The Mpowerment Project: New Location, Same Mission

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The MPowerment program recently received a grant from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to move from their offices at Broward House, to a new location at 1224 NE 4th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. They are a social networking, HIV-prevention and outreach group for men who have sex with men, ages 18-30.

Traut is an active member of the gay and non-profit communities, as he is not only president of the MPowerment Project but also serves as a Board Member of the Church of the Holy SpiritSong. In 2010 he was awarded Mentor of the Year for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County.

Their new location allows for more space and gives the group their own identity in having a dedicated facility. The recently received grant from the CDC to facilitate the move was much needed. Petitioning the CDC is a lengthy process, and the funds were only awarded this past October, one full year after their 2009 submission.

Jacques Menasche, Program Facilitator initially came to the organization as a member three years ago.

“Two years ago – when this position opened up I took over,” said Menasche. He was motivated to apply for position for all the good that the program puts out into the community. There is also a sense of family among members. “A few members spoke about applying for the job and the other members I spoke with thought I should apply for the position. This is my first time working with a non-profit, and I love it.”

Menasche previously worked for large organizations providing technical and administrative support.

“My partner and I felt really isolated from the gay community, because we had no other gay couples to communicate with about our issues as a couple.”

The approach is simple, in terms of getting people to come in and become active members of the group. People in need or at risk simply drop in and Menasche – or other representatives – listen to their needs.

“We try to focus on being a drop-in center,” says Menasche. “I simply sit back and listen and let them plan all of the events and activities. All the time including the safer sex message.”

The activities are varied and will appeal to a wide demographic because their membership is very diverse and members work together to organize events, based on their interests.

Ruan Dixon is Chairman of the Core Group, the social aspect of the organization, and has had that role for two years. Like Menasche he started out as a member but came to have a leadership role with MPowerment.

“I oversee core group meetings which happen every Friday at 6:30 p.m. We decide on the activities we’re going to do in the upcoming week or month,” said Dixon.

The group has game nights, has visited local water parks, and museums. For Thanksgiving they are organizing a food drive called “Food For Thought.”

“For every food donation of three food items we will give out one raffle ticket. Instead of a big Thanksgiving party we’re doing something to help the community, in this case we’re donating the food to Poverello,” said Dixon, who says that the group will have a “little pot-luck for the holiday”. The raffle winner will receive a gift basket themed “Safe Sex in the Morning.”

The group will soon include on-site STD and HIV testing where gay men and bisexual men are encouraged to come with their partners, regardless of age or gender. When asked where they would like to see the group in years both Traut and Menasche responded that they would like to see the group serve all men who have sex with men in our community, regardless of age.

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