Sentara Community Impact: Shenandoah LGBTQ’s Friendly City Safe Space

Leaders of the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center say they are dedicated to strengthening the LGBTQIA+ community through education, programs safe spaces and much more.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 6:22 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Leaders of the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center say they are dedicated to strengthening the LGBTQIA+ community through education, programs safe spaces and much more.

Over the past few years, the center has since expanded its reach throughout the Shenandoah Valley from Staunton to Harrisonburg with the addition of the Friendly City Safe Space in 2021. Now they hope to build out that program, even more, to better serve those in need.

“To some extent, the sky is the limit right now. There is so much opportunity and community support. I am so incredibly thankful we have over 75 volunteers who work in this space,” Hyacinth Bellerose, director of the FCSS, explained.

The Friendly City Safe Space is the first outreach location for the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center.

“We have a library with over 200 books. We have free clothes for anyone, no questions asked. [We have] free food and drinks for anyone who comes. There are always volunteers present who are willing to talk and we have a ton of events happening every night,” Bellerose explained.

Bellerose says one of the goals for the space is to build up access to mental health resources in the area.

“We see really high rates of suicide among LGBTQ+ young people, particularly people of all ages. We see really high rates of loneliness, we see disconnection, we see mental illness that is coming from a lack of resources and a lack of feeling of safety and community,” Bellerose added.

Director of the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center AnhThu Nguyen says there are major barriers the organization is trying to reduce or eliminate when it comes to these services.

“In addition to being LGBTQ in a rural area, maybe living in conservative explicit anti-LGBTQ areas, folks are sort of struggling with the challenges,” Nguyen explained. “So we see increased poverty rates and increased isolation as a result of that. There are a number of challenges that exist for our community members.”

To help with some of those challenges the organization was awarded a $39,000 grant from Sentara Cares.

“The biggest use is that we are hiring a counselor who will be here part-time offering therapy for up to 10 clients,” Bellerose said.

The funds will also support therapeutic care through the ARROW project, clinician office hours offered weekly, wellness training and much more.

“We acknowledge that there are still community members who do not know about our services, who are not quite yet been reached so we are really looking at the more rural areas in the Shenandoah Valley. How to really tailor resources and get support to them directly,” Nguyen said.

“We already have a huge focus on mindfulness here so having more offerings looks like just doing some community assessment and trying to figure out what the biggest needs are. We are still in that early phase because it is such a new opportunity for us,” Bellerose said.

The Friendly City Safe Space is located in the Ice House building at 217 South Liberty Street, Suite 203 in Harrisonburg. The space is open after 4 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and 9-6 p.m. on Saturday. If you are interested in the open position for FCSS clinician or their upcoming mentorship program, you can email friendlycitysafespace@gmail.com.