Overheard in Orlando: Surprise! Awesome Foundation is awesome

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Zebra Coalition founder Jeff Voss named “Everyday Hero”
In his work life, Jeff Voss is a bigwig with The Tavistock Group. Tavistock owns Lake Nona and Isleworth locally, but invests all over the world in real estate, hotels, restaurants and other ventures. In his community life, Voss is the visionary behind the Zebra Coalition, which he established to provide support to LGBT youth experiencing bullying, abuse or isolation from their families. Voss was named an “Everyday Hero” by CFN News 13 recently for his work with Zebra and support of LGBT youth. In an interview with TV reporter Ed Heiland, Voss talked about his idea for the little house on Mills Avenue where Zebra has its headquarters. “In my mind, I always had this idea of coming up with a place that kids that were LGBT could go if they needed help, for anything,” Voss said.

Maines and Miller recognized—again and again
Social media was abuzz earlier this month after the Orlando Sentinel released its 2014 listing of “Orlando Power Couples.” Winter Park interior designer Ted Maines and attorney Jeff Miller were listed amidst power pairs like “For the people” attorney John Morgan and wife Ultima, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings.Maines and Miller were the only LGBT pair named. But this isn’t the first time the duo has been named a power pair for their work to stop bullying, raise money for worthy causes and fight for marriage equality. Miller points out that before the Sentinel, Orlando Magazine listed them as the number one power couple in town. By the way, Miller says, Watermark Publisher Tom Dyer was the very first to recognize them. “That was probably six or seven years ago in an article on LGBTs “Movers and Shakers,” Miller wrote in a chat. “Always honored and humbled to be recognized!”

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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.

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Zebra Coalition awarded $625,000 from the White House

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The Zebra Coalition has received a $625,000 federal grant, the largest in its history, for programs to help prevent substance abuse among young people.

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 organization.  

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Zebra Coalition partners with Orange schools for anti-bullying education

By : Susan Clary
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ZebraBully1Orlando – The Zebra Coalition is teaming up with 102 Orange County schools to fight bullying.

Zebra is a Central Florida-based network of organizations that supports LGBT youth, and they announce Oct. 23 that they’ll work through Student Assistance and Family Empowerment (SAFE) on an anti-bullying campaign for middle, high and charter schools within the district beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.

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IKEA and Zebra Coalition

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In June, a team of IKEA Orlando co-workers installed $10,000 worth of IKEA products and in-kind donations at The Zebra Coalition House, which provides a full continuum of services to the growing number of LGBT+ youth, ages 13 to 24, in Central Florida. The Zebra Coalition was named one of 38 charitable organizations across the county that was awarded $10,000 each in IKEA products, services and in-kind donations through the Life Improvement Challenge campaign.

The items included storage, seating, a grill, towels and robes and decor.

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Orlando: Patty and the pole

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Babes, bonnets, scooters and cash!
Two major fundraisers brought in some impressive donations to area causes during the late part of March. On March 23, Scooters for Hooters invaded Lake Eola Park for the seventh time and brought in more than $170,000 for Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation, a local non-profit that provides mammograms and breast healthcare services to uninsured women. The grand total is well above the $140,000 the event brought in last year, indicating that 2013 was an even bigger success.

On March 25, the Orlando Youth Alliance pocketed more than $8,300 after the annual Babes and Bonnets event took over the Footlight Theatre at the Parliament House. The evening started with Darcel Stevens and Danielle Hunter introducing some amazing headwear and eventually Michael Wanzie helped out as well.

Patty’s new quest
Although most are probably familiar with the trendy Floyd’s Barber Shop and it’s iconic barber pole, you might not be aware that the county is trying to do away with it. What did a harmless barber pole do to anyone to deserve getting cut, you ask? Turns out, the county isn’t happy that the red, white and blue pole spinning in front of the Mills location isn’t made in the USA and is not UL rated. On March 21, City Commissioner Patty Sheehan was on-hand for the ribbon cutting at the new Mills location. She later posted a photo on Facebook of her standing front and center to the pole with a caption reading “My new quest, save Floyd’s barber pole.” This marks the third Floyd’s location.

Zebra loses its stripes—er—votes
On March 25, the non-profit LGBT youth outreach organization Zebra Coalition sent out an e-blast informing their supporters that a contest being sponsored by IKEA in which Zebra Coalition is competing for the chance to win $10,000 worth of product and design services from the store had a glitch. Turns out, all prior votes were lost. It asks supporters to please re-cast their votes. Visit TheLifeImprovementProject.com, select Orlando and vote for Zebra Coalition. You can vote once a day through April 8.

