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The Phillip Rush Center begins expansion plans Monday into an approximate 1,700 square foot space in a building located directly behind its current location in Candler Park thanks to more than $31,000 raised at a reception on Saturday.

Linda Ellis, executive director of the Health Initiative, is co-director of the Rush Center with Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. She explained Saturday that the expansion was needed because the Rush Center has outgrown its space at 1530 DeKalb Ave. as more and more LGBT organizations, such as the Rainbow Center, which serves and advocates for LGBT Jewish people and families, seek permanent office space. The expansion is also to meet the needs of a statewide survey of LGBT residents.

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Linda Ellis explains what is needed to ensure the Rush Center can expand to fit the needs of the community.

To even begin a conversation to expand, the Rush Center needed to raise $18,000 on Saturday for one year’s rent for the new space. Some 100 activists who packed the Rush Center responded quickly and generously — $31,000 was raised within 20 minutes with Doug Carl, close friend of the center’s namesake, making the asks for donations.

This included a $5,000 anonymous donation; another anonymous donation of $5,000 to match; a $2,000 donation from Pamm Burdett, director of the Lloyd E. Russell Foundation; $1,000 from the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce; and $2,400 from longtime activist Floyd Taylor. Other donations ranged from $200 to $5 a month.

“Oh my god,” Ellis said after the donations were announced. “I mean it was amazing to see the larger amounts. But it was the $120 a year, the $50 — that is the Rush Center.”

On Monday, the Rush Center’s board of directors will vote to approve the expansion now that the initial $18,000 — to cover one year’s rent on the new space — is secured. Negotiations will begin  to lease the new space located directly behind the current facility, Ellis explained. That facility will be built out with a kitchen, two gender neutral restrooms and storage space. The new event space will be about the same size as the Rush Center’s current event space.

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(Above photo: The proposed buildout of the current Rush Center space where events are now held with six new offices. Bottom center of the rendering includes where current offices are located.)

What’s next:

• A $61,000 short-term capital campaign over the next six months will help with build out and renovations costs will include a total of six new offices in the current community center as well as computer stations and a small group/breakout space.

• With the addition of more offices in the current Rush Center, revenue from rent will increase and, in the end, result in a reduction of cost and money needed each year from donations. Currently, the Rush Center relies on some $52,000 in annual community donations to keep the center open. With the planned expansion, the donations needed from the community are expected to drop between 20-30 percent to about $35,000 a year.

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(Above photo: The buildout of the new Rush Center space that will become the center’s event space. The building for this space is located directly behind the current center via a small alley  and easily accessible via the current center’s patio.)

“Atlanta does not have a great history of LGBT organizations coming together and working together. We don’t have a great history of men and women crossing lines working together,” Ellis said.

But Graham and Ellis, working with Rush before he died in April 2009, came up with a plan to design a space that would focus on organizations and have money in hand before any expansions were planned.

Rush advised Ellis and Graham to create a space that would allow for various LGBT organizations to gather and meet and have offices to do the work they wanted to do.

“Phillip said don’t get every individual to buy in. Rather than saying you are everything for everyone, be a space to support LGBT organizations in doing the work they do, whatever that is,” Ellis said.

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Right now, more than 100 groups and organizations utilize the Rush Center and there is a waiting list for other groups to meet. The Rush Center can’t fit in weekly groups because its calendar is completely full. Now is the time to grow and the community’s help is needed to do so, Carl said.

“We can do this as a collective number rather than relying on just a few. This is our center. We all use it,” said Carl.

In the past several months, the Rush Center has hosted a town hall meeting on Lost-n-Found Youth, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a town hall with Georgia Equality and Lambda Legal to discuss the arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality, is the weekly meeting place for SAGE for LGBT elders, and will be the location for a town hall meeting on HIV criminalization laws on April 23.

Those with offices in the Rush Center are the Health Initiative, Georgia Equality, Atlanta Pride, In the Life Atlanta, United 4 Safety, Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, SAGE for LGBT senior citizens, and ProGeorgia, a state civic group. Find out more about the Rush Center by clicking here. And to see more photos of Saturday’s event, click here.

(Photos by Dyana Bagby)

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