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Encircle reaches $8 million goal to build eight homes — and more

By Genelle Pugmire - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Oct 15, 2021

Photo supplied, Encircle

Encircle's flagship home in Provo with some of its patrons.

It’s been five years since Stephenie Larsen, and a handful of backers and stakeholders, bought their first Encircle house in Provo. On Wednesday, the Encircle Resources Centers received the greatest news of all.

Encircle successfully completed its “$8 Million, 8 Houses” Campaign, opened its new Sustainability Fund and announced the first of hopefully many Encircle Cafés.

Gov. Spencer Cox was on hand to celebrate the news as well as other stakeholders including campaign chairman Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.

The original home is one block south of the Provo City Center Temple with only a post office and small parking lot dividing the two buildings. Just as the temple is intended to bring families together, Larsen hoped this new home would bring LGBT youth and their families together.

To “encircle” someone is to provide a shelter, a protection, a sense of belonging and ultimately a safe place to learn and grow, according to Larsen.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Apple's CEO Tim Cook speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Cook and NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade joined Utah leaders to announce the completion of a local advocacy group's campaign to build eight new homes for LGBTQ youth in the U.S. West.

She added that Encircle’s programs are designed to foster connection, the greatest protective factor for the prevention of mental illness and suicide.

Encircle boasts that they encourage LGBTQ+ youth to practice self-acceptance and express themselves without fear of ridicule, discrimination, bullying or harassment.

Encircle is also an LGBTQ+ resource center that provides counseling for youth and families. Larsen was concerned about the number of teens, particularly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who were committing suicide because they had no existing support system or hope there would be any in the future.

Larsen works not only to bring hope to the Provo house, but also love. Love for the LGBTQ+ youth and their families.

Provo’s restored historic home is the flagship for what Larsen said she hoped would be others homes and resource centers.

Photo supplied, Encircle

Encircle's CEO and Founder Stephenie Larsen.

In less than five years, Larsen, her board of directors and other stakeholders have gathered financial support and understanding of what Encircle is trying to accomplish — “No sides, just love.”

“Many of Utah’s LGBTQ youth face higher rates of depression, anxiety and social isolation, and that’s why Encircle is so important,” Cox said. “Finding a place for support, encouragement and belonging can make all the difference for LGBTQ youth and families, and Encircle provides that safe space. I’m proud to support Encircle as it serves thousands of Utah’s most vulnerable youth.”

To kick off the Sustainability Fund, Encircle is opening its first Encircle Café in Salt Lake City, which will not only employ Encircle youth, but also provide funds to support the home. Earlier this year, Encircle kicked off its “$8 Million, 8 Houses” capital campaign to begin the nationwide expansion of the program with initial donations and support from Apple, Qualtrics founder and Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith and Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds, along with his wife, recording artist Aja Volkman.

The new fundraising effort will help provide ongoing programming and services for LGBTQ+ youth while the cafe contributes funds to home operations

Encircle also announced that with a new $1 million donation from Domo, its founder Josh James and his wife, Marina James, the organization reached its goal of raising $8 million to build eight new Encircle homes.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Apple CEO Tim Cook and Wade joined Utah leaders to announce the completion of a local advocacy group's campaign to build eight new homes for LGBTQ youth in the U.S. West.

“Knowing you are loved and accepted, just as you are, is one of the greatest gifts a human being can receive,” Josh James said. “We are grateful for the work that Encircle has done to create safe spaces and support for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. On behalf of Domo, Marina and myself, we hope our contributions help advance a brighter and more inclusive world for LGBTQ+ youth, and spark conversations that help us get closer to a more loving and accepting world for everyone.”

In addition, the Kahlert Foundation is contributing an added $1 million for a ninth home in Utah. To help raise funds to sustain these new homes, Encircle is also announcing the launch of its new Sustainability Fund, which will ensure continued support for LGBTQ+ youth at all Encircle locations.

“It’s amazing to watch the impact Encircle has had on the Utah community over the past few years,” said Heather Kahlert, executive vice president of the Kahlert Foundation. “We have a need for more mental health services in Utah especially when it comes to Utah’s LGBTQ+ youth. Encircle’s excellence in providing these services is unmatched and our family foundation couldn’t think of a better organization to partner with in order to help all youth in our community feel loved and supported.”

“Having the opportunity to bring Encircle to the Las Vegas community has been incredibly rewarding for both Aja and I,” Reynolds said. “We are excited to continue to follow and support Encircle as it expands to help even more LGBTQ+ youth and their families come together with their communities to lift everyone up.”

Chaired by Cook, the Smiths, Reynolds and Volkman, the goal of the campaign was to support the nonprofit’s expansion efforts to build community, acceptance and understanding for LGBTQ+ youth and their families, and promote its philosophy of “No Sides, Only Love.”

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner

Participants at a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, March 25, 2021, dig the ceremonial first shovel of dirt for Encircle at 2458 Washington Blvd. in Ogden. The organization helps LGBTQ teens and young adults. From right to left: Stephenie Larsen, the Encircle CEO; Jacob Dunford, the Encircle COO; Jed Nilson; Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell; Kathryn Hueth, mostly obscured; Lori Fleming; U.S. Rep. Blake Moore; and Brad Mortensen, the president of Weber State University.

With the campaign goal reached following the latest donation from Domo and the Jameses, Encircle will be able to continue its expansion with new locations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

The nonprofit has already started construction on locations in Heber, Logan and Ogden, as well as Las Vegas.

As Encircle enters this next phase, its top priority remains to build community, acceptance and understanding for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. In order to ensure the ongoing operations of Encircles new homes, including therapy sessions and other programming to support LGBTQ+ youth, Encircle is now opening its new Sustainability Fund.

This fund will help secure the future for those who benefit from Encircle’s programs and services. As part of the Sustainability Fund, Encircle is also opening the first Encircle Café in its Salt Lake City home at 331 S. 600 East in Salt Lake City.

The cafe will not only provide employment and skills training to Encircle youth, but offer an additional source of income for the home.

The Salt Lake City cafe, which will be open during the day, is a pilot program with the hope of implementing similar cafes at other locations.

Encircle homes will continue to provide services and support during afternoon and evening hours. The cafes will be staffed in part by Encircle youth who will receive on-the-job training and learn essential life skills.

“At Encircle we believe there are no sides, only love, and we are so thankful for everyone who has believed in us and made our vision to help more youth and families a reality,” Larsen said. “The more communities we are able to enter, the more LGBTQ+ youth we will be able to serve, ensuring they feel loved and supported no matter what. Our new sustainability fund will help to ensure a secure future for Encircle so we can serve youth and families for years to come.”

“Ashley and I want everyone to know that they will always have a place of safety wherever we are — that every person is safe to be their true self, openly and wholeheartedly,” Ryan Smith said.

“As someone who is passionate about Utah, I am so proud that Encircle started here. And while the challenges LGBTQ+ youth face are not limited to one geography, tradition, or culture, it’s a powerful statement that one of the greatest solutions — Encircle — started here. I couldn’t be more excited to help this incredible organization expand across the U.S. — there should be an Encircle in every city — because there are no sides, only love,” he added.

For more information about Encircle, its expansion project or to make a donation, visit http://encircletogether.org.


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