Who is Leigh Shannon?
The public will soon find out. Last summer, female impersonator Leigh Shannon posted on his Facebook that he is in pre-negotiations for a reality show based on his life. “I think [reality shows] are the way to go anymore,” Shannon told Watermark last year. And on March 25, Shannon finally posted a sneak preview from his upcoming small screen debut. Careful; it’s NC-17… “It will be about my upbringing in a redneck rural environment and family up to today with my shows, new acting venture, my store, cancer patients and the everyday struggles of a business man/show girl/drag queen and finding out I have a black sister,” Shannon said.  

Who’s That Girl?
In case you’ve been living under a rock or simply a DVR junkie and fast-forwarding through your commercials, you can’t escape the new Florida Lottery commercials. You know, the ones where a meek-looking housewife is shopping and then succumbs to the lottery machine while a band of crooners sing “I Only Have Eyes for You.” Well, that Florida Lotto lover is none other than Orlando’s own Amy Runyan. The amber-hued beauty is probably more recognizable from bringing you your favorite cocktails as a bartender at the former Lava and former Sip lounges. Besides, an active modeling and acting career, Runyan is now the owner of Skin Studio in Baldwin Park.

OYA gets a new home

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The Orlando Youth Alliance (OYA) has a new home base at Reeves United Methodist Church in the Mills 50 District.

Reeves UMC is an open and affirming church, and according to a media release by OYA, the staff at Reeves are excited about and working with OYA to fulfill its mission of offering a safe space for LGBT youth to meet. The church will offer space for weekly group meetings and Friday social drop-ins, plus additional space for larger social activities like prom and homecoming dances.

Earlier this year, the Zebra Coalition offered OYA space at the Zebra House on Mills Avenue but according to the OYA media release, the space availability was too limited.

Zebra donor match extended

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The Zebra Coalition's donor match program has been extended. An anonymous donor has promised to match the first $25,000 in donations received by Feb. 28. According to Zebra Coalition executive director Dexter Foxworth, more than $15,000 had been raised as of press time. To find out how to make a donation, visit ZebraYouth.org. The Zebra Coalition supports LGBT youth who need shelter, support, medical care, education or other services.

Orlando: Condemn, condemn, condemn

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We’re famous!
Shortly after Watermark's Dec. 5 issue hit stands and online director Jamie Hyman's “Boycott the Bellringers” article began circulating, The Catholic League sent out a press release titled “Gays Condemn The Salvation Army” and they call out Watermark, stating “a gay website, WatermarkOnline.com, is asking its readers nationwide not to give to the charitable organization.” That's right folks; apparently Watermark is The Grinch of charitable giving—and apparently we're THE Gays. In her regular occurring column, Hyman talks about the slew of anti-gay rhetoric voiced by the Salvation Army officials over the years and recommends placing small flyers into those familiar red kettles sharing our dislike of said rhetoric. Of course, the minute we learned we were mentioned by the group, we posted about it on Facebook and on our home page! Check out Hyman's article on the boycott, and read some other responses from our readers.

NOH8 in Orlando
Macbeth Photography hosted an amateur NOH8 shoot Dec. 18. Hundreds showed up to pose with the iconic NOH8 logo scribbled across their cheek and a strip of silver duct tape across their mouths. The look is now a common way to share a message of hope and support for equality. This shoot was the brain child of assistant Charlotte Nash. If things go according to plan, we will all start seeing our favorite social media websites like Facebook and Twitter littered with profile pictures of people standing up for equal rights. Donations were accepted to benefit the Zebra Coalition. The organization helps LGBT homeless youth. For more information on the NOH8 campaign and Zebra Coalition, visit NOH8Campaign.com or ZebraYouth.org.

The Venue Renewed
After a brief, unscheduled closure to clear up some permitting issues—namely the addition of a handi-accessible bathroom, a drinking fountain and a ramp, which oddly enough leads up to the stage—The Venue is back in business with a vengeance and a gamut of new shows through the New Year.  During the re-opening performance on Dec. 10, Venue owner Blue made sure to point out the new, permit-approved handy work numerous times. Since most of these renovations were unexpected, yet necessary, costs were discovered which were not in budget. As friends of Blue and the Venue, Revolution hosted a benefit to raise funds to cover these costs. On Dec. 12, the club held a silent auction along with a show, starring performers from Revolution's own Majestic Theatre and Blue herself. The theatre was filled to capacity and tons of raffle prizes were given away. Now fully up and running, The Venue will next show Southern Winds Theatre’s 15th Anniversary of its one man A Christmas Carol starring David A. McElroy on Dec. 22, followed by “Let's Go to Church” Christmas fellowship and potluck on Dec. 23 and the return of their “Fun Friday Happy Hour.” For more information, visit TheVenueOrlando.com.

