Concord LGBT center ED settles into new role
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Within weeks of being named the new executive director of the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County this spring, Jack Rednour-Bruckman found themself arguing to city councils across the East Bay why it was important for their cities to fly the rainbow flag in honor of Pride Month in June.
For some cities, this year marked the first time that they agreed to fly the symbol for the LGBT community. Antioch was one such municipality, and the city asked Rednour-Bruckman and Dorann "Dodi" Zotigh, president of the Concord-based center's board of directors, to assist in raising the Pride flag.
At the same time, Rednour-Bruckman was working with the center's staff, board, and supporters on hosting its own annual Pride celebration the first weekend of June. In addition, they were focused on filling a number of staff positions at the center and recruiting new members to serve on its governing body.
While juggling the public advocacy and managerial concerns, Rednour-Bruckman was also dealing with the fallout sparked by the sudden firing in February of most of the center's counseling staff. It caused an outcry among supporters of the center concerned over its leadership and led to the resignation in April of former executive director Kevin McAllister less than a year in the job. He was hired in June to be executive director of Meals on Wheels by ACC in Sacramento County.
Amid the controversy, the center's former board president Ken Carlson stepped down from the oversight body, and Zotigh, who has served on the board since 2015, took over the leadership role. Rednour-Bruckman, who uses gender-neutral pronouns and had joined the board earlier this year, initially was hired as an interim executive director but then was given the job on a permanent basis as of May 1.
"It feels like we have some good momentum and things are moving in the right direction," Rednour-Bruckman, 54, who identifies as nonbinary and a butch queer, told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent interview.
They grew up in Contra Costa County and now resides in Antioch with their wife, Shar Rednour. The couple, together 26 years, has three children ages 27, 14, and 13. Their oldest, adopted out of foster care, came out as gay while in high school.
Leading a nonprofit agency is a new role for Rednour-Bruckman. They previously had worked for a number of different companies in various management positions and at one point was a worker-owner of the retail sex emporium Good Vibrations. Most recently Rednour-Bruckman had launched their own consulting firm and worked with both corporate and nonprofit clients.
When not at their center job, Rednour-Bruckman is the lead singer for the all-queer band LadyKillers, which is releasing a new single, "Smash(the)Patriarchy," Friday (August 30) through Die Laughing Records/Sony Red. The group will be performing at both Oakland Pride in September and Solano County's Pride event in October.
Their professional experience combined with their personal connection to Contra Costa County led Rednour-Bruckman to believe they would be a good fit as leader of the area's main provider of services to the local LGBTQ community.
"I thought my skill set could definitely help things in this new phase of the center," said Rednour-Bruckman. "With the leadership transition and changes, I definitely wanted to help step in and keep the momentum going and help make the center very successful."
Zotigh, who lives in Concord, told the B.A.R. that the board was impressed with Rednour-Bruckman's leadership style and felt they were the right person to lead the agency at this moment.
"In this transition Jack was agreeable to take on the challenge of growing the organization and identifying what we need to address, from staff concerns and community concerns to where we needed to add additional programming," said Zotigh, 36, a lesbian mom of two young children who is the coordinator for allied health and pathway development at Mt. Diablo Adult Education's Career and Technical Education Center. "One thing Jack did was they met with staff one-on-one to see what they needed and what their strengths were in order to see how to build them up or move them into positions that suit their skills."
Four months into their tenure, Rednour-Bruckman has impressed many who had raised questions about the direction of the center and worried that it could shutter. Among them is Benicia resident Melitta Rorty, who co-founded the center in 1995.
Rorty, a lesbian who works at PG&E on environmental remediation, began attending center board meetings after learning about the staff layoffs earlier this year. She joined with a number of people who helped start and run the center over the years to press for changes this spring, including the formation of a community engagement subcommittee to advise the board. It is waiting for a board member to be appointed to it, said Rorty, in order to hold its first official meeting.
"I have a huge vested interest in the center and I want to see it continue on and thrive," said Rorty, who told the B.A.R. this week that under Rednour-Bruckman's leadership, "I absolutely feel things are going in the right direction."
