IN THE BEGINNING: Penelope Poppers in an Arkansas Times photo from an article about the founding of the shelter for LGBTQ youths.

Ginny Monk and Kat Stromquist reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today sad news about a worthy organization, Lucie’s Place, that has had to close its shelter for LGBTQ youth.

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The creation of Penelope Poppers, it has been a haven for kids rejected by their own families.

The details of the problem in the D-G story include a difficult neighbor — in itself a measure of the struggles of the people Lucie’s Place served.

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Andrea Zekis is the interim director of Lucie’s Place as it works to find a way to continue.

She sent me this note on the status of things. It is always appropriate to send money if you value their work.

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As someone with experience in LGBTQ non-profits, I understand the success of Lucie’s Place starts with our greater Lucie’s Place family, thus our supporters, our volunteers and our partners in the mission to provide positive outcomes for LGBTQ young people dealing with homelessness and other difficult circumstances. We’re currently facing challenges in addressing that mission, some which are worsened by the current public health crisis impacting life in Central Arkansas. I am hoping this will be the first of several communications from Lucie’s Place in what we are doing to ensure the mission continues, and I welcome you to reach out to me with any and all conversations, questions or concerns at andrea@luciesplace.org and I pledge to respond to you in a timely manner. I, on behalf of Lucie’s Place, thank you for your partnership in the work over the past months and years in making the organization what it is today, and we look forward to earning your trust in making it better for the future.

 

Sincerely,

Andrea Zekis, Lucie’s Place’s Interim Executive Director

 

STATEMENT FROM THE BOARD OF LUCIE’S PLACE

 

We, the board of Lucie’s Place, understand the responsibility we have to our members, our staff, our supporters and the greater Central Arkansas community, a responsibility we take seriously as the stewards of a crucial resource for LGBTQ young adults and a beacon of hope for the greater LGBTQ community. We also understand that important role and duty to our young people and our community begins with trust. In the previous days, we’ve heard from many community members, stakeholders, our staff and our members about matters which have challenged that trust, matters we do not take lightly.

 

What is clear: the dignity and safety of our members and our staff must always come first. The mission of Lucie’s Place says it provides LGBTQ young adults experiencing homelessness in Central Arkansas with safe living environments. We have become aware of incidents when our members and staff did not feel safe at Lucie’s Place, and this is troubling and disappointing. How can we “ensure lifelong stability and success” or “promote equality and acceptance” for our young people without being certain we are meeting those essential human needs first? Our board believes deeply in our mission, and we know the young people we serve, our staff, our supporters and greater community do as well. This is why we believe moving ahead to a better, stronger Lucie’s Place will require looking outward and forward and working together. We have already started those conversations with stakeholders and other community members, which have led to the following actions, and know moving forward there will need to be more to help bring Lucie’s Place where it needs to be.

 

In order to help move towards that dialogue and future, Lucie’s Place Board of Directors has taken the following actions.

  • Accept the resignation of current Executive Director Rev. S. Johnette Fitzjohn, who has served in that role since 2018. Rev. Fitzjohn will help in transitioning her position to new leadership. We thank her for her efforts to help the organization grow in recent years to where it is today.  Lucie’s Place will immediately begin the process to find a new Executive Director.
  • Hire former Lucie’s Place board member Andrea Zekis as Interim Executive Director to help guide the organization through this transition. She is a founder of ArTEC, the Arkansas Transgender Equity Collaborative and a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. She’s a veteran of the LGBTQ movement with stops at Human Rights Campaign Arkansas, Basic Rights Oregon, National Center for Transgender Equality and the ACLU of Alaska.
  • Welcome two new members to its board of directors, Justin Sarlo and Dr. Bee Kelley.

Justin Sarlo is the prepress manager for a local commercial printer. He is a US Army veteran, former board member of Renegades for a Cause (a group dedicated to giving back to the community at large), a transgender activist, and mentor to many young transgender men, nationwide.  Additionally, he has won many performance titles and is the current reigning Mr. Classic Arkansas USofA MI

Bee is an associate professor of chemistry at Philander Smith College in the department of Chemistry teaching organic, inorganic, and biochemistry. As a recent member of the Little Rock area she is always looking for ways to help in the community. Bee has been a frequent HRC Arkansas volunteer and is an HRC Elevate Fellow.

  • Voluntarily recognize the right of our remaining staff members to form a union, and enter into the negotiation process with them. At the same time, the board also decided to continue to support the hours and pay of remaining staff during this interim period while our house is closed.

Lucie’s Place has come long way since our founder’s vision a decade ago to support and empower LGBTQ young people experiencing homelessness and instability. Because of the time, energy and valuable support of those who shared that vision, Lucie’s Place now has a dedicated housing facility and drop-in center where young people get valuable services. Unfortunately, these are also challenging times due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, as these facilities are currently being used on a very limited basis due to concerns over safety. Our shared housing facility has gone from eight residents to currently zero. We know we are not alone, as many LGBTQ community centers and homeless shelters have shuttered their doors or reduced their hours and services throughout the country out of concern for staff and the safety of the young people they serve.

 

Lucie’s Place also knows these closures and reductions of services come at a time when our young people need us most, often finding themselves relying on unsafe, unsustainable and unsupportive resources or living environments in order to survive. According to the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles, between 20% to 45% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and this public health crisis doesn’t go away in the middle of our current COVID-19 public health crisis. Since we know Lucie’s Place might be the only place some young LGBTQ people can count on, our commitment at this time is to continue to do what we can at this time to provide resources and assistance to LGBTQ young people experiencing homelessness or insecure housing.

 

We will actively seek, plan and prepare for ways Lucie’s Place can meet the demand. Lucie’s Place, and those who support it and believe in it, have also long understood one person or one organization doesn’t do this alone, and that getting through this time will depend on the strength of the connections within our community, our networks. We are grateful to those who are taking on their own efforts to support Central Arkansas’s LGBTQ homeless youth. Much like Lucie’s Place started in community, so will many of those solutions at this time, and as directed by our mission, we seek to be a part of those solutions.

 

Much appreciation to all who have supported Lucie’s Place in the past and today. We ask for your continued support in the days, weeks, months ahead as we transition to a more effective and sustainable provider of services to LGBTQ young adults experiencing homelessness. If you have suggestions, questions, or concerns about these efforts, we hope to hear from you.

                                                Sincerely,

                                                The Board of Directors of Lucie’s Place.