In its 20th anniversary, the Pride Center at Equality Park of South Florida celebrates two decades of LGBT community outreach. Meanwhile, eleven people dedicate their time and energy to keeping the Pride Center alive and thriving.
From arts and culture to health education, the Pride Center offers over 60 regular programs a month to care for the needs of the LGBT community. With a campus of over 30,000 square feet located in Wilton Manors, the Pride Center has provided a safe-haven for LGBT youth, adults, and seniors. According to its website, over 17,000 people attend activities at the Pride Center each year.
But a non-profit organization of this magnitude doesn’t just run itself.
In the background, the Pride Center’s board of directors — an eleven-person panel that governs and raises funds for the non-profit organization — has been putting their full effort into making sure keeping the center open for the community is possible.
“Their responsibility is to make sure that strategically we’re moving in the direction we should be to support the LGBT community,” Executive Director of the Pride Center Robert Boo said.
According to Boo, the board plays a vital role in supporting the Pride Center financially. Each board member is expected reach out to local companies and get these companies to financially support the center.
And they don’t stop there.
“Based on their skill set and passion, they also get involved,” said Boo.
Whether it’s individual programs at the center or a specific fundraiser, each board member has a role and a passion that keeps them committed to their position.
“It’s a big commitment of time and a commitment of their finances,” Boo said. “For someone willing to donate their time, money, and talent to this cause, it says a lot about these wonderful individuals. They’re just so willing to give and give.”Ilene Berliner, Chair
Berliner has sat on the board for almost six years now.
She recently retired earlier this year from her job as an executive account manager for Creative Ad Images, an advertising agency in Fort Lauderdale. After retiring, she assumed the position of chair of the board of directors because she wanted to put more time and energy into her true passion — the Pride Center.
“I made a lot of friends when I got involved with the Pride Center,” Berliner said. “That also propelled me to get involved. You meet so many great people.”
Berliner was involved in the board as the Pride Center grew and become more prominent in the community.
“I saw how important our center was to the community,” Berliner said. “We offer services that top any other organization in the area.”
One of her biggest accomplishments is expanding on the programs for women in the LBT community.
“We didn’t have women’s programs before,” Berliner said. “Now, we have programs for women’s health, women’s groups, and physicians for women.”
Berliner hopes to use her seat as chair of the board to continue fundraising to keep the Pride Center supported financially and let more people in the community know about what the Pride Center can offer.“I just want people to know is open,” Berliner said. “I would be more than happy to give a personal tour to any person who hasn’t seen it.”
Walker has been on the Board of Directors for over a year now.
When he and his partner, Lee, moved down to South Florida in 2009, he immediately became involved in the community.
He held, and still holds, a position on the board of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — an organization that works with news and media to advocate for the acceptance and understanding of LGBT rights.
After a year in South Florida, Walker discovered the Pride Center and decided to become involved.
“When I first moved down here, I hardly knew anyone,” Walker said. “I met a lot of great people after I moved down to South Florida through the Pride Center.”
“One of the things I love about the center is whether you’re a volunteer, or want to be HIV tested, or a member of the garden club, the Pride Center provides a place for everybody,” Walker said.
Walker and his partner helped organize and host the most successful annual fundraiser the center has had. In 2012, they opened up their home to over 300 guests for the first annual “Evening in Paradise” fundraiser with a Garden of Eden theme. The fundraiser helped raise over $50,000 in 2012 and over $60,000 in 2013.
“I’m very proud that this has become an ongoing fundraiser,” Walker said.Chris Caputo, Secretary
Caputo has been on the board of directors for over a year.
He is the owner of MetroMediaWorks, an online marketing firm serving South Florida. He is also involved in the board of the Gay and Lesbian Business Exchange — a networking group for LGBT business owners in the community.
Caputo became actively involved in the board after testing positive for HIV at the Pride Center over a year ago. The Pride Center directed him to support networks and health services.
“All of a sudden, when you find out you’re HIV positive, you see this center in a whole different light,” Caputo said. “It went from ‘I’m doing this because other people need this’ to ‘I’m doing this because I need this.’”
Caputo is using his experience in the Pride Center to drive him to keep the center financially sound through fundraising and an ability to support the community.
“It became essential for me to get involved,” Caputo said. “You get connected to programs, you get connected to services, and you get connected to other people.”
