St. Petersburg - The holidays are squarely upon us and Metro Wellness and Community Centers is ready to celebrate the season of giving back year-round. The organization announced this month plans to open its LGBT Welcome Center, which will also cater to LGBT youth in Tampa Bay.
Larry Biddle, director of center development, says he hopes the facility will be fully operational by St. Pete Pride in June.
“We’re only the third welcome center of this kind in the country,” Biddle said. “We’re learning a lot from the facility in Miami, and we’ll provide resources all in one location.”
And that location is within a historic home that was physically moved one block on Central Avenue in August. The building’s new address is next to the Metro Wellness and Community Center Thrift Store at 2235 Central Ave., in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg.
Biddle said that nearly 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. By creating this new Welcome Center, youth will have a place to gather and find resources, rather than going to an office-type building, which can be intimidating.
“The key is to keep these kids entertained, off the streets and receptive to the programs we have,” explained Adam Jahr, who handles LGBT programming. “This is a welcoming space where these kids can come, feel comfortable and be with others in their similar situation.”
The Welcome Center will also incorporate a cafe, according to Biddle. Metro is in negotiations with local coffee shop Kawha Coffee to provide resources for that element of the project.
“The whole area will essentially be a cafe,” Jahr said of the 1,135-square-foot building. “With the exception of an office space in the back, people can come in, sit where they like and enjoy their coffee, a book or whatever.”
And Biddle is hopeful that the local community of the Grand Central District and Historic Kenwood will take part in the success of the Welcome Center.
“I see us serving coffee early to let the locals come in, enjoy their morning paper or whatever,” Biddle said. “Then after 10 or so we’ll switch to providing resources and offering travel resources.”
Those travel resources, Biddle explained, will come in the form of a one-stop-shop for LGBT-friendly Tampa Bay attractions. The building, and it’s yet-to-be-launched website, will serve as a portal, Biddle explained.
“We’re basing this on what they did in Miami,” Biddle explained. “There, they would issue stickers, or plaques to note what businesses are LGBT-friendly. We could do something similar here. We’ll also provide international visitors—and locals—the opportunity to build their own itineraries based on the resources we’ve gathered.”
While the Welcome Center won’t be a travel agency, it will let those interested in experiencing LGBT Tampa Bay customize a visit in order to support the parts of the community which support LGBT causes.
“I’ve had a couple of businesses already say they’re excited about this because they want to make sure they’re gay friendly,” Biddle laughed. “It’s great for advertising.”
Currently, the historic building is not ready to welcome guests. However, a fundraising campaign has begun on IndieGoGo.com to help get the estimated $160,000 to open the doors. There, community members can donate, knowing that a matching grant will double the totals.
“There’s Black Friday, Local Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday right in front of us,” Jahr explained. “Our hope is that the community at large will remember to give to non-profits on Tuesday, Dec. 3, and that they’ll consider donating to us.
From our media partner WatermarkSteve Blanchard