COLUMBIA — The Center Project, an organization working to build a community center for mid-Missouri’s gay and lesbian community, is holding a Million Penny Drive with the slogan “Change ... for change!”, which will continue through May 1.
Forty collection cans were placed in Columbia businesses and throughout MU in late February. Members of The Center Project are also willing to pick up large amounts of change.
Some of the businesses that are currently participating in the penny drive are Maude Vintage Clothing and Costume, The Soco Club, Living Canvas Tattoo, Main Squeeze, 9th Street Video, Blackberry Exchange and Café Berlin International.
Maude Vintage owner Sabrina Braden said that she is pleased and honored to have a collection jar on her counter.
“It would be nice to have a place for young people to go when they have questions,” Braden said. “We are still in a culture where it isn’t 100 percent socially accepted. A community center would be another outlet and support system.”
Stacy Snow, current member of the board of directors of The Center Project, said that local businesses have been really supportive of The Center Project in the past. Various businesses have donated door prizes as well as raffle items for their annual community dance party, “The Atomic Dance Party,” held June 14 at the Blue Note.
Board member Becky Beck came up with the idea of the penny drive while looking at a jar that she had been collecting spare change in for the past few years. Beck pitched the idea to the fundraising committee and it stuck.
The Center Project is hoping to make a significant change in resources available to the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community, as well as their allies, in Columbia and surrounding areas. For five years, The Center Project has been working toward opening a community center downtown. The Center Project currently has 12 board members and more than 200 volunteers and donors working to make the center a reality.
Snow said the current fundraising drive, which the group hopes will bring in $10,000, would be extremely helpful in making the center a reality. The Center Project has raised just under $20,000 so far through private donations and from fundraisers such as making and selling organic dog and cat treats and toys at festivals around Columbia. Making $10,000 from the penny drive would bring their total to $30,000, which would enable the group to sign a lease and move closer to its goal of raising $60,000 by the end of 2008. Members raised more than $400 at Columbia’s Earth Day on April 20 by the sale of their toys and treats and T-shirts, as well as donations.
Snow said The Center Project has been talking with developers and business owners to find a long-term location for the center. She said the group needs to raise $10,000 to $20,000 more to show that they are a fiscally responsible organization that will be able to maintain a community center.
The Center Project hopes to move into a physical space by October. The Center Project’s current meeting place is at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 2615 Shepard Blvd.
Snow said that she believes a community center would validate the LGBT community and would be helpful to people who are new to Columbia or who are looking for information about the gay community in Columbia.
“The center would be a place to hold educational programs and to provide a meeting space to those in town that have the same mission as the center does,” Snow said. “We also want a place to house resources for the community.”
Snow said another goal of the center is to provide a safe, closed off, lounge-like space specifically for young people to hang out and do homework. The Center Project is also planning to collect historical reference materials related to the LGBT community in Columbia and mid-Missouri.
“We want members to feel that it is a safe and permanent space,” Snow said. “Growing into it is very important.”
During the summer of 2003, members of local LGBT organizations met to discuss the need for a community center.
Since then, The Center Project has officially become a nonprofit organization, conducted surveys in the community and developed a functional business plan.
Members of the Columbia group have also visited LGBT community centers in Kansas City, Mo., and Tulsa, Okla., and have attended yearly conferences about how to run an LGBT community center for the past three years.
“We have been at it for five years now,” Snow said. “We are like the little engine that could. We were ready for it to open yesterday, but it takes a lot of work.”
For more information about the Million Penny Drive visit The Center Project’s Web site: thecenterproject.org.