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(Editor’s note: Jan Stevenson is the former executive director of Affirmations and she served on the capital campaign committee from 2001 to 2002.)
FERNDALE – In a few weeks Affirmations will move into the largest LGBT community center project in the country outside of New York City and Los Angeles. The project is possible because of dedicated, visionary leadership that committed themselves to raising $5.3 million over five years. The largest portion of the funds came from individuals (63 percent), many of whom also dedicated time and energy on the capital campaign committee. Funds also were raised from corporations and foundations.
The largest individual contribution came from Allan Gilmour and Eric Jirgens who pledged over $600,000 to the capital campaign. Gilmour, the former vice chairman of the Ford Motor Company, and his partner Jirgens, owner of a prominent interior design firm, also served as co-chairs of the capital campaign committee. The other two co-chairs were Nancy Katz and Margo Dichtelmiller, who together contributed over $300,000.
“We felt it was really, really important to have a strong and thriving community center,” said Katz about why she served for five years as a committee co-chair. “The space that we had was clearly a detriment to expanding, and to being able to do the services we wanted to do. It was very obvious. We believed that to make [the new building] happen we had to personally step up to the plate in order to encourage other people to do so.”
Katz, an attorney and member of the Affirmations Board of Directors, has been with her partner, Dichtelmiller, a professor at Eastern Michigan University, for over 30 years since they first met in college. Katz had never worked on a capital campaign prior to the Affirmations project, and said she was surprised at its complexity and by how it felt to be known in the community as someone who is capable of such a large gift.
“It was harder than I thought, because it was a public acknowledgment that we had the financial wherewithal to do that size of gift,” said Katz. “However, it was also much more gratifying than I thought it would be because of the responses we got from people in the community, especially other women.”
Affirmations board member George Westerman is the chair of the new building committee, of which the capital campaign committee is a sub-committee. He could hardly have imagined he would be one of the key people behind the new center project.
“When I first joined the board of Affirmations, I said that if we ever got too dragged into a bricks and mortar project I would resign,” said Westerman. “I was on the program committee and that is what was so important to me. But I quickly saw that our building was holding our programs back. It has really been important to me to be a part of fostering this sense of community, and I’ve met some really cool people.”
Westerman is IBM’s business development executive for global GLBT markets, and his partner, Cliff Lemon, is an interior designer. Together they donated almost $70,000 to the capital campaign. “It’s really cool to be able to do something like that,” said Westerman. “It was a real stretch for us. But it meant a lot to me to build the excitement, especially with my peers on the board.”
Westerman and Katz give a lot of the credit for the success of the capital campaign to Affirmations’ tireless executive director, Leslie Thompson. She and the staff of the center attended countless meetings, set up hundreds of opportunities to ask for donations and coordinated the many complicated tasks and responsibilities that go with a large construction and fundraising project.
Other individuals who gave substantial gifts include Tito Gutierrez of the Kresge Foundation who donated over $200,000, and who served on the capital campaign committee. Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, also donated over $200,000. Both Gutierrez and Schlichting’s gifts were augmented by substantial matching gifts from the Kresge Foundation.
Michigan’s corporate community stepped up with major gifts, including $250,000 each from General Motors, the Ford Company Foundation and DaimlerChrylser. Paramount Bank gave $50,000, and gifts were received from DTE Energy, Visteon and Delphi.
Foundations also gave generously to the project. The largest foundation gift came from the Arcus Foundation of Kalamazoo for $495,000. The Kresge Foundation gave $450,000 and the Non-Profit Facility Center gave over $275,000. The David Bohnett Foundation gave $45,000 to fund the cybercenter.