George Wallace is still trying to find the perfect spot for Kissimmee's first LGBTQ center.
The executive director of the LGBT+ Center of Orlando wants a place that's welcoming and friendly – where it's just as comfortable to use the computer lab as it is to get tested for HIV.
"I think that there's certainly a gap in resources in Kissimmee, and we're going to be able to bridge those gaps and provide services – from a cyber center to senior services to legal services and also mental health. This is an adventure for us," Wallace says. "We're really excited."
The Center, which opened 40 years ago, is tentatively scheduled to open the Kissimmee location at the end of August, though the organization is still about $3,000 short of their $75,000 fundraising goal, Wallace says. In April, the Center announced it had won a $26,148 matching grant from the Contigo Fund, an initiative of the Our Fund Foundation started in the aftermath of the massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse.
About half of the 49 victims, who were mainly of Puerto Rican descent, called Osceola County home, says Marco Antonio Quiroga, program director of the Contigo Fund.
After the mass shooting, families and community members dealing with trauma had a hard time finding LGBTQ services in Spanish. In two years, the Contigo Fund has helped with the expansion of other LGBTQ groups around Central Florida, including the Zebra Coalition, Miracle of Love and QLatinx. The new Center in Kissimmee will have a special focus for the Latinx community.
"One of the things we emphasized in the proposal for the Center in Kissimmee is it has to be rooted in a cultural understanding of who it's serving," Quiroga says. "Kissimmee has an extraordinarily large Puerto Rican and immigrant population – it's an incredibly diverse community. Bilingual and culturally competent services are a necessity. They build an affirmative space where people can have an advocate in place that can kind of navigate them in whatever type of hardship they can be experiencing."
Last month, the Center was also awarded a $25,000 grant from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based global nonprofit. Wallace says part of the reason the Center decided to open a second location in Kissimmee was because of demand – sometimes as many as 30 percent of people coming to the Center in Orlando for free HIV and hepatitis C screenings are from Kissimmee. After Hurricane Maria, LGBTQ Puerto Ricans who evacuated to Central Florida also reached out to the Center for help with housing.
"We know there's definitely a need for service, because we see it," Wallace adds.
Although the Center is close to reaching its fundraising goal, Wallace says those funds are solely for opening the doors and staffing the Kissimmee location. The organization is trying to raise an additional $25,000 for unanticipated expenses, like repairs.
"I think people should know that even though we're close to reaching our goal, they can still donate," he says. For more information about donating to the opening of the new Center in Kissimmee, visit thecenterorlando.org/kissimmee.