The sky is vast in Central Washington, especially in the evenings when there are an innumerable amount of stars.
The sparse constellation of LGBTQ programming in the Yakima Valley has only a few stars—two Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs in local high schools—highlighting the isolating reality that many rural LGBTQ people face.
For too long, LGBTQ people living in the Yakima Valley have been calling organizations and healthcare providers, seeking out culturally competent service providers and resources, and finding nothing.
Where most might see a daunting landscape, one local organization, the Yakima Neighborhood Health Services (YNHS), saw an opportunity.
Since 1975, YNHS’s mission has been clear: provide quality healthcare, end homelessness, and improve the quality of life in their community. Seeing the apparent lack of social support for the LGBTQ community, the providers at YNHS knew they had to do something.
Yet, at the same time, they weren’t sure how they should proceed.
They could provide space at an unused building and capital support, but they knew more was needed. Instead of going it alone, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services turned to the community and brought together people who could advise them on how to make this work for the LGBTQ community.
In July 2015, with this mission in mind, YNHS created an advisory committee of LGBTQ leaders and regional stakeholders to ensure cultural competency and representative outreach. They asked Tylene Carnell, a Pride Foundation Board Member from Ellensburg, to join their committee. She knew right away that the first step was to connect with other organizations doing similar work in the state.
With two other advisory committee members in tow, Tylene traveled to Tacoma for a site visit at Oasis Youth Center, a 2015 Pride Foundation grantee. They met with Executive Director, Seth Kirby, who encouraged them, strengthened their confidence, and shared the lessons learned running an LGBTQ youth center.
The mentorship and role-modeling they received from Oasis Youth Center inspired ideas for how to improve the lives of LGBTQ youth in the Yakima region.
For the last year, the advisory committee and YNHS leadership have worked to create a new LGBTQ center for youth in their region, equipped with medical and dental services, educational tutoring support, and a community space. Their exciting idea inspired service providers in the Wenatchee/Leavenworth area to create the same service in their home community.
After many months of working to create a safe LGBTQ community space for youth, they are now turning to you—the broader community—to ask for support.
On May 15, the LGBTQ Youth Center at Yakima Neighborhood Health Services will open their doors to people interested in helping them make this currently empty space special. Right now, it is the community’s blank slate, and they are asking for everything from paint to furniture.
In order to support rural LGBTQ youth in the Yakima Valley, making this space special and comfortable will mean that youth return again and again to regularly utilize the essential health services offered.
More importantly, this special space—created by the community, for the community—will help foster an environment that will allow youth to live openly and safely in Yakima Valley. Adding one more shining star to this ever-growing constellation.
Zachary Pullin is the Director of Communications and Education. Email Zachary