By Kayla Sosa
A community survey in Grand Rapids showed that residents feel there is a need for a free, non-judgmental space for the LGBTQ community. After learning this, Audrey Hutchinson created Liberate GR – a community center for those who don’t feel they have a place to truly express themselves. With creative expression classes, a counseling center, peer-led discussion groups and many opportunities to network and share, Hutchinson wants to encourage growth and exploration.
“The LGBTQ community can feel ostracized, stared at and judged when out just doing normal things that any person does,” Hutchinson said. “Here they don’t have to worry about feeling different because they’re not.”
Liberate is also open to those in non-traditional relationships, like open or polyamorous.
“A lot of people in these relationships are socially monogamous, meaning even their closest family and friends don’t know,” Hutchinson explained. “People in non-traditional relationships face the possibility of judgement if people knew. At Liberate, they can discuss their relationships freely and openly with other people who are experiencing the same things.”
Hutchinson’s goal is to have the center be a place for people to connect, but also to network and take on leadership opportunities.
“It will include leadership opportunities for members and networking events as well as guest speakers and workshops,” she said. “We envision a place for members of all ages, genders and orientations. A place to be yourself and find connection as well as ways to better your life and always continue to grow.”
Hutchinson is a student at GVSU, going for her master’s degree in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. One of the things that has challenged her in this process is figuring out how to open up a non-profit, and all the special details involved.
“I am trying to get definitive answers about how to have a counseling center attached to the drop in center, which will accept payments and accept insurance while offering a sliding scale fee to people who are low income,” Hutchinson said. “It’s important because we need to have a clear picture of how much money we need to raise before we really get started. I like to have clear goals and a realistic strategy for fundraising.”
Starting a non-profit means you may have a business, but not always a building to work in right away.
“It means you have the paperwork and the people to get started, but it could still be a little while before actually opening your doors,” Hutchinson said. “That’s hard, but if you really believe in the mission then every step is exciting, no matter how small.”
The mission at Liberate is clear: create a space where people can be themselves and connect with others.
“Whether you’re involved with the LGBTQ community or not, Liberate matters because it will help other people to feel more connected,” Hutchinson said. “A more connected community is happier and safer. If you have a loved one, or if you yourself are LGBTQ, this place is important because it’s somewhere to go to receive services or build relationships.”
Hutchinson is currently looking for more people to fill roles on the board as well as volunteer positions. To learn more and get involved, visit http://www.liberategr.org.