Ruth Ellis Center opens new drop-in site

Jason A. Michael

It may be cliched to say that the Ruth Ellis Center is growing by leaps and bounds. But it's certainly not inaccurate.
One June 25, the center opened its new, 5,000-square-foot drop-in center. The space is more then five times larger than its previous location and, indeed, it's now one of the largest and most comprehensive LGBT youth drop-in centers in the country.
"The young people who have come in absolutely love it," said Grace McClelland, REC's executive director. "It's such a drastic difference from our old space."
The new site came about when McClelland was doing the books early last year.
"They upped the rent at both locations: our drop-in center and our administrative office," McClelland said. "When I added the figures up, I said, 'We can purchase our own building for this.'"
So in February 2006, the center did just that and bought its current space, at 77 Victor St. in Highland Park, for $165,000. But purchasing the shell would be just the start. Inside, there was a $200,000 renovation that needed to be done.
"This project would not have happened without Paramount Bank," said McClelland. "There was not one bank in the city that would loan us more than $70,000. Then Paramount stepped in and loaned us $365,000.
"They're putting their money where their mouth is as far as supporting diversity."
McClelland herself acted as project manager for the renovation, and 15 youth contributed their input to the architect as plans were drawn up. The stunning new space, beneath which the center's administrative offices are now located, offers a library, dining room, computer lab, office space and a massive lounge complete with a regulation slate pool table, foosball table, piano, stereo and a big screen TV donated by none other than Dionne Warwick.
The increase in space means that the center can now offer professional clinical services, such as counseling and referrals, and act as an HIV testing site – thanks to a significant grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a collaboration with AIDS Partnership Michigan. In addition, there is Ruth's Closet, where homeless teens can pick up new clothes, or wash their own, and spacious bathrooms allow them to shower and change with privacy.
Done up in bright cheery colors, including mint, lilac and powder blue, the center also includes a spacious semi-commercial kitchen.
"We went with semi-commercial because we couldn't teach the kids to cook with an industrial oven," said McClelland, referring to the center's life-skills training. "It would be of no use to them."

Solid leadership

A lot of REC's recent growth is to McClelland's credit. Since she came onboard four years ago, the drop-in center program has grown from four hours a day, six days a week, to being open nine hours a day, everyday. Ruth's House, the center's transitional living program and emergency shelter, opened with great fanfare in 2004, and construction is scheduled to begin by the end of the year on a second house, which will serve as a 10-bed group home for state-placed youth.
All told, the center now has 25 employees and an annual operating budget of more than $1 million.
McClelland said she came in with a set of serious long-term goals, but that she's reaching them much sooner than expected.
"It's going so much faster than I ever anticipated," she said. "I had no idea we would be building a new drop-in center, but the program grew at a phenomenal pace. I could have never predicted it, but we are absolutely committed to making the program work for the ever-changing needs of our kids."

Topics: News

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