Pride Center Softly Reopens

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Pride Center at Equality Park opened its doors again on Thursday four days after Hurricane Irma blew through South Florida leaving death and destruction in its wake.

“We’re facing major damages financially,” said Pride Center Chief Operations Officer Kristofer Fegenbush. “Air conditioning units aren’t cheap.”

Multiple air conditioning units were lost during the storm and leaks were discovered throughout the campus. Staff and volunteers began picking up the pieces this week with electricity and partial air conditioning restored on Wednesday but still no telephone or internet service.

Fegenbush said re-opening quickly was important as the center facilitates many support programs. Those in 12-step programs are particularly vulnerable during times of crisis, Fegenbush said.

“Now is the time when people can be triggered because of the grieving and stress from the storm,” Fegenbush said.

The Florida National Guard secured the center’s warehouse as a staging location for food and water distribution. Elkin Alfred, representing United Way of Broward County, set up a table inside the warehouse to assist those in need.

Alfred said while unfortunate, Hurricane Irma is bringing people together.

“It’s good to see people out talking to their neighbors again and asking what they can do to help,” Alfred said.

Meanwhile, Forrest Edwards sat on a couch in the lobby of the main building charging his cell phone. Edwards, a volunteer at the center for four years, called the organization vital and marveled at how far it has come.

“I knew Alan Schubert,” said Edwards of the late Pride Center founder. “He had this idea to do something for the gay community and it’s phenomenal when you look at the progress.”

Along with disrupting group meetings, the hurricane has put a pause on health programs. There is no HIV or STI testing available currently at the center. Those services must first receive an all clear from the Florida Department of Health to resume, Fegenbush said.

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