Caputo hopes to get more people under the age of 40 involved in the Pride Center and utilizing the programs the center has to offer.“A lot of people don’t realize that there is a center until they get older,” Caputo said. “Some people don’t realize the benefits of the center for all ages. I want to get more young people aware and get them involved.”Craig Engel, Treasurer
Engel has been on the board of directors for over eight months now.
Friends that participate in the fundraisers and events introduced him to the Pride Center.
“I felt like it was a great place to give back to the community,” Engel said. “Something happens when you see what a great organization it is and what a great group of people are involved: you really want to be part of it.”
Engel has held a career as a CPA since 1985. He currently owns his own practice which he launched over 20 years ago. Engel uses his knowledge of finances as treasurer of the board to assist in keeping the Pride Center financially sound.
“I consider myself as a supportive role to make sure the center can function from a financial standpoint,” Walker said. “I make sure they have the finances to achieve their overall goals and reach out to the community.”
Engel hopes to use his position to help the center continue to grow.
“I hope to see more outreach and more people participating,” Engel said. “I want to be around to help them continue to grow these programs and the campus and do more for the community.”Ted Adcock, Board Member
Adcock has been a member of the board for over five years and counting.
He first became involved in the Pride Center after seeing the work they do and how involved they are with the community.
“It’s my time to give back to the community,” Adcock said. “As I started getting older, I saw this need to give back to the next generation. I saw this safe place for all of the young people and I never had that during my time.”
He aims to stay involved in the community in his spare time.
He also currently holds a position on the boards of H.O.M.E.S, Inc. — a non-profit organization that provides housing to at-risk youth in Broward County.
With a profession as a realtor, Adcock has gained experience in the remodeling and renovation of over 20 residences in Ft. Lauderdale. He uses his expertise to reach big goals he has for the Pride Center.
“We’ve started the beautification of the front of the center,” Adcock said. “We have a great building there, but you don’t know the building is there because you can’t see it.”
Adcock’s goal is to have the front of the center painted and lighting installed to improve the look of the building.
“As a realtor, it’s all about first impressions,” he said.
Overall, he’s most proud of his work with the center because of the services provided to the community members.
“It’s interesting because everyone always has a big smile on their face because they finally have a safe place to go,” Adcock said.Mitchell Bloom, Board Member
Bloom has been with the board for over a year and a half.
Bloom has been a manager in Wells Fargo for eight years now and a branch manager of the Wells Fargo in Wilton Manors for two years. Bloom initially became involved in the Pride Center after recognizing its importance in the community.
“The center has always been the best place for resources, counseling and moral support for people who don’t know where to turn,” Bloom said.
“Years ago, many of my friends found out they were HIV-positive,” Bloom says. “Knowing plays a critical role in helping them be in a better place makes me feel really good.”
One of Bloom’s goals includes volunteering as a rider in the Smart Ride — a program that raises money for HIV/AIDS awareness through an event where volunteers bike from Miami to Key West. The Pride Center is one of six beneficiaries of the fundraiser.
“You just ride on a bicycle all the way to Key West without any kind of preparation to raise money,” Bloom said. “It’s something that, over time, I definitely hope I can do.”
Bloom hopes to do more for HIV awareness with the Pride Center and continue to help the community.“It’s hard to put into words how it makes you feel,” Bloom said. “It’s almost like being a counselor and a social worker all rolled into one. It sounds kind of corny, but we’re making the world a better place.”Mark Budwig, Board Member
Budwig joined the board just over nine months ago.
Budwig plays a very active role in the community by participating in several local outreach organizations.
He is a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Business Exchange — a networking group for LGBT business owners in the community. He is also the chairman of the board of Broward House, Inc. — an organization that supports community members living with HIV/AIDS. In addition to that, he is also on the board of Our Fund — a non-profit organization that aims to connect different LGBT community outreach organizations and raise funds for them.
“I’m 54 years old and I see how the community has changed in the past few years,” said Budwig. “I just want to do what I can to give back.”
At the Pride Center, Budwig takes on a role in attending events and getting community members and businesses to support the center.
“We host monthly luncheons for the center,” Budwig said. “The more people that help out, the merrier we are.”
