ST. GEORGE — A large crowd gathered Saturday at the corner of 200 South and 200 East to celebrate the opening of Encircle’s newest branch with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Located in a renovated home at 190 S. 200 East, the new Encircle home will serve as a place where LGBTQ-plus youth and young adults can go for support.
Encircle’s motto “No Sides, Only Love” appeared throughout the crowd printed on several shirts and face masks worn by those attending the ribbon-cutting.
“The youth who come to Encircle are incredible. They are wise. They are brilliant. They are artistic. They are unique. They are special,” Encircle CEO and founder Stephanie Larsen said. “When the youth walk through the doors, often they are a little broken. It is our job to remind them of how special they are. If we love the youth within these communities, they will grow to be the leaders in the community, and we will be all the better for it.”
Larsen and others who spoke about Encircle’s mission and the support they have received became emotional at times and expressed gratitude to the community overall for the help making Encircle’s third LGBTQ youth-centered resource center possible.
Last year, Encircle put out a call for volunteers to help renovate the pioneer-era home originally known as the Pickett House by breaking down walls and tearing up carpet. Approximately 80 people showed up, and Larsen said Encircle hadn’t experienced that level of support before.
“It was amazing to see the turn out of love and support that evening, and we have felt that love every single time we’ve done anything here,” she said.
Following the ribbon-cutting, Larsen reiterated the sentiment with St. George News.
“We are shocked by the outpouring of love and support,” she said. “We didn’t know what it would be like in St. George. We’ve never experienced anything like this in the community.”
St. George Mayor Jon Pike, who also spoke at the event, said helping Encircle set up the new home in St. George was a collaborative effort.
“This has come about like so many other things in our community: through collaboration, through hard work – that barn-raising mentality,” Pike said. “A lot of times we’ve called that the ‘Dixie Spirit.’ There are so many people from so many walks of life who just love our youth, and this is a place where we can help some in so many ways.”
Encircle opened its first home in Provo in 2017 as a place where LGBTQ youth could go during after school hours and find themselves among friends and allies who would support them. It also aimed at being a place where those youth and their parents could go to learn how to best support each other.
According to a press release from Encircle issued prior to Saturday’s ribbon-cutting, the new facility will have the capacity to support the area’s LGBTQ+ youth and young adults and parents by “providing individual and family counseling, friendship circles, affirmative and evidence-based programs and more. It will be the first resource center of its kind for the Southern Utah region.”
Encircle makes free and low-cost counseling possible for LGBTQ individuals and their families. Since its start, the nonprofit has provided direct services to over 20,000 individuals and subsidized over 6,000 family and youth therapy sessions.
“It’s a place where families can come to learn and understand, to heal, to move forward … and to just love,” Pike said.
Each Encircle home is named for supporters of the LGBTQ community, Larsen said. The Provo home is named for Clint Ford and Bruce Bastion, while their second location in Salt Lake City is named after John Williams.
Williams was Larsen’s uncle who came out as gay 50 years ago. He helped shape the vision of what became Encircle in 2016. The idea for the nonprofit also came about after Larsen learned that LGBTQ youth are nearly three times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth.
The St. George Encircle home was named after Kim and Terry Turner.
Jared Turner, a businessman and philanthropist, said his parents introduced him to Encircle in 2018. He said it was something he wanted to be a part of, adding that coincided with one of the lessons his parents taught their children: “fight for the underdog.”
Kim and Terry Turner became involved in LGBTQ advocacy after one their children, Jared Turner’s younger brother, came out as gay 20 years ago. Jared Turner said his parents loved and embraced their son and sought to understand what he was experiencing.
“This opened them to the plight of this community and served as the impetus of their becoming fierce allies of the LGBTQ community.” he said, adding that part of their advocacy extended to counseling other parents with LGBTQ children.
“My parent were and are examples of protecting and advocating for those who need it,” he said. “They’ve lifted their voices to support the marginalized in every way.”
The Turners’ advocacy has also extended to immigrants, women and minority groups, and when it came to LGBTQ individuals, Jared Turner said his parents had supplied a place of refuge to them when needed in the past.
Neither Kim nor Terry Turner knew their names were on the new Encircle home until it was revealed just prior to the ribbon-cutting. Both were shocked and became emotional at the sight of their names on the sign in front of the home.
Four of the Turners’ five children were present at the event. The only one missing was the son who first inspired his parents to LGBTQ advocacy. Jared Turner said his brother currently resides in Mexico and was unable to travel due to the pandemic.
Due to the new facility being opened in a limited capacity for the time being – Monday through Thursday from 3-7 p.m. – the opportunities for volunteering at Encircle currently aren’t as expansive as they may otherwise be, St. George Encircle director Julie Benson said; however, she added, they could use volunteers for general ground maintenance and building upkeep.
Encircle St. George will be reviewing its services following the flu season and see what may be expanded, which will likely include additional volunteer opportunities, she said.
Encircle St. George officially opened Monday.
Additional information on Encircle, including how to volunteer or donate, can be found on the nonprofit’s website.
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