by Jessica Carreras
GRAND RAPIDS – Kym Duursma has been on vacation – and she deserves it. Since she took over as president of The Network, Grand Rapids’ LGBT center, last December, she has been hard at work creating little changes in preparation for a big future.
Previously, Duursma’s involvement with The Network had been minimal. As an educator at Planned Parenthood, a job she still holds, she would often do sexuality education with people in prison and substance abuse treatment programs. Her job carried her to The Network where she began doing sex and HIV workshops. She claims that the two jobs fit together perfectly.
“It all meshes,” she asserts of her work at Planned Parenthood and The Network. “I have met many clients who are of some other orientation than straight and do a lot of my work around orientation.”
But her real passion is working with youth. Duursma is a former director of Windfire, a social support group for LGBT youth. The Network picked up the group and Duursma eventually went there too. “I really missed the kids,” she admitted, “so I went back to The Network and started facilitating the group again.”
Her workshops and youth work never fully took her away from her job at Planned Parenthood – but they did drive her to apply to be on The Network’s board, which was all male before Duursma’s entrance. It was only a matter of time before she moved up the ranks again. “The board president was resigning and they (the board members) said ‘You know, Kym, you should do this,'” she recalled. “And I thought ‘I should.'”
Since then, life has been a whirlwind for Duursma. After Triangle Foundation moved into The Network’s building last summer, Duursma and her staff worked hard to get the building in order for the organization’s open house, including cleaning rooms, painting walls and adding furniture and artwork. “We wanted to have a nice space for youth, and for everyone,” she explained.
That endeavor has since gone far beyond simply making The Network’s space look nice. Currently, Duursma and the rest of the board are discussing small changes to the center and the board itself, such as recruiting new board members of a more diverse population, and making The Network’s programming more tightly catered to the needs and wants of the community. “It’s been busy,” Duursma said. “We’re trying to look at what has happened and what’s currently happening and decide what we need to do in the future.”
One huge change in The Network’s agenda this year is that they are not planning the west Michigan Pride, set to take place this June. Instead, Duursma explained, a new organization has taken over, giving The Network more room to focus on their own development. Although this change won’t necessarily mean increased programming in the near future, it will give Duursma and her team and chance to prepare for great changes. “It’s more of a quiet time for the community,” she explained.
For Duursma, however, it is the busiest time of her life. Last month, she attended the Creating Change conference for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at what she saw. “It was amazing,” she gushed about the event. “I was really pleased to see that many young activists there.”
But more importantly, Duursma said she enjoyed the four-day event in Detroit because it gave her a chance to meet with leaders of other community centers and LGBT groups and hear their ideas about moving forward and growing within the community. “The most valuable thing I got was the connections,” she said. “The sense of community and support was incredible.”
Duursma hopes to use those links and ideas to further The Network’s programming and development. “What I would really like to see is for The Network to become a place that really is a community network that anyone in the community could access,” she said of her vision for the future. Eventually, she plans to make it a vibrant LGBT center where people can learn, grow, be themselves and hang out and make friends. After all that, then maybe Duursma can finally get some rest.