History made: New center breaks ground

By |2018-01-16T13:35:31-05:00October 27th, 2005|News|

FERNDALE – After four years of meetings, fundraisers, consultations with architects and building inspectors, governmental red tape and gallons of coffee, the Building Committee at Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center finally got a chance to celebrate Oct. 23 at a exuberant ground breaking ceremony that included special guest appearances from many dignitaries, most notably Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
The crowd was all smiles when Affirmations Executive Director Leslie Thompson got up on the temporary stage erected in the middle of Nine Mile Road, which was closed off for the celebration that attracted almost 400 people.
“Welcome to the most important day in the history of Affirmations,” said Thompson, who told the enthusiastic crowd that they had raised a total of $5 million toward the construction of a new center building, and that construction would be finished by this time next year. The new facility will be more than double the size of the existing space of the center and will include a cyber cafe, flexible meeting spaces and will be Ferndale’s first environmentally friendly building.
“I don’t think we have ever had a time when a project was so important for Ferndale,” said Bob Porter, Ferndale’s mayor and a strong supporter of LGBT rights.
“What a tremendous statement about the community and the many corporations that have stepped up to make this a reality,” said Granholm. After her remarks, Thompson led Granholm over to a makeshift demolition site to allow her to swing the first sledge hammer blow against a wall of the existing building that is being razed to make room for the new construction.
The director of the building campaign project, George Westerman, said that when he joined Affirmations’ board four years ago he was clear that he did not want to get involved in either fundraising or a building project. “But I quickly became aware that it was the building that was holding us back,” said Westerman. “Over 600 people a week come through Affirmations now, and I fully expect that with this new building we will see double that amount next year, and maybe triple soon after.”
“Who would have thought ten years ago that we would be here today,” said Allan Gilmour, one of the four co-chairs of the capital campaign fundraising committee. “Who would have thought we could raise $5 million? I’ve been to the LGBT centers in Los Angeles and New York. This one we’re building is better,” he said to loud cheers.
In late August, it had looked like Affirmations might not be able to make their final goal of $5.3 million. They seemed stuck at the $4.6 million mark. Then the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan came through with a matching grant that provides 50 cents for every new dollar raised for the endowment portion of the capital campaign. That spurred Howard Israel and Henry Grix to pledge $50,000, which was matched by Margo Dichtelmiller and Nancy Katz who pledged $50,000 as well, in addition to the $250,000 they had pledged as one of the initial, lead gifts. Allan Gilmour and Eric Jirgens then added another $100,000 on top of the $500,000 they pledged in 2003. Many others joined these three major donors to create a new pool of money that totaled $225,000, which the Community Foundation matched at $112,000. The total amount raised was enough to push them over the $5 million dollar mark.
The committee will continue fundraising to bring in the final $300,000, but everyone felt confidant and inspired by the vision of a new center and a successful capital campaign.
“This new center represents our community moving out of the closet forever,” said Dichtelmiller. She and Katz co-chaired the capital campaign committee with Gilmour and his partner, Eric Jirgens.
Many elected officials and dignitaries were at the event including U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, State Sen. Gilda Jacobs, Oakland County Commissioners David Coulter and David Woodward, Ferndale Mayor Pro Tem Craig Covey, Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison and Ferndale Councilman Mike Lennon.
Editor’s note: Jan Stevenson was the first executive director of Affirmations from 1992 to 1995, and was the board president from 1989 to 1992.

About the Author: