In under 10 minutes last Friday, community members pulled together just over $10,000 for the Affirmations LGBTQ community center. As soon as that sum was made official, two $10,000 matching grants were pledged by DTE Energy and longtime supporters of the center Margo Dichtelmiller and Nancy Katz, creating a final sum of $30,600. The July 19 event was the kick-off for the No Place Like Home Campaign in honor of the center’s 30 years in existence, as well as a community pull to encourage both new and longtime community members to reconnect with Affirmations. Center Executive Director Dave Garcia thanked the crowd after meeting the match, outlined the campaign and talked about his experiences running the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
“I’m not going to lie, the last few months have been difficult, the last five years of this organization have had ups and downs, but this is a 30-year organization and I want you all to think about one thing: what 30-year relationship doesn’t have its share of ups and downs? And that’s what the community center is, it’s a relationship to the community,” Garcia said. “What I learned in LA is that while the scale may be greater, there is nothing Los Angeles is doing that we can’t do here. Nothing. And so, we are launching the coming home campaign because it’s personal, because I came home from LA, but more importantly, for 30 years, I want anybody who has ever been touched by Affirmations, who has ever donated to Affirmations to come back to the community center.”
However, as successful as the fundraising kick-off night was, Garcia made sure to clarify that the No Place Like Home Campaign will be running continuously until the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s because the center’s minimum goal for this campaign is $50,000 to ensure that Affirmations “to get through to the end of the year when we can have grants continue to come back to the organization.”
“Because the truth is, when I left Affirmation five years ago, we had a couple-dozen grants and now we have zero grants. I’ve been out to have conversations with grant partners that I know have supported us consistently in the past and in those face-to-face conversations, almost all of them have agreed to start investing in Affirmations again — but grants don’t happen overnight,” he said. “We’ve got to get them in, and then they’ve got to be approved. And so, I haven’t even budgeted for those grants until November and December.”
Other Milestones and Impacts
The event also honored former Executive Director Leslie Thompson for her work and was also the debut of Affirmations’ brand-new Cyber Center. The Center made possible via donations from the David Bohnett Foundation, a nonprofit grant-making organization that specializes in social activism.
“And now we have eight brand-new Mac computers in our Cyber Center and I put them upstairs facing 9 Mile so people can see them in the community and come in and use them any time that they want,” Garcia said.
Garcia added that this show of community and national support only underlines the importance and value of LGBTQ centers like Affirmations. In his address to the crowd, newly appointed Development Director John Joanette agreed.
“This place represents home to me on lots of levels. When I returned, I struggled with addiction coming out of a divorce and this place provided the comfort that I needed and the support that I needed through our AA groups. And that’s what gave me a life worth living,” he said. “And it is just amazing that after running organizations in three different states that I get to come back home and partner with Dave and the board and all of you to make sure that we sustain this organization for all the generations that will come after us.”
New Ways to Aid Affirmations
Garcia made sure to emphasize that the Coming Home Campaign is more than a single-day fundraiser, it’s an ongoing commitment dedicated to ensuring the center’s longevity. This will be done, he said, via a two-tiered system.
“It has two obvious goals: one is to raise funds for the center, and the other is to increase our volunteer base, which has dwindled over the last five years. And the two key ways that we’re going to increase volunteers is an opportunity to join the Aff-Advocates, which will be an advocacy and a policy group of community members and staff,” he said, “or they can join the new Entertainment and Enrichment committee. And that is all entertainment and enrichment activities for the center.”
As an Aff-Advocate, volunteers will be able to help the center tackle policy issues confronting the LGBTQ community locally and nationally, and calling attention to local candidates who are invested in aiding LGBTQ causes. Garcia said that not only was a similar program popular when he worked at the Los Angeles LGBT Center but it was successful.
“Because the reality is that our community is under constant attack and that attack comes directly from Washington, D.C.,” he said. “So, whether it is the transgender military ban, whether it is conversion therapy, whether it is the president of the United States writing an executive order making it legal to discriminate against us in health care as long as their weapon of choice is religion, we have a responsibility as a community center, all of us here today, to protect everybody.”
Those involved in the enrichment committee will be known as Aff-All-Stars, and they will be responsible for ensuring that Affirmations’ 17,000 square feet are being used efficiently to represent the community’s needs.
“So, for example, we have two pianos in the gallery in the lobby, and someone said to me the other day, ‘Can we have a night with wine and cheese and maybe a Disney-themed dueling piano?’ I’m like, ‘Of course, we can!’ We can do anything that we want to and we should be,” Garcia said. “So, that’s more fun activities that people just like you and I would want to come to, whether that’s theater or concerts or anything along those lines. And we have a beautiful building that we own, the mortgage is paid, it’s ours, it’s yours and we can do all kinds of things.”
To find out more about Affirmations, its upcoming events and how to get involved visit goaffirmations.org.