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By Sharon Gittleman
FERNDALE – Three unprecedented donations promise to transform floor plans for the new Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center into brick and mortar. Last week, Ford Motor Company, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors Corporation representatives each announced gifts of $250,000 to help build the center – the largest contributions ever given by a Fortune 500 company to a LGBT non-profit organization.
The three pledges brought Affirmations’ fund-raising totals to the $3.8 million mark – over 70 percent of the $5.3 million needed to pay for the construction and related costs of the four-story, 18,000 square foot community center to be built at 290 W. Nine Mile in Ferndale.
“This is the most exciting day of my career and life,” said Affirmations Executive Director Leslie Thompson. “They truly believe in our community and have shown that over the years.”
DaimlerChrysler made its donation to ensure youngsters who needed help would never be turned away because Affirmations didn’t have the money it needed to assist them, said Vice President and Secretary of the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund Brian Glowiak.
“We celebrate diversity wherever it comes from,” he said.
General Motors shared the same concern, said Rod Gillum, chairman of the General Motors Foundation and vice president of corporate responsibility and diversity.
“The more inclusive we are as a company the better company we are,” said Gillum.
Retiring Ford Motor Company Vice Chairman Allan Gilmour did more than applaud his former employer’s donation – he added a gift of his own, pledging $500,000 of his and his partners’ funds to help build the center.
“The auto companies want to make this the best area possible for everyone – to get the best employees,” said Gilmour.
The threat of a potential backlash against LGBT friends by those opposing gay and lesbian equality didn’t seem to faze Gilmour – or the car giants.
“People can believe whatever they wish to believe, but when they work they will behave in accordance with the values and principals of their company,” he said. “That means they will respect each other.”
In early 2006, when the center is expected to open, visitors will enjoy sipping their lattes and reading their favorite blogs at 15 computers in the 1,300 square foot cyber cafe near the library. Fax and copy machines will be available to those who wish to make the center their unofficial office.
Meeting rooms are spread through the basement and second levels, while sunny days may find your center classes taught on the third-floor open-air patio next to a roof-top garden.
“The most exciting feature is the multi-purpose room,” said Affirmations Board Member and Volunteer Campaign Director George Westerman. “We’ll be able to put up partitions for smaller meetings or open it up for weddings.”
Westerman said there will be two art galleries in the center, including a permanent display used for the work of LGBT artists and a rotating showcase for special exhibits.
The corporate donations thrilled many in the LGBT community, especially the volunteers working to bring the center to Ferndale.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Roger Reisdorf. “It’s part of our coming out. It’s an acknowledgement that we’re not second class citizens.”
Reisdorf said center planners made efforts to ensure all visitors would feel welcome.
“It’s handicap accessible. It’s accessible to everyone,” he said. “It’s a safe place for our kids.”
Community leaders said they were looking forward to the day the building opens.
“It’s fantastic for Ferndale,” said Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin. “You’ve got $5 million of new investment in the ground that will attract thousands of people. But more importantly, it’s a great addition to the social and cultural fabric of southeast Michigan.”
The center will improve the quality of life for both the LGBT and the straight people living nearby, Barwin said.
“It’s a win win win situation,” he said.