ST. GEORGE — A new LGBTQ-centered nonprofit opening a branch in the heart of St. George invited community members to tear down its walls.
Demolition on the newest Encircle location began Tuesday evening as the Washington County Fair Parade marched on in the distance. People of all ages lined the lawn to volunteer, meet the Encircle team and learn about different gender, romantic and sexual identities.
The St. George home was tentatively scheduled to open this fall, but Stephanie Larson, Encircle’s founder and chief executive officer, said the new plan is to keep up the tradition of previous locations and hold the grand opening on Valentine’s Day.
Larson previously told St. George News that she has “only seen the best in people” since the opening of the original location in Provo and hoped she would see the same from the St. George community.
Since beginning the work on the organization’s newest home, Larson said the response has been “amazing.”
“We’ve had Senate leaders come meet us, we’ve had therapists, we’ve met people from the school district, and everyone seems to be happy we’re coming,” she said. “We hope to be a positive resource to the community.”
Encircle’s locations are more than the typical LGBTQ resource center, Larson said, because it has a more family-centered purpose.
She said people often think and speak of those in the LGBTQ community based on what “other people have told us we should see” instead of “getting to know each other.” Encircle is hoping to change that.
The organization’s mission is to bring families and communities together to support LGBTQ youth.
“Encircle is committed to being a good resource for the community, and hopefully, we just bring more love and support to everyone involved,” Larson said.
Encircle was founded after Larson learned about the high suicide rates in Utah, especially within the LGBTQ community. Gender, romantic and sexual minorities are three times more likely to commit suicide than straight youth, she tearfully told participants Tuesday before the demolition.
Originally, Larson and her husband’s uncle, who came out as gay over 50 years ago in Salt Lake City, intended to start a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth, but they changed gears when they realized there might be a way to “get in there earlier” and help parents understand and be affirming to their LGBTQ children to keep families together.
On the brink of opening its third location, the nonprofit now offers a variety of services for LGBTQ individuals and their families, including friendship circles and therapy.
“The therapy we do is meant to keep families together,” Larson said. “It is also meant to create good mental health for individuals so they do what they need to do in their lives to thrive and be healthy and happy individuals.”
Each Encircle location completes about 500 sessions of therapy each month, Larson said, with about a third of the youth participants paying about $10 per session. Youth from all over the state come to take advantage of the sessions, which Larson said might illustrate a significant need that Encircle is meeting.
Larson said the community can get involved with the nonprofit in a number of ways, like participating in volunteer programs and donating funds.
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