Celebrating acceptance: The Center makes merry over inaugural year

Drag queen Twila Holiday hugs volunteer Reenie McHarg during The Center’s one-year anniversary party in Kissimmee Wednesday night.

Osceola County’s gay community and its supporters came out in force Wednesday night to celebrate The Center’s one-year anniversary in downtown Kissimmee.

The Orlando-based organization opened its first and only satellite office to fill a gap in services for the Hispanic and queer communities in the county, said Executive Director George Wallace.

“I’m amazed with the response from the community,” he said. I wasn’t sure how we’d be received.”

The Center offers free HIV and Hepatitis C testing Monday through Thursday, and a mental health counselor will soon be available to the public on Fridays.

Over the past year, 246 HIV tests and 117 Hepatitis tests have been administered at the Kissimmee location, compared to 800 per month at The Center’s main office in downtown Orlando.

The organization is 40 years old and has been at its location on Mills Avenue in downtown Orlando for 20 years.

The Kissimmee location also offers legal aid, a cyber center and a small library, all open to the public. While its services are marketed to the gay community, The Center welcomes everyone – gay, straight or somewhere in between.

“We’re a community center, we’re here for the community, not just for people who are on the LGBT+ spectrum,” said Tommi Pritchett, Kissimmee program manager and director of development.

The acronym represents people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Often written LGBTQ+, the plus sign represents all forms of sexual orientation and expression, Pritchett said.

Zebra Coalition, another Orlando-based nonprofit, also has an office inside The Center’s Kissimmee location. It provides free counseling for LGBTQ+ teens and young adults and monthly parenting classes.   

But The Center isn’t just a place to find resources, it’s also a place where people can go when they have nowhere to turn.

“We are advocates for anybody who is in need of a safe space,” she said.

The Center also offers low-cost meeting space for community groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and local political organizations. The AA meetings have been put on hold until another volunteer facilitator can be found, Pritchett said.

Word by Word, a local writer’s group, also meets there monthly thanks to a partnership between The Center and the Osceola Library System.

The Contigo Fund – another LGBTQ+ organization – got the ball rolling for the Kissimmee site with a $26,000 grant that was renewed again this year, she said.  

Area businesses and individuals are also providing financial support, said Pritchett, who got tapped to run the Kissimmee office earlier this summer.

“My main goal right now is to continue building partnerships...and show people we are here to provide support for everybody who’s in need,” she said.