Costa, Amy Benton, Jim Reeves, Ray Anaya, Amy Shuklian, Nick Vargas, Brian Poth, Beverly Anderson.