On the heels of The Advocate magazine declaring Tacoma to be “America’s Gayest City” this past January, T-Town’s LGBT population is about to get even more solidly established.
The Rainbow Center is moving to new digs on busy Pacific Avenue where Chuckal’s Office Products used to be (they’re now at 2209 Pacific Ave.) and will share the space with Oasis Youth Center, marking the first time Oasis will have its own public location in its 28-year history. Current plans are to have the new place open for business by June 1. A new website – http://www.orctacoma.org - reflects the shared space.
On March 25, Rainbow Center and Oasis volunteers and supporters held an informal open house/press conference at the new location, 2215 Pacific Ave., to kick off their Creating Community Campaign. Those in attendance heard about both organizations’ co-location plans and the fundraising strategy now underway to build the interior into a full-fledged community center.
The crowd included numerous city notables like Tacoma City Council member Ryan Mello; YWCA Executive Director Miriam Barnett; Pierce County AIDS Foundation Executive Director Duane Wilkerson; Chief of Operations and Strategy at Metropolitan Development Council and President of the Board of the American Leadership Forum Troy Christensen; community activist Justin Leighton; and Tacoma civic leader (and Tacoma City Council candidate) Patricia Lecy-Davis.
Benjii Bittle, deputy executive director of Broadway Center, is co-chair of the Creating Community Campaign. He said the fundraising goal is $250,000 in the next nine weeks, with about $110,000 already collected. Campaign information can be found at http://www.rainbowcntr.org, and there will be many opportunities for the community to get involved as well. Joining Bittle on the fundraising committee are Sharon Benson, Diane Lachell, Sam Harris and John Cummings, with council member Mello and state Rep. Laurie Jinkins as honorary co-chairs.
Bittle expressed much excitement for what lies ahead for Tacoma’s LGBT community center and its trailblazing inclusion of youth. “What struck me about this is that what’s happening here is nationally significant,” he said.
Rainbow Center Executive Director Michelle Douglas said there’s nothing else like it that she knows of. “There’s not often youth-specific space and there’s really something powerful and magical about that. We have been looking for other examples of what we’re doing and I have not yet found another youth center and broader community center side by side like we are,” she said. “This is an incredible opportunity for us to expand our footprint and provide more services.”
Once it’s open for business, Douglas anticipates that the Rainbow Center and Oasis will both be busier than ever before.
“What excites me most about this space is that with this design we are able to say it’s busy from 8 in the morning to 10 at night. This is an opportunity to take the resources we have and just maximize them.”
In addition to providing meeting space for numerous LGBT organizations such as Gender Alliance of the South Sound and the Imperial Sovereign Court of Tacoma, the Rainbow Center hosts regular events like movie nights and karaoke nights, and publishes a bi-monthly newsletter and annual resource guide that lists LGBT-friendly resources and services in the South Puget Sound area. The center is also the hub of organizing the yearly Out In Tacoma pride festival each July.
Oasis, a program of Pierce County AIDS Foundation, is a drop-in, support and resource center for LGBT youth ages 14-24. Oasis Director Seth Kirby said that increased public and visible support of LGBT youth makes this the right time for Oasis to reach the next level. “We really wanted to model a coming out process that is healthy and community accepted, so it’s really exciting to get to do that right next to the Rainbow Center,” he said.
Combined, the Rainbow Center and Oasis receive about 200 visits per week. “I’m anticipating this will grow in our public location, and that’s exciting,” Kirby said.
The first thing noticeable about the new location was the vast expanse of square footage the two organizations will now have – from 1,600 at the center’s St. Helens address to 6,000 at the new location. Rainbow Center and Oasis will each have its own distinct space and separate entrance and the kitchen, computer lab, library, game room and more can all be shared by both. Douglas said Chuckals’ owners and staff were a dream to work with and even donated some pieces of furniture. “They’ve been so nice…just outstanding.” She said the same of building owners Peter and Ann Darling, both longtime Tacoma philanthropists. “Part of what has made this work for us is that we have such a supportive landlord here.”
The Darlings have owned the building for about 35 years. Peter Darling said he’s thankful that the center is moving in. “There are 40 other empty buildings around town and we as landlords are grateful you chose us,” he said at the campaign kickoff.
Douglas also gave thanks to Amy DeDomonicis with Tacoma Design Collaborative and Steve Dombrowski with Architecture for Humanity. “They both are donating all of their time and are really the only reason we have made it this far,” Douglas said.
To keep up with all the new developments, “like” the Tacoma Rainbow Center on Facebook, follow on Twitter and visit http://www.rainbowcntr.org and sign up for the center’s e-newsletter. Those interested in volunteering to help out are asked to e-mail Kirby at firstname.lastname@example.org or Douglas at email@example.com to let them know your interests.
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