Budwig also became interested in being involved in the Pride Center to make LGBT youth more comfortable with whom they are and provide them with a safe place in the community.
“I know when I came out it was very difficult,” he said. “I’m just trying to make it easier for kids today.”Brenda Hartley, Board Member
Hartley has been on the board of directors for over two years.
Hartley has been working with Bank United for nine years now and is currently the vice president of the Fort Lauderdale branch. She is also a member of the Wilton Manors Business Association — a local network of businesses in Wilton Manors that promote each other.
Hartley is very interested in her work at the Pride Center and ensuring the organization is financially sound and maintains its important role in the community.
“Growing up, I never had a place like that to go to,” Hartley said. “So it means a lot to me that we have it right here in the community.”
A goal of Hartley’s is to encourage women to participate more often in the pride center, whether it’s volunteering or participating in programs.
“I want to get more women involved,” Hartley said. “That’s a passion of mine. I really want to try and get more women in programs at the Pride Center.”
Seeing the people that use the programs at the center and find a safe place in the Pride Center makes it all worthwhile for Hartley.
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of hours, but it’s for the community,” Hartley said. “Really, that’s what it’s all about.”George Kling, Board Member
Kling has spent a total of five years on the board of the Pride Center.
Kling is a retired physician who practiced medicine in Detroit for 42 years before moving down to South Florida in 2000. After retiring, he became involved in the Tuesday’s Angels —a non-profit organization that provides emergency funding for people living with HIV/AIDS. He has been involved in the organization for over ten years now.
He initially became involved in the Pride Center as a volunteer.
“I moved to South Florida after spending all of my time in a medical center,” Kling said. “I never had a group of friends. The Pride Center was a place to get in contact with new people and meet new people.”
Kling wanted to use his time and skills as a physician to give back to his community after retirement by volunteering in a variety of health services provided by the center, including HIV screening.
“There were a lot of people who needed help,” Kling said. “I thought that I would like to give back.”
Now as a board member, Kling appreciates the different growing roles the Pride Center plays in the community.
“We’re trying to make the Pride Center a place where people can come and just feel like everyone else,” Kling said. “It’s a place where people care about your well-being.”Richard Safaty, Board Member
Safaty has been on the board of the Pride Center for about a year, but joined as a founder in 2008.
Originally from New York, Safaty moved to South Florida in 2006 and opened his own travel agency, Freedom Travel, in Wilton Manors. Safaty was involved in the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth network — an advocacy and support organization for LGBT youth in the area. Safaty became involved in the Pride Center after moving to South Florida to continue his work with the community.
“I was in business for 18 years,” Safaty said. “I feel like I’ve been successful and I want to give some of that back to the community.”
“I’ve always wanted to help support organizations and programs for the LGBT community,” Safaty said.
Safaty was very active in planning the Pride Center’s first cruise as a fundraiser in February 2012 and 2013. Over 120 community members active in the Pride Center and several donors attended the cruise and the event raised over $5,000 for the Pride Center this year.
“It was a very successful program and not just as a fundraiser,” Safaty said. “It also gave people the opportunity to be social and learn more about the Pride Center.”
Safaty enjoys being part of the Pride Center community and hopes to see it grow.
“We have all of these different people and different programs,” Safaty said. “Everyone is touched in different ways and it’s a great feeling to be a part of something good.”Leslie Tipton, Board Member
Tipton recently rejoined the board in Fall 2012 after holding a position on the board for over three years and temporarily leaving for two.
Tipton is currently a pastor at the Church of the Holy Spirit Song, which holds its services on the Pride Center campus in Wilton Manors. She holds services every Wednesday and Sunday morning and the church has grown to over 150 members since its establishment in 1999.
The church is open to everyone, and anyone in the LGBT community is encouraged to participate.
“I feel that it’s vitally important for our community members who have been shunned for so long to feel welcome,” Tipton said. “We strive to make it a welcoming place for every single person on that campus.”
Tipton hopes that people in the community think of the Pride Center as a place to feel safe and a place of understanding.
“It’s important for people in our community to know that it’s okay to be the way they are,” Tipton said. “They were made that way.”
Tipton’s role as a pastor encourages her to be active in the community, specifically the Pride Center through her role on the board.
“It feels great being a part of the center,” Tipton said. “It’s not just what we do for them; it’s what they do for the community.”