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Campaign Launched for Gay Community Center

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The people behind Diversity Thrift are moving to a new home, while launching a $350,000 fund-raising campaign to create what they hope will become Richmond's first gay community center. Jon Klein, president of Diversity Thrift, says the 47,000-square-foot building -- located off Hermitage Road behind The Diamond -- could be used for such wide-ranging events as conferences, dances and commitment ceremonies. "There is definitely a need for it here -- for so many reasons," he says. "The gay community needs more opportunities for positive, healthy social interaction." The effort, which kicked off with a preview gala at the building July 17, is the latest project of teh Richmond Gay Community Foundation Inc. The nonprofit opened Diversity Thrift on the Boulevard in August 2000, using profits to promote gay-friendly causes by giving to such organizations as the Fan Free Clinic, the Equality Virginia Education Fund and the Richmond Triangle Players.

A year after the thrift store opened, it was busting at the seams and had recorded sales of a little less than $250,000. In October 2001, it moved to 1729 W. Cary St. Owners started a weekly bingo game, rented a warehouse for extra room and kept growing. By the end of this fourth fiscal year, Klein says, sales are expected to be more than $500,000. And so far, he says, it has given away $600,000 to its causes.

Two years ago, Klein says, efforts were brewing to put all their projects under one roof. Besides, theirs was leaking. In May 2003 they were told their building was under threat of eminent domain, Klein says, to be demolished for condominiums. ("That since fell apart," he says, but uncertainty remains about the building's future.)

Diversity put a $225,000 down payment on its new building at 1407 Sherwood Ave., formerly part of the Wyeth facility. Klein says it will cost $250,000 to renovate the one-story building, which has 150 parking spaces.

Klein hopes to open the thrift store in the new location by September, and the bingo hall by sometime next year. He's seeking an occupancy permit of 1,000-plus, a key component of the community-center plan.

"It used to be that in many places, in many cities, the only place for gay people to congregate were bars," Klein says. "For an oppressed minority, that's not the healthiest place. And I think that's one reason why there's a disproportionate amount of alcohol abuse in the gay community."

This center, he says, could provide a much-needed large venue for that community. So far, Diversity has raised more than $25,000, and has secured help from fund-raising consultant Michael Boykin.

For now, it's being called the Diversity Center. But that could change, Klein says. "As soon as someone donates $100,000, it'll be named after them." — Jason Roop

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