A Place for Pride: Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center Reopens
Just nine months after being forced to leave their original location at an Eau Claire church due to high renovation costs, the Chippewa Valley LBGTQ+ Community Center had run out of money. They were forced to vacate their Woodland Avenue offices in 2011, marking the beginning of a six-year struggle to find an affordable space.
A lot has changed in the interim. Since December 2013, the group has been spearheaded by President Jason D. Bennett-Hardy, former Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ secretary. Jason’s husband, Dan, took his place as secretary when he became president. Ann Hoeppner is the anchor of the organization, weathering times of calm and tempest as treasurer since 2006.
Along with volunteers and past board members, the Bennett-Hardys and Hoeppner have organized countless fundraisers in efforts to open a new space to house the center.
The Chippewa Valley Pride celebration is the biggest moneymaker for CV LGBTQ+. Every year, they organize a weekend of food, fun, and fellowship for the entire Eau Claire community to enjoy. Last year’s fundraising festivities included the Pride Dinner, the Pride Picnic, and the Christopher Iannone Memorial Ice Cream Social and Boat Ride.
To keep the organization afloat after Pride, CV LGBTQ+ has historically held monthly to biweekly bingo nights at The Plus where each $10 ticket buys bingo cards, tokens, and access to donated prizes and gift cards. They also host an annual volleyball tournament to raise money and awareness for the Chippewa Valley’s LGBT community.
Finally, after years of fundraising, the group recently collected enough money to rent an office space. On Dec. 31, the new Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center opened its doors on the fourth floor of historic Banbury Place.
The weeks since have been a whirlwind of settling in, keeping up with ongoing events, and planning for the future. The board is in the preliminary stages of transforming the group from a virtual organization to a physical one.
“We’re working on becoming more of a physical resource center where people can come in and look at a book, get pamphlets, and find what they need,” said Jason Bennett-Hardy.
The Bennett-Hardys and Hoeppner hope to offer a support network for the entirety of the local LGBTQ+ community as the center continues to build and expand. The organization is currently in the process of organizing a transgender support group to be housed at the center, added Hoeppner.
Amid dwindling participation in Bingo Night, the group is looking to revamp its fundraising and activity programs. The board is exploring low-cost events such as ice cream nights, movie nights, and game nights to supplement smaller activities like mini-picnics and spontaneous volleyball games.
They also hope to revitalize the Pride Variety Show for next summer’s event.
But in order to widen their support network and create new programs, the board needs bodies. On top of running the center, the Bennett-Hardys and Hoeppner all have full-time jobs. They hope to fill several volunteer and paid positions to fulfill community needs and keep the center open for walk-ins.
How can you help? Donate time or money, interact with the CV LGBTQ+ on Facebook and Twitter, give feedback via email, attend a board meeting, or participate in fundraisers and events such as Pride. Above all else, spread the word. Tell your friends, your family, your neighbors, your great aunt in Augusta, your pet parakeet. Let it echo across the Valley: CV LGBT is here, and they’re ready to help.
Looking to occupy your open hours and give back to the community? Check out the center’s open positions at cvlgbt.info/board and shoot them an email.