4 Gay Central Valley Board Members
Uncounted sodas and coffees and slices of pizza
Dozens of pages of notes
4 Community Centers in 4 –somewhat- distant cities (Modesto, Sacramento, Concord, San Jose)
1 epic battle with seagulls
Yesterday morning before the sun was fully up, Chris, Jason, Jaymi, and I set off for a Tour De Centers Road Trip. Sticking to a schedule that allowed for very little deviation and facing a rental car check in that added a layer of stress that couldn’t be ignored, we drove the highways of California (mostly staying on track) in order to visit other LGBT Community Centers.
We visited the Stanislaus Pride Center in their new offices in Modesto. Over scones and coffee we talked to Manuel and half a dozen volunteers about their drop in hours, their library, and their very exciting fundraisers. We commiserated about some of the struggles that face a new Community Center; flack from both the LGBT community as well as the general populace as well as funding, space limitations, and making sure they are meeting the needs. There was even talk of coauthoring future grants for the region in order to provide better funding for specific programs.
We visited the Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center which holds residence in an adorable ( and very spacious historic house) where we talked with Luis about AIDS foundation grants, utilizing the location of the center to interact with the general public, having a variety of programs (including legal advice and professional counselors), and some fascinating ways to organize and engage our local volunteers. We talked about the need for strong leadership and the goals of specifically designed fund raising opportunities.
In Concord (east bay) we visited Rainbow Community Center and met with Kas and Ben-David where we heard about food pantry programs, corporate matching programs, day of service programs, and got tips on how to get some very cool, and free, decorations. We talked in length about the involvement of the seniors in the community, about utilizing interns, and how to encourage our members to share their knowledge and become more engaged with one another. We talked about endowments and youth programs. We talked about a Center specific website and utilizing social media.
In San Jose, at the Billy DeFrank Center we talked to Fred and heard about the struggles of overcoming PR nightmares, of the benefits and drawbacks to operating in a city owned historic building, and having to start from scratch after over twenty years of success. We talked about counseling services, renting space, letting go of past programs to make way for new ones, and saw an exciting library system that provides ease of use and high organization. We talked about hosting large events like dances, smaller events like support groups, and non-LGBT specific events like Bingo and yoga. We talked about count supported programs that happen at the center, about bulk mailing, and about employee giving incentives that helped the center stay afloat after near financial ruin.
Through it all we took notes, asked questions, discussed the pros and cons and the practicality of everything ad nauseum while driving to our next location. Our goal was to learn what they are doing right, learn from what they did wrong, and try to get a better sense of the direction we want our Community Center to go. Of course there was laughter, bonding through stories of past debauchery and adventures. Like any good road trip there was music, both good and bad. But more importantly, there was learning, planning, the discussion of new ideas, new programs, new ways to fundraise, and new / better ways to connect to and with our community.
Over the next few months we will begin to implement some of those changes. While we know that not everything we try will work, and some things might take some time to get off the ground, we are optimistic that together we can help make our Community Center something truly special. Here are a few of the ideas:
We realized, through talking to other Community Center leaders, that our current programs leave out a whole section of our community: our elders. Seniors, (or Vintage members as they are called in Concord) are a vital part of many other communities and there is no reason to think our older folk would be any different. We are excited to be able to correct the misstep of not having programs geared toward the slightly older members of our community. Lunches, Bingo, Social Groups, Outings, Ride Shares,… we have a lot of ideas.
We also picked up tips on some really exciting fundraising and fund developing techniques. You will, there is no doubt, be hearing about those later. Our current grant writing board member has needed to step down from that particular task, and as a new board member, I am honored to step into those now vacant shoes. We hope that within the next year or so we will be able to attain the necessary funding to continue operating out of our new larger location as well as implement several new programs.
Speaking of new (or revitalized) programs. We were exposed to several very cool ideas yesterday. From Women’s Social Groups to potentially offering our space to LGBT friendly AA groups, from community outreach via feeding Fresno’s hungry to hands on volunteer projects (necessary busywork) available on a drop in basis, from potentially having more specific events at the center to opening our doors even wider and inviting already established groups to use our space… we have a plethora of possibilities that we are going to be exploring.
As always we welcome any insights, suggestions, or ideas. Our goal as a Community Center is to provide a safe place and a place of active community building. We want, and need, community involvement.
After San Jose we drove to Santa Cruz (45 minutes of twisty forest lined roads) and ate a hurried meal at the Capitola beach. While fending off seagulls, most of us anyway — one of our board members was much more interested in baiting them, we had one of those moments of amazing connection. Gay, Straight, Bi… we were a tiny community of four. It was us against the birds that hovered menacingly, who squawked, who looked ready to peck us to death without hesitation…
Here in Fresno it is sometimes easy to dwell on the number of people that outnumber us, the percentage by which Prop 8 passed, the sheer volume of bigotry and hate. But I challenge you to think instead about the people who stand with you, the leaders of nonprofits and the allies that donate, volunteer, and help keep us motivated. We might be small, but we are mighty and we can change Fresno for the better.