Police investigating Zebra House theft

By : Jamie Hyman
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On Thanksgiving morning, thieves ransacked a storage unit owned by the Zebra Coalition, stealing clothing and other items intended for LGBT youth.

Dexter Foxworth, Zebra Coalition's executive director, said he was tipped off about the theft by construction workers who noticed the unit was partway open and the lock was broken.

“It literally looked like [the thieves] turned the place upside down,” Foxworth said. “It was a disaster.”

He said they took a lot of clothing donations “for the kids,” plus many of their survival hygiene packs, which are packages containing first aid kits, sunscreen, food, basic hygiene products and resource information for the LGBT community, intended to be handed out to LGBT youth who are living on the streets.

ThievesTakeItems2They also took electronic games and entertainment that was in storage while renovations on Zebra House were being finished. Foxworth filed a police report but there are no suspects so far.

“They're still investigating,” he said.

As far as recovery, Foxworth said the Coalition had already been planning a holiday drive called Hope for the Holidays, and now, “We just increased the list with additional needs based on what was stolen.”

He said the biggest need currently is clothing, especially heaver clothing for cold weather, but there will be a full list of needs posted on the Zebra Coalition website and its Facebook page soon. Foxworth said monetary donations are always welcome as well, and currently possible via the website.

Collections for the donation drive will run from 1:30–6:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, 11, 13, 18 and 20. The limited collection time is because of their limited staff, to ensure they can still serve their clients.

Foxworth said he's not worried about more break-ins, because “the new property does have a great security system and surveillance.”

There was a ribbon-cutting Dec. 5 to celebrate the grand opening of Zebra Coalition's new headquarters and emergency youth shelter. The ceremony was led by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and City of Orlando District 4 Commissioner, Patty Sheehan.

“I am proud to have an organization like the Zebra Coalition® in my district,” said Commissioner Sheehan in a media release. “This organization fosters hope, dignity and self-respect in LGBTQ youth and provides them with an opportunity to grow up in a safe, healthy and supportive environment.”

See photos of the ribbon cutting!

Zebra Foundation receives $500,000 grant

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The Zebra Foundation for Youth will receive $500,000 over the next eight years from the Bryce L. West Foundation. The Zebra Foundation helps to create and sustain programs that directly support LGBTQ youth, primarily through the Zebra Coalition, which is a network of Central Florida organizations, schools and service providers that provide services to LGBT youth.

“We are pleased to make this donation through the Zebra Foundation for Youth to support the incredible work that the Zebra Coalition is doing in the Central Florida community,” said Bryce West, executive director of the Bryce L. West Foundation and board member of the Zebra Foundation for Youth, in a media release. “It is the only organization in Central Florida that provides a full continuum of services to this at-risk group of youth.”

West's Foundation supports various Central Florida arts, education and service organizations.

“By making this gift, we can ensure that future donations, gifts, grants and other financial assistance to the Zebra Foundation for Youth will go directly to client services,” West said.

According to a media release from the Zebra Coalition, the money will be used to renovate and operate the Zebra House, on Mills Ave. in Orlando, which provides office space to Zebra Coalition staff and will also offer case management and counseling; medical services; a food, hygiene and clothing bank; laundry and shower facilities; education and career support; a resource library; and a computer center to at-risk LGBTQ youth.

ScottBowmanThe Zebra Foundation for Youth also has some new leadership.

Scott Bowman, vice president of client relations for Sara Brady Public Relations, Inc., has been named board chairman, succeeding Jefferson R. Voss, senior director, Tavistock Group, who is co-founder of the Zebra Foundation for Youth and remains president and an active member of the board.

Zebra Coalition raises nearly $1,800 in one-day donation drive

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The Zebra Coalition, a network of 18 businesses and organizations that support LGBT youth, raised $1,797 in 11 hours, said Dexter Foxworth, Zebra Coalition's director. The funds were raised at “Gays and Straights Fight the Hate Day” on Aug. 10. Supporters were encouraged via social media to make a donation to The Zebra Coalition, as a pro-active response to Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.

Now, the Zebra Coalition is organizing a donation drive for Aug. 18, this time seeking items to fulfill specific needs for LGBT youth who may have been kicked out of their homes.

“They are homeless and are not attending school, therefore there is a need for us to find them emergency and short-term housing, reintegrate them back into the school system, provide transportation for school, work and job interviews, and basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter,” said Foxworth in a media release.

There is a long list of client needs (full list available at WatermarkOnline.com) including bus passes, cleaning supplies, hygiene items and gift cards.

Donors are asked to drop off items at 911 N. Mills Avenue, the future location of the Zebra Coalition House.