She credited Rednour-Bruckman with addressing the concerns of the center's staff and implementing "good systems" to ensure the agency is well managed. She also feels the board members "took seriously" the issues people raised following the firings in February.
"Jack is definitely putting systems and processes in place to really shore up the center and make it better," said Rorty. "It is a challenging time, but I am absolutely pleased with what I see."
Ben-David Barr, Ph.D., who in December 2017 retired due to health reasons as the center's executive director after 10 years, also told the B.A.R. he has faith in Rednour-Bruckman and their ability to lead the agency. He has also been involved with the emeritus group of center officials that also includes another co-founder, Dr. Kent Sack.
"My own assessment is I think Jack has done an excellent job stabilizing the organization," said Barr. "Jack has rebuilt a lot of trust with the staff but still needs to do lot of outreach and connecting with the agency's funders. I am still getting telephone calls from my old contacts in the county asking where is Rainbow. They just aren't at the meetings that determine priorities and funding for the county."
One recent cost-cutting move saw Rainbow shutter its satellite location in El Cerrito August 15, which Barr and others acknowledge made financial sense. But he said it puts pressure on LGBT service agencies in nearby Alameda County to now see clients who had been going to Rainbow's location even though they are not funded to do so by Contra Costa County.
"There could have been so much funding and support for the west county office," said Barr, who oversaw its opening in August 2017.
During their interview with the B.A.R. Rednour-Bruckman had said that the center "has a seat at the table" when it comes to how Contra Costa County allocates resources for mental health and homelessness services.
"We are there sharing information and making sure certain populations are counted and factored in when allocations are made for funding and services," they said.
The rent for the El Cerrito location, said Zotigh, was "way too high" and had become a "financial drain" for the center. It is working with other agencies in west county, she said, to partner with on providing services in the area.
Board improvements needed
Barr puts a lot of the onus on Rainbow's board rather than the executive director, who reports to the governing body. The board is fairly new and lacks people of color "unfortunately," pointed out Barr.
The center's board could also do a better job at communication and transparency, said Barr. As an example, the board did not publicize that it had given Rednour-Bruckman the executive director position on a permanent basis, having initially said it would conduct a search for someone in an April press release announcing Rednour-Bruckman had been hired on an interim basis.
Their salary is similar to that of McAllister's, said Zotigh, who was reportedly earning $93,000, a significant increase from the $80,000 Barr had been paid. The center's annual budget had been $1.2 million last year and is set at $1.3 million this fiscal year.
"The number one job of the board is fiscal oversight. It can't do it if it is not transparent," said Barr.
Overall, Barr said he believes the center is on stable footing and he no longer fears about its immediate ability to keep the lights on.
"I think the agency has battled the worst. It has good stability now," he said. "But there are still a lot of lessons for it to learn about communicating with the community and about communicating with funders and about fiscal oversight. They are not quite there yet; I hope they will get there."
Zotigh told the B.A.R. that she felt confident in taking on the board presidency role.
"I think I have a different ability to see the bigger picture and take on the needs of the organization both at the staff level, the community level and the county leadership level," she said, adding that she is "feeling very confident and positive and really excited about where Rainbow is moving."
Recruiting people of color to serve on the board remains a top priority for Zotigh, who said anyone interested in serving on it should reach out to the center. Nicole LaPointe, who is Latinx and has been involved with the center, recently joined the board, she noted. It is a matter of finding the right people with certain skills needed on the board, said Zotigh.
"We are looking to have a board that reflects our community," said Zotigh.
Concord resident Robyn Kuslits told the B.A.R. that she believes in the agency's new leadership. So much so that Kuslits, who formerly worked at the center as a volunteer facilitator for the Gender Voice group, its food pantry manager, and a program director, joined Rainbow's board in June.
"I felt that, with my experience from business school and as a former staff member at Rainbow, I could bring a lot of organizational expertise to the board," said Kuslits. "I also felt that my experience as a trans woman could help the organization better serve the transgender community."
Kuslits and Rednour-Bruckman served together as board members of the Lambda Democratic Club of Contra Costa County, which Kuslits now leads as its president. Rednour-Bruckman left the political group's board due to their job at the center.
