Seventy-five otherwise apparently sane individuals threw themselves off the eighth floor of the Visalia Marriott over the weekend, and raised more than $95,000 for the Source LGBT+ Center in the process.
First Step’s a Doozy
Despite having a pair of working elevators at their disposal, as well as a set of reliable stairs, dozens of thrill-seekers opted instead to rappel down the outside of the city’s tallest building during Visalia Over the Edge, a fundraiser for Tulare and Kings counties’ only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) resource center.
“We are building capacity,” said Nick Vargas, co-founder of the Source, who now serves as its director of development.
Founded by Vargas and Executive Director Brian Poth two and a half years ago, the Source provides services–such as medical referrals, support groups and social opportunities–for the LGBT community, family, allies and friends in the South Valley. Now, the Source needs more space, Vargas says, and the money to pay for it.
“This is a peer-to-peer fundraiser,” he said of the weekend’s event. “Seventy-five people have signed up, and they are raising at least $1,000 by asking their friends, families, doing raffles, auctions. Anything that’s legal, they’re doing it to raise money to support our mission and to help us build capacity.”
‘They Serve Anybody’
The Friday night kickoff to the event saw several local notables, including State Assemblyman Devon Mathis, Marriott regional vice president Doug Warren, Visalia Rawhide mascot Tipper the Bull and radio personality April Skye, leading the way off the eighth-floor balcony at the downtown hotel.
“I believe that the different things the Source does are really great,” said Skye. “They serve anybody, actually, in the community who needs help.”
Skye, who was the top fundraiser during the event, says she is especially supportive of the Source’s anti-bullying and suicide-prevention efforts, as the issues have often effected her directly.
“Suicide has touched our family several times, like three different times, most recently my daughter-in-law two months ago while my grandkids were in the house, so it’s a lot,” she said. “Depression is big, and a lot of kids are bullied for different reasons, so I just think (what the Source does) is great.”
“Jumping off a building does get some attention,” Vargas said about his effort to get people to rappel down the side of a prominent building while the media looked on.
Creating a stir, Vargas says, was also an aim of the weekend event. Members of the LGBT community, he said, may have needs that are not adequately addressed in the South Valley. He pointed to healthcare as an example.
“We are addressing disparities in health outcomes,” Vargas said. “If somebody needs an LGBT-knowledgeable and competent doctor, we can refer them. Or a therapist. LGBT people might have special health needs that, until we existed, weren’t really talked about.”
Bigger and Better
Much of the work at the Source happens during support group sessions. The sessions serve a variety of different individuals, including young and elderly members of the community, parents and family members, and those who are dealing with issues such as substance abuse and eating disorders. The success of these programs has led to a desire to expand them.
“We’re poised for big growth to meet the needs of LGBT people here in our community,” Vargas said. “Part of that is increased space. Right now, we have about 500 square feet in Montgomery Square, and we love it there, but it’s just not enough space.”
With the money raised this weekend, the Source is now ready to grow.
“We can certainly expand our space,” Vargas said. “We’re thinking, ‘What are the options? Do we go to a bigger space we lease downtown? Do we expand our space here?’”
The Source LGBT+ Center is located at 208 W. Main Street, Suite B, in Visalia. For more information about the Source, visit thesourcelgbt.org.