Sarasota couple Clark West and Elliott Mitchell are spearheading an effort to bring the city its first LGBT community center called Our House.
“It’s taken from the old Crosby, Stills and Nash song of the same name,” Mitchell says. “Our picture for it is that it is exactly what the name says: It is the LGBT community’s house and it would serve a lot of different needs.”
Mitchell, who is a real estate developer, and husband West, a licensed mental health counselor, have been home owners in Sarasota since 1999. They became permanent residents in 2007.
“About a year ago, we decided we wanted to focus our philanthropic efforts in our area, so we came up with the idea of an LGBT Center in Sarasota, which has never had one, modeled somewhat after those found throughout the country,” Mitchell says.
As the couple attempted to get Our House started last year, they could not find enough funding to get it off the ground.
“My partner and I decided that we’ll just start it ourselves. We’ll find a building and open the doors and we’ll get it cranked up and let evolve into what the community wants it to be,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell and West hope Our House will become a resource center for the Sarasota LGBT community.
“We are not political; we do not do any kind of medical testing or anything like that,” Mitchell says. “Our single purpose is to invite you in, find out what it is that you are lacking and point you to a resource that probably already exists that you weren’t aware of.”
Mitchell and West hoped to have Our House’s doors opened in July, but issues with the location forced the couple to seek out a new facility to house the center.
“I would expect that in the next 60 days we will have selected a site, and by early fall, we will be in that location,” Mitchell says aiming for a Labor Day weekend opening.
While Mitchell says the center will evolve to meet the community’s needs, in the beginning they hope to focus on three key areas: LGBT youth, the elderly and HIV-positive individuals.
“We were negotiating with ALSO Youth to include them in the center before pulling out of the old location,” Mitchell says. “The expectation is that once we move into a new facility that ALSO Youth will move in with us.”
Having ALSO Youth in Our House will help the two organizations to collaborate on events and resources to better serve the LGBT youth of Sarasota.
Mitchell also helps to get the word out to ever growing LGBT retirement community about the services Our House will be able to offer.
“The over-65 group makes up a large part of the Sarasota LGBT community,” Mitchell says. “Many of them have been together for decades but are not married and without wills. One of our efforts is going to make them aware that if you die, and you are not married and without a will, that your partner is at risk of losing everything you built during your relationship, and we have legal experts who will come in and help with that.”
West currently leads HIV-positive group sessions with Community AIDS Network (CAN) and looks to bring similar group counseling to the center.
“At the end of the day, we just want to be whatever the community needs,” Mitchell says.