Asked about the center's leadership changes this spring, Kuslits replied, "My only comment on the last part is I believe Jack is committed to the mission of the organization, and we are fortunate to have them as executive director moving forward."
Vance Drouillard, a gay man who was let go earlier this year as the center's former HIV program manager and case manager, told the B.A.R. this week that he believes things are improving at the agency. In time, he believes it will be able to move beyond the controversies it has weathered.
"I think they are making progress," said Drouillard, who returned to college as he looks for a new job. "They also have done a lot of damage and I think it is going to take a lot to recover from."
Ensuring that the center remains open and providing services is critical, he said, for the LGBT community of Contra Costa County.
"It is greatly needed for our community. The center is the only thing out there for us," said Drouillard.
Youth a big priority
The center has recently brought on 10 counseling staff, some part-time, and will be training three students seeking master's degrees this fall. It received a $20,000 grant from the Johnson Family Foundation to provide internet-based therapy to clients. As the center covers a sprawling county where public transit options can be limited, it is a critical way for its counseling staff to reach people who otherwise would be unable to come to its physical location, noted Rednour-Bruckman.
"We can have somebody log in from wherever," they noted.
Providing services to local LGBTQ youth is a big priority for Rednour-Bruckman and the center, though how or if it should also be working with straight youth has prompted heated discussions this year as it pursued contracts with area school districts to provide counseling and other services to their students.
The center is currently focused on finalizing agreements with a number of East Bay school districts as the fall semester gets underway. In past years it has sent counselors for a half or a full day each week to work with students in Pittsburg, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and other cities.
"We don't know if the students are LGBTQ. We are not making it a requirement," explained Rednour-Bruckman. "Folks know a clinician from Rainbow is there and that Rainbow is an LGBTQ center."
Because gender identity and sexual orientation "can be a fluid thing," said Rednour-Bruckman, they don't believe the center should have a resolute policy that it will only work with self-identified LGBTQ youth.
"Who knows if some kid comes to us at 15 and they identify one way and 10 years later they identify a different way. Who are we to judge and to prejudge," asked Rednour-Bruckman. "Given we are an LGBTQ community center, we have a proclivity for even more sensibility and compassion given what we all have to go through in any given day."
A program that Rednour-Bruckman said is "near and dear" to them is Rainbow's emergency housing program for young people ages 18 to 24. With $287,500 from the county's Office of Emergency Services the center can provide 18 young adults with relocation assistance, from providing them a hotel voucher to getting them into housing. Through another initiative it is aiming to provide 200 youth ages 12 to 24 with food, clothing, school supplies, or medicine.
The center has already assisted six young adults find housing, from a studio or small apartment to renting a room in someone's house, Rednour-Bruckman told the B.AR. The center is looking for additional apartment owners with a vacant unit or homeowners with an extra room and are willing to rent to an LGBTQ young person.
"We are able to help LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness or previously have been victims of violence," said Rednour-Bruckman. "We helped six young adults get into permanent housing, which is huge given the roadblocks for housing in the county."
In the future, Rednour-Bruckman would like to see the center launch its own emergency LGBTQ youth shelter.
"My vision or dream is we are able to buy a building, one that has room for 20 to 30 beds," they said.
The center also contracts with various educational institutions, whether K-12 school districts or local colleges, as well as businesses and other groups, to provide LGBTQ cultural competency training to teachers, administrators and staff.
"You make a lot of change when you reach out to folks who are curious or want to know LGBTQ 101," said Rednour-Bruckman.
While the overall mission of Rainbow is to provide a safe and welcoming space to the LGBTQ community, Rednour-Bruckman said they also believe that the center has a duty to work with straight allies who can also fight on the behalf of LGBTQ individuals.
"With how divisive things are and trans folks getting targeted left and right by federal legislation and the current administration, we need allies to advocate on our behalf," they said.
The center this Friday, August 30, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. is holding a fundraiser called Rise Up Fest to raise money for its LGBTQ homeless youth program. It will be held at the Walnut Creek United Methodist Church at 1543 Sunnyvale Avenue. Tickets cost $5 to $50.
For more information about the event, or the Rainbow center itself, visit its website at https://www.rainbowcc.org/.