Despite significant strides being made for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community, support is still needed for individuals who need a safe place to explore issues of identity and gain useful skills. Center on Halsted, located in the heart of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, set out to create that supportive and nurturing environment.
Brian Richardson, Director of Public Affairs at the Center, says: “Even though we’re moving toward more equality throughout the country, there are still challenges that LGBTQ people of all ages are facing that may prevent them from getting good housing or keeping their jobs.”
More than 1,000 people visit the Center every day for advocacy, support and educational services. The Center provides a welcoming place for the entire LGBTQ community, with programs that range from volleyball, dance and cooking to rapid HIV testing, group therapy and vocational training. They also serve as an incubator for a number of smaller LGBTQ nonprofits, providing operational support, space and resources for organizations whose mission is complementary to theirs and helping them grow.
Since 2006, Bank of America has been connected with Center on Halsted, providing program funding, encouraging employees to serve on their board and sending volunteers from the bank’s LGBT Pride employee network. Says Modesto Tico Valle, CEO at Center on Halsted, “It means a lot that we have friends in the corporate sector who are willing to donate, not just money but also time to make a difference—to come to our Cyber Center and help with job searches or resume writing, to work with our seniors, to connect with our young people—to help us build a better community for everyone.”
In 2007, following a $20 million capital campaign, Center on Halsted moved into a 175,000-square-foot building. Today, the LEED-certified center houses an entertainment venue, a grocery store, a café, office space for Resident Partners, a technology center, a gym, theater, public roof garden and other gathering spaces.
Carol Hedin started visiting the Center thirty years ago when she joined their Gay and Lesbian Parents Group. Hedin had been married, with three children, and living in the suburbs for 19 years when she came out. She said, “I moved into the city and I knew no one in the gay community. I made a lot of friends there who like me had been married and had kids too. We were like a minority within a minority. I still have a lot of those friends to this day—it’s made a big difference in my life. Just the social network, the support, is really important. To know that you’re not alone, you know?”
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