Less than a month left for LGBT Youth/Welcome center to reach its financial goal

By : Steve Blanchard
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St. Petersburg- With less than 30 days remaining, Metro Wellness and Community Centers has raised 30% of its monetary goal to help open a new LGBT Youth and Welcome center in St. Petersburg.

And while that figure may sound far from spectacular, director of center development Larry Biddle said that fundraising is on track.

“Our goal for the first of April is a total of $157,000 to complete the renovations of the LGBT Welcome Center in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District,” Biddle said. “We’re getting there, but we still have a ways to go.”

A welcome thanks: Larry Biddle, in red, welcomes guests to the HoHoHo party at Gay St. Pete Guest House, which benefited the new LGBT Youth/Welcome Center project created by Metro Wellness and Community Centers. Photo by Steve Blanchard

A welcome thanks: Larry Biddle, in red, welcomes guests to the HoHoHo party at Gay St. Pete Guest House, which benefited the new LGBT Youth/Welcome Center project created by Metro Wellness and Community Centers. Photo by Steve Blanchard

The organization announced plans to open its LGBT Welcome Center, which will also cater to LGBT youth in Tampa Bay, in November, and launched a fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo.com. Through that site, and a holiday party hosted by Gay St. Pete House’s Brian Longstreth, Metro has raised nearly $9,000. The party itself raised more than $6,000, surpassing the goal of $5,000.

Nearly 100 people passed through the fundraising party on Dec. 19, and all were encouraged to not only give that night, but to ask friends and family to donate through the website. All funds raised through the site, up to $30,000, will be matched by an anonymous donor, Biddle said.

“We’re only the third welcome center of this kind in the country,” Biddle said when the plans were unveiled. “We’re learning a lot from the facility in Miami, and we’ll provide resources all in one location.”

The other cities boasting a welcome center for LGBTs are Miami and Seattle.

The St. Petersburg location is within a historic home that was physically moved one block on Central Avenue last August. The building’s new address is next to the Metro Wellness and Community Center Thrift Store at 2235 Central Ave., in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg.

Biddle said that nearly 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. By creating this new Welcome Center, youth will have a place to gather and find resources, rather than going to an office-type building, which can be intimidating.

“The key is to keep these kids entertained, off the streets and receptive to the programs we have,” explained Adam Jahr, who handles LGBT programming. “This is a welcoming space where these kids can come, feel comfortable and be with others in their similar situation.”

Among its services, the new facility will also serve coffee and pastries, thanks to a partnership with Kawha Coffee in downtown St. Petersburg. With the exception of a small office space in the back of the home, all of the 1,135-square-foot building will be used for the cafe and meeting space.

“Even if I wasn’t involved with Metro,” Jahr said, “I would want my neighborhood to have an LGBT cafe. I think the support will be there.”

And Biddle is hopeful that the local community of the Grand Central District and Historic Kenwood will take part in the success of the Welcome Center.

The building will also serve as a home for travel resources for visitors.

“We’re basing this on what they did in Miami,” Biddle explained. “There, they would issue stickers, or plaques to note what businesses are LGBT-friendly. We could do something similar here. We’ll also provide international visitors and locals the opportunity to build their own itineraries based on the resources we’ve gathered.”

While the Welcome Center won’t be a travel agency, it will let those interested in experiencing LGBT Tampa Bay customize a visit in order to support the parts of the community which support LGBT causes.

“I’ve had a couple of businesses already say they’re excited about this because they want to make sure they’re gay friendly,” Biddle laughed. “It’s great for advertising.”

There is a lot of work to be done to the structure before it can open in on its June 2014 target date. New floors, windows and paint are just a few necessities needed for it to become fully operational. In all, it will need an estimated $160,000 to open its doors and lots of sweat equity from volunteers to make it habitable.

Donations can be made at IGG.me/at/LGBTWelcomeCenter through Jan. 20.

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