Orlando’s Zebra House celebrates one year anniversary

By : Jamie Hyman
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Orlando – When Dexter Foxworth became the executive director of the Zebra Coalition a year and a half ago, one of his first jobs was to find a drop-in center for the youth the Coalition serves.

The Zebra Coalition is a network of organizations which provide services to LGBT and questioning youth ages 13-24, whether they need medical care, counseling, emergency housing, transitional housing or education.

It made sense that they needed a headquarters ”a safe space where young LGBTs could drop in any time to receive support or a place to crash, a home base for Zebra’s programs for gay youth, and office space for the employees and volunteers who keep the engine running.

In May of 2012, Foxworth and the Coalition announced that they’d found their home, and had purchased a two-story house located at 911 N. Mills Ave., conveniently located across the street from The GLBT Center. The Coalition’s staff and volunteers worked to get the Zebra House up and running for about seven months, cumulating in a ribbon-cutting Dec. 5, 2012.

While the Zebra Coalition has been around since 2010, the Zebra House seems to have established the not-for-profit as a well-known service provider, and the Coalition has made a number of strides in the year since the Zebra House opened its doors.

A huge coup was a $625,000 federal grant to the Coalition for programs to help prevent substance abuse among young people, awarded in October of 2013. The money will come from the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy over a five-year period and all but guarantees the stability of the Coalition.

Additionally, Foxworth says more than 200 youths have participated in programming and activities in the Zebra House in the past year, totaling more than 2,500 visits overall from youths to the drop-in center.

“It shows a really strong need and we’re starting to see where the numbers are increasing more, especially as we reach the holidays, there’s even more of a need out there,” Foxworth said. “In general for social service agencies, we always see an increase in individuals who have a need during holidays whether it’s food, shelter or just some support.”

As far as the most successful programs, he said the organization’s arts curriculum stands out the most, specifically its Interactions group, which uses theatre and improve techniques to help young LGBTs explore and deal with life. In partnership with the University of Central Florida, the group presented a program on stage at Orlando Repertory Theatre this past November.

Foxworth tells the story of a young man who came to the Zebra House six months ago who was homeless, new to Central Florida and could not socialize or even interact with others.

“Through our program, ‘Interactions’ specifically, this individual has done a complete 180 and is able to socialize, is working, and is thinking about going to school,” Foxworth said. “He’s now at a level where he’s able to present and tell his story at Orlando Rep about how Zebra and Interact bettered his life.”

Foxworth said when he looks back over the past year, he’s most proud that the community is doing the Coalition’s work together.

“I think that speaks volumes to the partners we work with,” said. “In this nonprofit world where we tend to compete for resources, we have agencies that can work together to affect change in our community.”

In addition to implementing the White House substance abuse prevention grant, Foxworth said the Zebra Coalition’s plans for 2014 include creating a Central Florida Youth Council with local young LGBTs “sitting on this committee and giving voice to what zebra is doing in community and hopefully creating change amongst their peers.”

The Zebra House is hosting an open house Dec. 5 from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to mark their year anniversary.

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