One.n.ten, a Phoenix organization supporting LGBT youth, opened a new youth center after receiving a $275,000 gift from the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation. Program Coordinator Rachel Sherman gives azcentral a tour. Carly Henry/azcentral.com
In the middle of a brand-new LGBT youth center in Phoenix hangs a token of its past: Prayer flags covered in notes and drawings.
The rainbow-colored pieces of fabric have accompanied many camping trips with counselors in training.
They were one of the only things not ruined in a fire that destroyed the old center. Now, the string hangs over a welcoming collection of chairs and bean bags in the middle of the center’s spacious, bright new home.
Two months after drawing national attention when it was destroyed by fire in an apparent arson, one.n.ten opened the doors to its new location Wednesday.
“Yes, the fire was a tragedy, but this community responded the way you would expect Phoenix to respond to a tragedy: People rolled up their sleeves and got to work,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Supporters raised about $100,000 in cash and donations for one.n.ten after the fire, according to spokeswoman Rhonda Bannard.
Additionally, the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation donated $275,000 to help complete construction on the new center.
“There’s such an energy, passion, there’s love in the room when you come to one.n.ten,” Stanton said. “I think I get more hugs per capita when I come to one.n.ten than any other place that I visit.”
Thriving after losing everything
One.n.ten is a non-profit that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people ages 14 through 24.
Its old location at Third Street and Weldon Avenue caught fire July 12. No one was injured, but the fire destroyed supplies, electronics and the building itself.
The Phoenix Fire Department said it was investigating the fire as arson after recovering video evidence showing a man pouring liquid on the floor and stepping outside just before a room went up in flames.
The Phoenix Fire Department releases surveillance footage of a man who officials say set on fire a center for LGBT youth in Phoenix on July 12, 2017.
Police arrested 26-year-old Darren William Beach Jr., a former participant in one.n.ten programs. He was charged with arson and is scheduled for a court hearing on Sept. 26.
The new center had already been in the works at the time of the fire, but losing so much made the move more significant and urgent.
“That was a huge loss,” said Rachel Sherman, a program manager. “Having that spot disappear was really emotional.”
Youths have played a big role in creating the new center, which has been a healing process for everyone, she said.
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “A lot of the walls are still blank, which is important to us because that’s space for youth to create and add on. This is going to be our home.”
Bigger, better and more convenient
The new center is inside the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness at Central Avenue and Portland Street in downtown Phoenix, right next to a light-rail stop.
Many features come at the direct request of young participants, such as the gaming area, a kitchen big enough for cooking classes, and a stage that’s visible from every part of the center.
There’s also a creative space filled with instruments, a row of laptops and gender-neutral bathrooms that are accessible for people with disabilities.
The larger space means more room for dance and improv classes and performances such as drag shows. Executive director Linda Elliott said it also will allow the center to begin serving kids as young as 11.
Q High, the non-profit’s schooling program for students from seventh to 12th grade, also has a bigger classroom for at least 36 students per semester, up from 15.
Changing young lives
RJ Dunton, 21, has been coming to one.n.ten for a year and said it’s unlike anywhere he’s ever been.
“Immediately when I walked in the door, I felt welcome,” he said. “I felt safe. It was like everyone cared. No one judged whatever you said or you did as long as you were yourself.”
The program has changed his life. Staff taught him how to budget, and now he has an apartment in a safe area, he said.
“I’m so comfortable talking to them,” Dunton said. “I feel like I have a connection with them that I don’t have with society.”
Read or Share this story: http://azc.cc/2xk8Xul