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LGBT Center Welcomes New Board Chairs

by Matthew S. Bajko

San Francisco LGBT Community Center board co-chairs Sally Jesmonth, left, and Nicholas González encourage people to stop by and see the building's new look and check out its programs
San Francisco LGBT Community Center board co-chairs Sally Jesmonth, left, and Nicholas González encourage people to stop by and see the building's new look and check out its programs  (Source:Kelly Sullivan)

When she first walked through the doors of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center six years ago, Sally Jesmonth remembers being struck by the size of the entryway atrium and thinking it was wasted space.

Today, that airy lobby is no more, having been enclosed to create new meeting room space as part of a $10.3 million top-to-bottom renovation of the upper Market Street building. Closed for most of 2016, the facility began reopening to the public in stages last December, when several local nonprofits moved into new office spaces in the center.

"When looking at the usable space in the building, for me, now there is a lot more usable space, specifically for nonprofits," said Jesmonth, who was voted in as the new female co-chair of the center's board of directors earlier this summer. "I am really excited to have them in there as they tie into the mission of the center."

Added Nicholas González, recently elected the center's new male co-chair, "I think it looks great and feels more welcoming based on the changes made."

Maximizing the potential of the remodeled center is a top priority for the co-chairs and center staff. Since hosting a public ribbon-cutting ceremony in April to celebrate the completion of the renovation project, center officials have been focused on alerting community groups that they can once again rent space in the building for meetings or events Mondays through Saturdays.

"We are trying to get the word out it is open again," said Jesmonth.

"It definitely has gotten busier now that the grand re-opening has happened," added González.

Assisting in the outreach efforts is Roberto Ordeñana, who has stepped in on an interim basis to be the center's executive director, as Rebecca Rolfe started a sabbatical August 21. She is expected to resume her role as executive director December 4.

"I feel like it is a really exciting time for us with the building renovation completed," said Ordeñana, who is the center's director of development and marketing. "I am excited to lead the center through Rebecca's sabbatical. Now we get to turn our attention to the needs of the community and program growth."

Ordeñana, who this month is marking his 15th year working at the center, is overseeing the expansion of the center's youth drop-in program from 20 to 30 hours a week due to $289,000 in new city funding. As of this week, the program is now open from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; from 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays; and from 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays.

The center will continue to host a communal meal for the youth, ages 16 to 24, at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and bring in outside service agencies that night. And it is now providing hot meals on the four other weeknights but without the added service providers in attendance.

Once two new staff people are hired by mid-September, the youth drop-in program will expand to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A meal will also be offered that day.

Another focus for Ordeñana is ensuring the center reaches its goal of raising $1.2 million by December 28 to celebrate its 15th anniversary this year.

"We have raised $833,000 so far, so we are at about 70 percent of our goal," said Ordeñana last week.

Rolfe earlier this year had won a sabbatical award from O2 Initiatives, which each year selects leaders of local nonprofits for the honor. She told the Bay Area Reporter that her plans during her time off include traveling with her family to Morocco and Spain in October, trying out new recipes, reading through a pile of books, and checking out museums.

"I am definitely coming back," insisted Rolfe, who was hired in May 2003 as the center's deputy director and then promoted four years later.

The board co-chairs both said they expect Rolfe to return to her job and would hate to see her decide to step down.

"Personally, I would be sad. I like working with Rebecca," said Jesmonth. "I think she is going to stay. I have my fingers crossed she will."

"It is highly unlikely this scenario will come to be," added González about having to recruit a new executive director.

Rolfe said that she has full confidence in the ability of the two new co-chairs and Ordeáana to lead the center in her absence.

"We have really stable leadership. Roberto has been here a long time; he is fantastic and knows everything," said Rolfe. "The board chairs are new in their role but not new to the organization, and we have some other long-standing board members."

González, 26, lives in the Haight and started his first year of law school at UC Hastings last month. Originally from San Diego, he no longer speaks with his three older siblings and has a "tenuous" relationship with his parents, who emigrated from Mexico, due to their being Jehovah's Witnesses.

He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 with a degree in political science and history. After several years living in New York City, he moved back to the Bay Area in 2014 and the following fall joined the center's board.

He had chaired its fundraising committee and worked with Jesmonth, 29, as the co-chair of the center's 15th anniversary gala this past spring. She joined the center's board in July 2016.

A Noe Valley resident and program manager for Google, Jesmonth is engaged to Hattie Stroud, 31, an architectural designer. The couple plans to wed this fall.

Jesmonth is from Gulf Breeze, Florida and moved to San Francisco in the spring of 2010. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2008 with a degree in foreign service and worked for two years in Boston before relocating to the Bay Area.

Recruiting Board Members

The co-chairs are actively recruiting to expand the center's current 13-member board to have a total of 20 people serving on it. In particular, they would like to see more youth and older people join the body, which oversees and approves the center's $3.5 million budget.

"We are looking for people who have a passion for the mission of the center," said González.

Having the center ramp up its own programming, with various arts, culture, and community events, is a top goal for the center officials. The building already has been hosting art shows in its lobby and is looking to hire two additional staff for its community programs team.

"Getting the arts and culture program up and running is something I am excited about," said González. "I think there have been challenges over the years and see this as a fresh start for the center. We are not so much focused on the survival of the center but more on defining its purpose and relationship to the community."

Jesmonth would like to see the center host more events focused on the technology industry. And she is looking at turning a women's event held last year at a board member's home into an annual event at the center itself. Eventually, she would like to see the center open on Sundays again.

"Having a place for all these groups to be together under one roof is nice," said Jesmonth. "It is something I would like to expand and bring cross sections of the community together to build connections between different groups."

Another project the co-chairs intend to tackle over the next year is revamping the center's antiquated website. There is no timetable for when it will be rebuilt, nor does the center know what the cost will be. The co-chairs both said the project is needed so that the center can better communicate to the public about the programs it is offering and other events being held at the 35,000 square foot facility.

"We are very pro new website," said González.

For now, they encourage community members to stop by the center, talk with the volunteers manning the front desk, and check out what the center and its nonprofit tenants have to offer. The San Francisco office for Bay Area Legal Aid is on the third floor of the building, while on the fourth floor is AGUILAS, short for Assembly of United Gays Impacting Latinos toward Self-Empowerment, and a primary health care clinic run by the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center.

"If you haven't been in the center, stop by and check it out," said Jesmonth. "Another thing people can do, as we have events and publicize them, we would love to see you there. And there is always a need for volunteers of all different sorts."

The LGBT community center is located at 1800 Market Street at Octavia Boulevard. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays; and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays


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