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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 21, 2014

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In Living

The LGBT Community Center is in the remodeled boiler building of the former Blatz Brewing Company.

New directions for the LGBT Community Center


The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, 1110 N. Market St., a non-profit organization dedicated to being the home of Milwaukee's LGBT population, is making some important changes.

The community resource, founded in 1998, is reenergizing and building connections with the broader community by co-sponsoring events such as, "Weed Dating: Like Speed Dating, but for Gardeners" with the Cream City Foundation and the Victory Garden Initiative, and planning family-friendly events so same-sex parents with young kids can be more involved.

"We're basically bringing more fun into the community, in addition to continuing to offer services like health education and financial counseling," says Jennifer Morales, co-president of the Community Center's board. "The mix of fun and service is essential."

In asking how to make the center the social hub of the LGBT community once again, many people told the new board that they want the center to offer more social programming, in short to bring the fun.

"We're thrilled to have a new staff member on board to coordinate the center's Anti-Violence Project (AVP) and to offer counseling services, which have been identified as a priority by community members. But Weed Dating was a wonderfully casual way for people to meet while preparing garden beds for use by neighborhood residents," says co-president Paul Williams, who was formerly president of Human Rights League-PAC, a political action committee for LGBT candidates, among others.

The AVP's new manager is Anne David, who is in charge of directing programs that help community members with issues ranging from building healthy relationships to recovering from hate crimes.

In addition to renewing its commitment to important social issues, the LGBT Community Center also sponsored a screening of the Andy Warhol film "Kiss," which shows 13 couples in lip lock. Co-presented by the Milwaukee LGBT Film and Video Festival at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, the event is another example of the center's new community partnering.

"Other recent social events, like the '70s party we had in conjunction with the Milwaukee Symphony's 'ABBA Mania' show, have been great at creatively stretching the community's concept of what the center can offer in this regard," says Morales.

Reorganization is hard work. Morales and Williams say the new board has built up a lot of confidence and they're getting strong encouragement from the community.

The center scaled back from renting four floors of the former Blatz Brewing Company's boiler house to two, and has made numerous improvements on its financial obligations in order to better support its programs.

Currently 13 positions on the 15-member board are filled, which is up from just four in January. About 30 community center members and other stakeholders emerged earlier this year, meeting once a week to see what they could do to preserve the organization, which had suffered a sudden loss of funding and leadership.

"Because none of us could really predict the future, we realized that some of us needed to become board members," says Morales, who until the week before attending her first stakeholder meeting had been busy running for public office.

Karen Gotzler stepped forward from among the stakeholder group to offer her services at that time, too.

Gotzler, who is COO of the non-profit management consulting group Urban Strategies, volunteered to serve as the community center's executive director during its reorganization.

"She's working on pretty much a pro bono basis," says Morales. "That's how much she cares about the center."

Co-presidents Morales and Williams were elected in March.

They joke that at the meeting they were elected, Williams and Morales feel like they turned their heads away from the table for a moment and, when they looked back, they were the new co-presidents.

In addition to changing the bylaws making it so half the board is elected by LGBT Community Center membership, the new board members are doing a benchmarking study to see how other big city LGBT centers sustain themselves.

One of goals Morales, whose term on the board runs until February 2014, has for her tenure is to make sure the center has a well-implemented fundraising plan that is also sustainable long-term.

"We're also trying to find good ways to serve all the various generations at the center," says Morales. "We don't currently have very good elder programs."

Project Q, one of the center's youth programs, serves kids ages 12 to 24 in the evenings. On Friday, Sept. 21, in the courtyard entrance to the community center, Project Q is holding a Hawaiian BBQ for people of all ages, which includes games and tours of the center.

The LGBT Community Center still has mental health services, which was what the other floors in the Blatz building were to be used for, but on a smaller scale. Other projects include HIV testing services and support groups for various segments of the LGBTQ population, such as for transgender folks while they are transitioning.

The library at the center, curated by volunteer librarian Katie Obbink, has the state's largest LGBTQ holdings with nearly 2,500 books. Subject categories include psychology and health, teen, sociology, history and spirituality all around LGBT issues. A large selection of gay, lesbian and queer fiction titles is also available in the community-supported library.

Morales is particularly proud of what Obbink has done with the library and encourages people to use its resources for research or simple enjoyment.

"The center is doing well, thanks to an infusion of time, talent, and funding from our base of supporters. We also have to credit the amazing leadership of the other board members and the dedicated staff who have been making sure the center's programs and services have continued," says Morales. "We welcome the bright ideas and participation of the community."


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