“Over the last 18 months, more than 100 groups and organizations have used the Rush Center for events and programs. It was actually a little overwhelming to see that number initially, but there’s no doubt — the community is using the center,” Ellis said.
In March 2011, Graham and Ellis announced the Rush Center received a $35,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta to conduct a broad needs assessment for the state to determine how to best serve LGBT residents.
At that time, Graham was not ready to refer to the Rush Center as a community center.
“We are deliberate about calling this a shared office space and not a community center,” he said at the time.
But now Graham is comfortable with the term after hearing from the public. A reception is planned for March 30 to reveal the results of the strategic planning process and announce plans for an expansion.
“As we’ve engaged in the strategic planning process over the past year, we’ve realized that many people in the community already see us as a community center,” Graham said in a recent interview. “We’ve begun to use that language in an effort to clarify what we are currently doing and where we plan on going in the future.”
TIME TO GROW
The Rush Center, founded in 2009, is 4,100 square feet and includes an event space, a conference room, a room for support groups to meet and an outdoor patio. It serves as the headquarters of Georgia Equality, the Health Initiative, the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Atlanta Pride, and is also the regular meeting place for such groups as Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth (TILTT) and SAGE, a group for older LGBT people.
Regular meetings from Weight Watchers to In the Life Atlanta have been held in the space, along with many political, social and community events. The center is named for the late philanthropist and activist Phillip Rush, who died in April 2009.
The Rush Center received initial funding from the Lloyd Russell Foundation, the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Fund and several individual donors.
Now it is time to plan for the next stage of the Rush Center’s future as the increase in demand for the space continues to grow.
“The funding from the Community Foundation was to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment of the LGBT community in Georgia and develop a strategic plan,” Graham explained.
“The Rush Center’s long-term sustainability will come from expanding the number of organizations who are able to rent offices on an ongoing basis and the number of groups that are able to rent on a periodic or one time basis.
“We are currently providing approximately $2,000 a month worth of free and reduced rental to nonprofit groups that serve the LGBT community, so we must also develop a base of ongoing donors who will help us raise the funds we need to continue to meet the community need for a central space to gather and provide services,” Graham added.
“Because of the increased demand we are looking to either expand in our current location or relocate to a space that will accommodate future growth,” he said.
Ellis said Rush himself envisioned a space where there was always room for more people and groups to benefit from the shared space.
“One of Phillip’s priorities for us when we first began the conversations of shared space was that we structured it in such a way that there was always room and ways for other people and organizations to make use of the space,” Ellis said.
“It is the ability to supplement the rental expenses that makes that happen. Jeff is right — to sustain that, we need to develop and increase ways for individuals to support the ongoing operations of the Rush Center. It’s time to do that, now,” she said.
Slow growth has allowed the Rush Center remain viable in serving those it does. But, Ellis said, it is time for the community to step up and understand there is the need for more space and the funds to help make that happen.
“We’re definitely feeling the need for more space, both for offices and for meeting space, so the idea of expansion is very appealing,” she said.
“At the same, we’ve been successful thus far because we’ve taken it slowly and not grown beyond our means to support ourselves. If we’re to take the next step, it will be because we’ve clearly built that community support behind the effort,” she said.
THE HEALTH INITIATIVE EXTENDS SERVICES FOR SENIORS
SAGE, a program of the Health Initiative founded to serve LGBT seniors and an especially dear to Phillip Rush’s heart, continues to expand its services beyond providing a social space for people to meet.
The Health Initiative will soon launch a partnership with the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Area Agency on Aging “that is truly historic,” Ellis said.
That means SAGE will be included as a full partner in the ARC’s Aging and Disability Resource Center — a center that manages 25,000 aging service providers, Ellis explained.
“We’ll be listed as a resource, but also that we’ll be able to connect LGBT seniors to those services,” she said.
Ellis will serve on the state’s LGBT Elder Leadership Team “which is charged with developing the system through which we can insure that those 25,000 providers are LGBT inclusive,” she said.
Lorraine Fontana, a longtime LGBT Atlanta activist, is working with SAGE on its “Senior Voices” program with “the long range goal … to help familiarize senior service providers and other community organizations with SAGE, older LGBT folks, and our particular needs and concerns,” she said.
In addition, SAGE members will travel to Macon to help present a workshop on “Aging with Pride: Exploring LGBT Issues” as part of the 2013 Georgia Gerontological Society Spring Symposium, set for March 22 at the Medical Center of Central Georgia.
SAGE, which holds weekly meetings at the Rush Center on Thursdays, is also expanding its programming to include some weekend events.
On the second Sundays of the month, new programming is underway that has included “HIV/AIDS and Aging.”
Also, on Saturday, March 30, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., attorneys will be on hand at the Rush Center to help SAGE members understand the importance of Advance Directives and other legal documents important for same-sex couples as well as single LGBT people.
For more information, visit www.sageatl.org.
Top photo: Georgia Equality’s Jeff Graham (left) and the Health Initiative’s Linda Ellis manage the Phillip Rush Center. (by Dyana Bagby)