By Crystal Proxmire
With four members departing and a new president at the helm, the Affirmations Board of Directors is poised to support the growth and evolution of the LGBTQ community center that Executive Director Dave Garcia and his energetic staff, volunteers and the public seem ready for.
After five years on the Board, and through amazing ups and downs, Mary Rose McMillan is ready to step aside as president. From the movement to the new building to the challenging period when finances are stretched thin, to the hiring and oversight of a cost-cutting interim executive director, and finally to choosing Garcia and moving forward with the center’s re-blossoming, Affirmations has had quite the journey under her leadership.
With her term on the board expiring, McMillan helped welcome the new president at the center’s annual meeting on May 28. Long-time board treasurer Mark Blanke was elected as the president.
“With President Barack Obama in support of gay marriage, we have come full circle in our lifetime,” McMillan said as she addressed the board and the thirty-some people who came out for the meeting. “It’s a very profound time.” She also added that it was exciting to see so many people come out for the annual meeting, which generally has just a handful of participants.
Nancy Squires, Torii Hamilton, and Bill Korsak also chose not to renew their terms. Three individuals have recently come onto the board; Arlene Kish, Jeff Grim and Kirk Roy are among the energetic people coming on to help usher in the next era of growth.
With a one-million dollar, break-even budget, 2012 will be overall the same as 2011, except that in 2012 visitors are able to enjoy much more of the center and its services. Affirmations experienced a big change when long-time executive director Leslie Thompson retired. While leaving a legacy of amazing growth, having guided Affirmations into its newest home, the center had a $1.4 million budget and was struggling to gain revenue in the face of a harsh economy. On top of it, a large mortgage loomed over the heads of those who were torn between program and service growth, and paying their biggest bill.
Blanke, in his final meeting as treasurer, reported that the mortgage has been paid down and refinanced, going from $250,000 to $175,000. The Campaign for the Future helped with the mortgage pay-down, and the center was able to retire a line of credit. An unexpected electric credit, caused by over-billing, means that the center won’t have an electric bill for about five years. Garcia said he’s still working with DTE to turn the credit into cash. “It’s our money,” he said. “While it’s great not having to worry about the electric bill, that is our money and we should be able to use it.” Whether it becomes a refund or remains a credit, the money remains a benefit to the center, and reduced bills in the future have helped bring the budget down.
Blanke also said that while many of the programs are funded through grants and foundations, getting money for the general operating fund is more of a challenge. Their newest campaign, called One in One Hundred Campaign, is an effort to attract new donors. “We continue to ask the same people over and over again and that starts to atrophy,” Blanke said. With the One in One Hundred Campaign, team leaders commit to raising $1,000 each, plus recruiting ten people under them who will each raise $500 a year. The tiered approach means that people who don’t normally fundraise will be asking their friends, family and other connections who may not have been tapped before.
The 2011 financial report is not yet complete, but it will be available within 60 days, Blanke said.
Other exciting news included the changes that have happened over the past year, plus the plans in place for future growth. The center is now open 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., six days a week with special programing on Sundays. Several smaller organizations are now calling Affirmations home, including Al Gamea, Detroit Latin@s, SPICE and Transgender Detroit. Expansions are in the works for the counseling program, and groups have organized for older adult needs and those that want to reach the faith community.
A strategic planning committee has been meeting monthly, and input has come from a survey of over 500 center users, and several focus groups. With “significant public input,” the board and staff will hold a retreat this summer to discuss the needs of the community and to put a plan in place for how Affirmations will continue to grow into a busy, vibrant center for LGBT life.
“Our Executive director, David Garcia is diligent, charismatic, and very dedicated to leading this organization forward,” said new board member Arlene Kish.
The heterosexual woman, who happens to be a post-op transsexual, has been very involved with transgender initiatives through the center, and stepping up to serve on the board seemed a logical next step.
“I began getting more involved, working on the Transgender Day of Remembrance & Transgender Day of Empowerment events. I began speaking on a panel twice a year to Oakland University psychology students who were working on their Masters. I’ve also spoken on panels that addressed Wayne County Community College students. I became active in the PFLAG Detroit-Downriver group and became their vice president. Last summer, we hosted the PFLAG statewide conference, where I spoke and put together a panel of diverse transgender people,” Kish said. “I was invited to be part of the executive search committee, along with several of the board members. From my work on that committee, I was asked if I would like to serve on the Affirmations board of directors.”
Hamilton, who is among those departing, has been with Affirmations since it was housed in the tiny apartment building across the street. “Through it all, my best memories are of serving with so many wonderful staff and board members, all of whom are the most dedicated and hard-working people I have ever had the pleasure to collaborate with. There are not many things you can do where your work may improve or enhance the lives of others, or in the case of our helpline, perhaps literally save them. I am very proud to have done my small part to help in the vital work of Affirmations. I will certainly continue to support them in the future as well.”
Garcia is also excited about the change. “We appreciate the service and dedication of the departing board members and are greatly looking forward to this new wave of excitement and talent.”
Learn more about Affirmations at http://www.goaffirmations.org.