Orlando – A new special program at The GLBT Center of Central Florida is gaining participants and attention from the local LGBT community while helping a group that often goes unnoticed.
Older Wiser Learning (OWL) started in April 2015 but its foundation has been present at The Center for much longer, according to The Center’s senior program director Ken Terrell.
“I’ve been here seven years and I have learned, since working with this program, that in our community it seemed like our silver community was always invisible. I wanted to not make them invisible any longer, so I decided to create things to give them a time to socialize and to get themselves out,” Terrell says. “It’s my way of getting the older adults back into the community and let them be positive role models and contributing members of the community.”
Previously, there was a senior program at The Center called SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) for older adults, but Terrell decided to start fresh and come up with a senior program that was specifically designed for the Central Florida community and its concerns.
“I love what I’m doing, and it seems like the older adults connect to me,” Terrell said. “It’s like I’m a listening ear. Since I’ve been doing this program, I have a lot of them come in and have personal conversations with me, talk about things that and maybe exchange suggestions and ideas and praise me for what I’m doing.”
The group’s Facebook page says the program “works to educate Central Florida LGBT seniors through action by being positive role models and contributing members of the community at large, connecting LGBT senior’s to the resources needed to make informed decisions, respecting them as the unique individuals that they are while also respecting their family of choice and empowering them by reinforcing the belief that every human being has the inherent right to be whom and what they want to be.”
Every Tuesday night, OWL hosts an HIV support group for LGBT adults 50 years and older called “Positive Outlook,” but anyone is welcome. On Thursdays, there is a senior social that meets at 1 p.m. for game day, which has grown from four people regularly attending to 32 regulars. Every other Friday, Coffee Chats are held to let the senior citizens voice their opinions and concerns about anything going on in the community or that is currently going on in their lives. Terrell takes notes at these to further improve the OWL group. “Lunch & Learn” is held on the fourth Friday of the month and is an educational resource for OWL members about either a hot topic or a concern that was voiced at a previous Coffee Chat.
In addition to Terrell’s leadership, OWL has an advisory board to offer feedback and shape the direction of the future of the program. Linda Potkovic, Rob Mumby, Beaux Patrick and Gregory Highfill sit on the OWL advisory board. There are currently 57 OWL members and Terrell says that number continues to grow.
“I actually gain one to two members every week,” Terrell says.“It’s great to see and is very impressive to me.”
Beaux Patrick, who has volunteered at The Center for two years and is an OWL advisory board member, says The Center offers so much and OWL just adds to that.
“I’ve been involved with Ken and the senior program before it was even called OWL,” Patrick said.“It was just known as the senior program. As we formed the board and kind of got some direction of what we wanted to do, that’s when he came up with OWL and the logo.”
Patrick said the group has helped him become more a part of the greater LGBT community, and he believes one of the most immediate important goals is getting OWL back into The Center after the renovations and having it fully functional within the next year.
Terrell believes the renovated The Center will allow for more senior LGBTs to participate in OWL’s programs. The expansion will allow the LGBT community to see The Center for more than just a clinic, as a community-based center that provides resources, education and advocacy to the LGBT community.
“I’m actually waiting for the other building to reopen and we will bring back our movie nights that we were hosting, and we will also have Zumba, tai chi and yoga that’s designated for older adults,” Terrell says.
Rob Mumby, who is on the OWL advisory board, has been involved in the senior program for three years. Mumby says the group does plenty of fundraisers because, like The Center, their group survives off of donations.
“I love helping with the car wash,” Mumby said. “We have a car wash every three or four months, and I’m heavily involved with that.”
He hopes to see great things come from OWL as it grows in the future.
“I want it to be the program that anyone in the community, regardless of age, can go to for assistance,” Mumby said. “It really doesn’t matter how old you are — everybody needs help at some point. I think that because some of us are older, we tend to fall through the cracks a little quicker, but that seems to be true also about the very young in this community.”
The newest addition to OWL’s social calendar — Give A Hoot – is an inclusive group designed for all members of the LGBTQA community to hang out, make friends and explore Orlando. The group meets at The Center on Thursdays but also holds outings and activities on other days.
Terrell big goals for OWL, hoping one day to franchise the program out to other communities across the nation. For now, Terrell plans to continues to grow the program locally and learn what will make OWL thrive.
OWL will host “A Night of Cabaret” on August 26 at the Orlando Beer Garden with performances by Ashley Dunlap, Mar’keyth Powell, Brayshauna Thomas, Marisol Laboy and Bryan Manely. All funds raised will go back to the OWL group.
They’ll also hold their Second Annual 2nd Annual HIV and Aging Health Fair Sept. 18 at The Center. The event, like the group, acts as a way to inform the community about HIV and the aging LGBT population.