James F. Mills
The Coachella Valley has a new gay and lesbian center—the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, more commonly known as just “The Center.”
But actually, it’s not new at all. The Center has been around for a decade, although some likely have never known about it because it went under the name of the Golden Rainbow Senior Center. The Center officially changed its name in October to reflect an ever-expanding range of services and programs catering to all age groups.
“We’ve always been and will continue to be committed to the senior population in the Coachella Valley. That doesn’t change,” says Program Operations Manager Rick Kondo, who explains the organization started as an offshoot of Prime Timers Foundation with the mission to build gay senior housing, but quickly evolved into a gay senior social center.
“What has changed is we’ve expanded our services to the LGBT community at large,” says Kondo. “We thought a new name—a rebranding—would make it more apparent.”
With expanded services comes programs aimed at LGBT youth, plus a partnership with The Trevor Project to do workshops on teen suicide and bully prevention. Its counseling services have greatly expanded thanks to several new, long-term grants. “We’ve made the counseling services available to pretty much anyone in need,” says Kondo. “We’ve got individual counseling, group counseling, addiction counseling, recovery and support groups.”
The Center continues to operate its weekly food pantry on Sunday mornings, providing a bag of groceries with meat, produce, dairy and canned goods to LBGT residents who are disabled and/or 55 years or older. The Food Pantry serves an average of 250 to 300 people every week.
It also continues to provide social programs, everything from bingo and bridge to yoga and meditation to American Sign Language classes and discussion groups, plus supper club groups and day trips to the surrounding areas.
“The social programs we do are the heart of our existence,” says Kondo, who reports they have 1,000 members plus another 3,000 people who use their services in some way. “The social nature of the Center is vital.”
With an annual operating budget of $750,000, the Center now has 11 staff members and almost 100 volunteers keeping everything going. “The volunteers are the backbone of the organization,” says Kondo. “The reason we are able to survive and thrive.”
Another reason it’s thriving is new Executive Director John O’Connor, who joined The Center in April. “John has in a very short time elevated the organization to another level,” reports Kondo. “He’s got 20 years of experience working in nonprofits. He has contacts with people at the local, regional and state levels that has put us in a better position for revenue sources. He had been a big part of the growth.”
The Center is located at 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Ste. 201, Palm Springs. thecenterps.org