A Utah nonprofit that provides resources for LGBTQ+ youth ranging from “friendship circles” to therapy sessions is expanding to other states after receiving $4 million in donations from multiple high-profile donors.
The donations, which were announced on Thursday, include $2 million from Qualtrics founder and Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith and his wife, Ashley Smith, and $1 million from Apple, which will “contribute products that promote digital connection, creativity and education,” according to a press release.
Additionally, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds and his wife, recording artist Aja Volkman, are donating Reynolds’ childhood home in Las Vegas, which is valued at $1 million.
The donations are a move to jumpstart Encircle’s “$8 Million, 8 Houses” campaign, an effort to construct eight new community resource houses in Utah, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada. Currently, Encircle operates homes in Provo, Salt Lake City and St. George.
Ryan and Ashley Smith, Reynolds, Volkman and Apple CEO Tim Cook will serve as co-chairs of the campaign.
A number of LGBTQ+ youth and their families have shared stories about how the resources offered by Encircle have impacted them personally.
“My first time at Encircle was amazing,” 17-year-old Tyler Garcia, who is gay, said in a video about his experience. “I felt the warmth and the love radiating off the walls. And I think, coming to Encircle, you’re able to take that mask off and be yourself.”
Rachel Garcia, Tyler’s mother, said the Encircle house they visited gave her a “sense of comfort” and made her feel like “we’re not going to be alone.”
“As a parent, having a place in your community that is home-centered, but that I know will support my kids and my family, is extremely comforting,” she said.
Herriman resident Gavin Wassom, 14, said he was inspired by “seeing those people be able to be who they were” at the Encircle house.
“I was like, ‘I want that for myself. I want to be who I am,’ ” Wassom said.
The campaign seeks to “build new partnerships among a broad coalition of allies and advocates to provide programs, mental health services, support groups and safe spaces to young LGBTQ+ people and their families throughout the U.S.,” the press release said.
“All LGBTQ+ people should feel safe and supported enough to be open about who they are with their community and themselves,” Cook said in a written statement. “Encircle is helping to bridge divides and bring people together — sending a powerful message that the greatest thing you can aspire to become is who you truly are. It’s my hope that every young person who feels alone or unsupported can find connection and community at this incredible organization.”
“Ashley and I have seen the amazing work Encircle does to benefit LGBTQ+ youth. We’re grateful for the opportunity to contribute to their mission of creating more inclusive communities and providing much needed hope and support to youth,” Ryan Smith said.
Stephenie Larsen, CEO and founder of Encircle, said “this incredible support makes our nationwide expansion possible and will improve countless LGBTQ+ lives — reminding them that they are perfect, just as they are.”
“Studies repeatedly have shown that LGBTQ+ youth across the country struggle with depression and suicidality far more than their heterosexual peers, and the pandemic has made that sense of isolation so many feel harder than ever before,” Larsen said.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called Encircle a “visionary organization” and said “we cannot overstate the impact they are having on the lives of young people who struggle daily with acceptance and inclusion.”
“We are grateful for the impact Encircle has had in our communities and are excited to see their leadership and vision expanding nationwide,” the governor said in a statement.