Rethinking (and rebuilding) the Center: LGBT organization gets a leg up via federal grants

Just in time for the annual Come Out With Pride explosion of color and exaggerated willfulness, the LGBT Center located on Mills Avenue in what used to be the gropehouse of the ViMi District (oh, come on; it did used to be like that) is announcing tonight at its Third Annual Black and White Gala that there are big changes on the horizon. Seriously big changes with dollar signs attached! There's a lot to this story, and we will likely follow up as the funds – totaling $147,000 in federal monies from the Community Development Block Grant program – are properly assigned, but this is actually pretty huge so we are, proverbially, chomping at the bit.

It goes a little something like this. Institutions within the city have the option to apply for grants from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order to better server underserved populations in the area. There is, naturally, a lot of red tape involved in this kind of grantwriting pageantry, but somehow, some way, the folks at the Center and those who support it were able to enact a coup this year: Instead of these HUD funds going explicitly to Districts 5 and 6, where they traditionally go for obvious socioeconomic reasons, the Center and District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan (along with her appointee for the CDBG effort, Eric Rollings, who has too many yard signs right now because of Soil and Water and Politics) campaigned to get a little extra federal fiscal loving for the city's traditional gay hub. Why? Because the Center does all sorts of things you should know about, might know about, but probably forget too often. Who gives HIV tests constantly, opens a computer lab for walkers by, holds the hands of folks going through all sorts of terrible situations on their way out of the closet, comforts the grieving and still keeps a smile on its face? The Center does.

"It's really a good time for people to take a minute to look closer at the Center and what it does," says Rollings.

Over a year ago, Sheehan approached Rollings and his "friendly face" about representing her district in the federal CBDG bidding war. The first go 'round wasn't necessarily fruitful because nobody quite knew what the parameters were. What we did know, though – or what Sheehan knew – is that CDBG dollars aren't intended to be isolated to one demographic or district. In an effort to branch the federal stimulus out, Sheehan and Rollings identified the Center as a worthy applicant, though the Center wasn't accustomed to grantwriting, etc. Still, according to Rollings, the fact that the Center had already worked up its own fundraising base via a new board and some new blood, made the pitch for federal funding that much easier.

"You have to submit plans and raise in-kind donations. They did all that before they even knew they had the money," he says. "It’s going to be a game changer for the Center."

The Center will receive – at least in part – the majority of its reward this year, and then will get to restructuring its operation. ("The ceiling has been leaking for years," Sheehan says). Key among the upgrades will be a more private, upstairs HIV testing area with four cubicles, thereby avoiding the awkward stares of the downstairs waiting room. Many other structural and surface renovations will be addressed in the process, too. After years of being shut out for no apparent reason, District 4 is now getting a grant that will affect and improve the lives of its oft-overlooked outsider community, Sheehan says.

"This is the first year that a LGBT org has gone in for this grant and won," Sheehan says. "The Center has been giving out condoms to street people and working hard for the community. It’s about time they got their fair share. The bottom line is the center has been doing good work for a long time and they’ve been doing it on a shoestring."

The capital improvement CDBG grant may be followed in subsequent years by requests for more service and operational dollars. After all, you're going to need a bigger staff when you provide more options.

"Now you have more space for more people, so you’re going to need more counselors," Rollings says. "Then you’re going to need to pay for the people. It's really a great opportunity to do additional fundraising."

Here's the press release:

Orlando, Fla. (October 7, 2014) –The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida (The Center), a volunteer based non-profit LGBT community center, today announced the City of Orlando has awarded it with a $147,000 community development block grant that, with matching funds from The Center donors, will allow the organization to expand its services beyond the well-known free HIV testing center. Funds will also support a major remodel of The Center’s facilities located at 946 North Mills Avenue in the Mills 50 District with the goal to address high priority needs for HIV testing, support groups and senior services, as outlined by the City of Orlando Five Year Consolidated Plan.


In addition to running the area’s largest free HIV testing center, The Center serves more than 15,000 individuals a year at its facility and roughly 8,000 online through a variety of support groups, social programs and counseling services offered at a reduced cost. The remodel of The Center will allow the organization to expand its HIV testing facility from one to four rooms with a dedicated waiting area to better meet its community’s needs. The Center will also expand services to include new programs focused on the needs of seniors and youth, including a senior hotline and GED program.


“We’re thankful for the City of Orlando’s support of our initiatives and humbled by the encouragement we’ve already received from our community,” stated GLBT Community Center of Central Florida board chair Timothy Vargas. “As we look to raise a quarter of the funds needed to restore the center of our community, we’re excited for this new chapter.”


Additionally the interior will also receive a new HVAC system, reconfigured counseling and meeting rooms, administrative offices relocated to another area of the facility, new floors, paint and interior design. Exterior renovations include a new roof, new windows and painting of the 4,100 square-foot space.


“It’s incredible to look back at all the amazing programs that The Center has launched since its inception 36 years ago and see how far we’ve progressed. To think that these new programs, coupled with an investment into our successful HIV initiative, could have the same powerful impact on our Orlando community is very rewarding,” added GLBT Community Center of Central Florida interim executive director Russell Walker.


About GLBT Community Center of Central Florida

The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida is a volunteer-based LGBT community center in Orlando that was founded in 1978. Known for running the area’s largest free HIV testing facility, The Center serves more than 23,000 individuals a year. The Center has been an organizing force within the LGBT community to increase understanding and acceptance within the Central Florida area. The Center offers a variety of support and social programs, including: AA, AL-Anon, NA, CODA, CMA, HIV+ and transgender support groups, counseling for individuals and couples at a reduced cost, and more than 20 various social/support groups. (


About CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

CenterLink was founded in 1994 as a member-based coalition to support the development of strong, sustainable LGBT community centers. Serving over 200 LGBT community centers across the country in 46 states. Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, as well as centers in Canada, Mexico, China, Cameroon and Australia, the organization plays an important role in supporting the growth of LGBT centers and addressing the challenges they face, by helping them to improve their organizational and service delivery capacity and increase access to public resources. (


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