LGBT Welcome Center – A MLK Day of Service project

BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –The MLK Day of Service projects are a chance to start the year off right by making an impact in the community, and the folks over at the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bi-Sexual, Transgender) Welcome Center is doing just that.

With a MLK Day of Service award, the welcome center soon will have a newly renovated kitchen with all the accoutrement.

“We’re able to put in all new cabinets, new sinks and counter tops,” Chris Rudisill director of the LGBT Welcome Center explained.  They will also be able to install a coffee bar with the $5,000.00 they were rewarded.  On the actual MLK Day of Service, volunteers from Wells Fargo Bank will complete the project by painting and providing other finishing touches.

Located at 2227 Central Ave., it was once a former bungalow home that was donated by GSC of St. Petersburg LLC, and had to be moved several blocks to its present location. The move alone cost of $30,000, which was covered all from private donations.

The inaugural celebration took place Dec. 12 and was attended by more than 200 people including Mayor Rick Kriseman and city council members.  The center hopes that it can become a hub of information that can assist the neighborhood and specifically target the LGBT community.

The LGBT Welcome Center is under the umbrella of Metro Wellness and Community Centers, which is located at 3251 3rd Ave. N. The CEO of Metro, Lorraine Langlois, has always wanted a larger presence for the organization and that visibility can be found along the bustling Central Avenue corridor.

“This [center] offers us a chance to be the front door to the community,” Rudisill stated. He credits Brian Longstreh, a local realtor, for being instrumental in helping make the center a reality; the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Central District, which is also housed at the site.

Located on the 22nd block of Central Avenue, a cheerful bright green door welcomes visitors.  Inside, the renovated home is filled with colorful functional furniture. Outside there is a gathering area with lawn chairs and tables. The center has held and has future plans for holding workshops and events that include an acoustic night, spoken word, book clubs, writers clubs and a coffee talk hour.

Rudisill says that there is a need in the community for this type of center. He cites statistics that shows were more homeless LGBT youth are at risk for suicides than homeless heterosexual teens.  He also stated that a lot of older gays still live in isolation and fear because of their sexual orientation.

He feels that the center will be an oasis in a non – alcoholic environment where people can be themselves, while providing a conduit of information and visitor resources. They have information available for homelessness, substance abuse, free HIV testing and behavioral issues.

“The center is not funded and we rely on community support,” Rudisill averred.  “The community owns this house.  This is about people giving back to the community beyond themselves.”

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