Center staff says move will reduce rent, not services
By Pat Sherman/GSD Editor
After a decade at its current location at 3777 4th Ave., the Hillcrest Youth Center (HYC) will open at a smaller, more affordable space at the intersection of Park Blvd. and Robinson Ave. on Aug. 18.
The relocation will reduce the monthly rent by more than 50 percent, from about $4,060 to $1,660.
However, saving money in a down economy wasn’t the only consideration behind the move, said Delores Jacobs, executive director of the LGBT Community Center, which operates the drop-in center for LGBTQ and HIV-positive youth ages 14 to 18.
HYC’s current 3,000-square-foot building only includes about 1,800 square feet of usable space, Jacobs said. Though the new strip center unit is only 950 square feet, it is just blocks from the main LGBT Center, where youth can now go to access some services—such as a computer lab—that were formerly housed onsite.
“The landlord where we’ve been has been great,” Jacobs said, “but one of the challenges has always been it’s too far away for youth to access the (main) building here for special things.”
At the main facility, at Centre Street and University Avenue, youth will be able to access the Cyber Center and auditorium, where HYC’s annual “Other Prom” is held. Jacobs also envisions the youth tending their own community garden at the main site.
“It also happens to save money, which is always a good thing, but it wasn’t the sole motivation for the move,” she said.
During a recent visit to the Hillcrest Youth Center, the mood vacillated between excitement and melancholy, as youth sorted through books in the library, deciding which would be transferred to the new site and which would be donated to charity.
“Haikus for Jews!” one youth exclaimed. “I love this; we’ve got to keep it!” Another staff member in her 20s nabbed a dog-eared copy of a Fydor Dostoevsky novel.
“The great thing is that we kind of get to pare down to a little bit more of the essentials,” HYC Coordinator Leanna Corpus said. “We have been open for the past 10 years, so there’s been 10 years of accumulation.”
That accumulation is evident in the way the youth have made HYC their own. Bold, colorful artwork lines the walls. Witty statements are hand-painted on walls and doors, confident and unapologetic affirmations of the youth’s burgeoning identity—nurtured through the encouragement and support of peers, counselors and young adult mentors.
Though acceptance of LGBT people and issues has increased significantly in the past 10 years, youth are still discriminated against, bullied and ostracized—at times by their own parents, Jacobs said. Though some youth come from high-income households, about 70 percent of teens accessing HYC are low-income and underserved.
Carols Marquez, who oversees the LGBT Center’s community-funded programs, including HYC, said strategies for spreading the word about HYC’s services are “evolving constantly” and include social media outlets such as Facebook and MySpace.
“We learned that the youth far prefer MySpace and it’s a really important tidbit for us as staff to know,” Marquez said, noting a social media socioeconomic divide that finds more youth of color using MySpace.
Stopping by for a visit, longtime youth center beneficiary Scott Allen helped sort through the books.
Allen, now 19 and pursuing a degree in psychology at San Francisco State University, first visited the youth center before his freshman year of high school, upon the recommendation of his therapist. The former Carmel Valley resident, who said his father was “not OK” with him being gay, had been hospitalized after several suicide attempts.
“I thought that my life would just be horrific if I came out,” Allen said. “Then once I got here I started to see—especially in the staff—that there are other people who are LGBT, who have successful lives, and I started to think differently about my own life.”
While at HYC, youth have access to career counseling, life skills workshops, résumé writing, legal aid and assistance with college admissions and financial aid applications.
“Some youth come every day; some youth come once a month from all over San Diego County,” Corpus said. “We have kids come in that work on their homework and go and sit in the library and read a book. Sometimes they come in to use the computers or watch a sports game on television. When our president is on television we usually turn that on and see what he has to say about LGBT rights or ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’—to keep the youth appraised of any opportunities to be activists.
“We try and make it a comfortable space so that they can feel like it’s their home away from home,” Corpus said. “We’re really one of the only drop-in centers of its type” in Southern California.
Corpus said youth who have been coming to HYC the longest are having the most difficulty with the move, though she and other staff members are maintaining a positive attitude. HYC teens have helped draft a layout for the new space, which most recently was home to San Diego LGBT Pride’s offices.
“I think the best thing is to just make them really part of the process,” Corpus said. “It’s important to have them feel ownership of the new space and of the whole packing process. I’m being very transparent with the youth. They have a timeline and they’re a vital part of what helps get everything done.”
HYC will be closed for about a week during the move, though the new location, 1807 Robinson Ave., will offer the same services and programs. Hours of operation will remain the same: Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m. and Fridays from 5 to 10 p.m. For more information, call (619) 497-2920 or visit thecentersd.org.