Verbena and the Gay City Health Project have agreed to share a new, large space on Capitol Hill that will not only contribute to the continuing success of the organizations, but save up to 60 percent of each organization's operating expenses. It also creates a wellness center for the whole LGBT community for the first time in the Emerald City, ushering Seattle into the company of 26 other US cities with such centers.
Verbena began operation as a lesbian cancer screening project. Since 2000 it has been a tenant of the Seattle LGBT Community Center on East Pike between 11th and 12th avenues.
Gay City Health Project's initial mission was AIDS prevention. It began providing clinical services in January 2004, but was not able to have its testing space next to its existing Broadway office space just north of Pike.
Combining the two services, one dedicated to women and one to men, will create the first lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender wellness center in Seattle. The new LGBT Wellness Center will reside at 517 E. Pike St.
This is not a merger of the two organizations. They continue to be separately administered and funded, but will share space as soon as the building is remodeled and refurbished. A grand opening is planned in the spring.
Why not a merger?
According to literature from the new center:
"The historical contexts in which Verbena and Gay City have evolved as leaders have unique differences and considerations.
"Verbena grew out of a feminist model of grassroots organizing, originally dedicated to addressing breast cancer among women. Gay City grew from community-based HIV/AIDS prevention work and uses innovative peer-based approaches.
"Both organizations have broad bases of community support specifically because [they] serve distinct gender populations."
In other words, this is to be a collaborative effort that fills the needs in the community that is thought to be able to serve community needs far more effectively than a merger.
"Two strong organizations coming together in equal partnership, raining their individual identities while forming something greater," says the center, "sends a powerful message to the broader community about our ability to work together and build collectively on the strengths of our individual organizations."
The organizations wanted to support the community's collective health, according to Mary Dzieweczymski (Jeva-zinski) of Verbena.
"So often the LGBT community is defined by its defects," Dzieweczymski said. "Rarely do we define it by its asssets." This will be a huge asset as a health advocate for the entire community: A single place to find two of the area's most important LGBT health organizations.
The new LGBT Wellness Center will be in a ground-floor space at Belmont Avenue and East Pike Street with a mezzanine area. The corner building will provide a large and a small meeting room, consultation rooms and administrative space. Additionally, there will be a coffee shop in the space, drawing a diverse cross-section of the community through the doors.
"It will be a nice, vibrant space open to the public in front," Dzieweczymski said.
Savings will come from shared rent, shared photocopying, reception staff, utilities, insurance and other overlapping administrative expenses. Having meeting rooms to rent out will also bring in some income.
The new, street-level location will give both organizations a higher profile. Dzieweczymski said that even though the LGBT community is spread all over Seattle and beyond, Capitol Hill was the logical location for the center.
"This is where gay venues are," Dzieweczymski said. "It's where people socialize and spend time. It is a focus for the community."
Dzieweczymski is excited about the new center and sharing space with Gay City.
"This is something," she said. "We shopped this idea around a long time and got lots of exciting, postive comments. It feels so good to have so many diverse partners on board feeling good about it."