Last year, my uncle John Williams and I decided we needed to do something about the climate young LGBTQ+ people grow up in in Utah. If you're reading this, you're probably all too familiar with the statistics. We didn't know what we would do, but knew we had to do something.
The stars really aligned before we were able to make Encircle a reality. Everything from the over-100-year-old house itself, to the renovation, to the furnishings that were generously donated, not to mention the thousands of hours of time donated by our amazing volunteers.
On Valentine's day of this year, the doors of the Encircle house opened in the heart of downtown Provo. Right away we started a weekly schedule of programs--offering support groups for LGBTQ youth and family members, discussions that explore shame-free sexuality and spirituality, and art and cultural classes and events, including an open mic music night. Most importantly, we were able to meet the hundreds of youth that come through the doors each week, and show them love and acceptance.
This past year, we have seen on average, about 50 people come in and out of Encircle every day, and this number continues to rise. We have serviced families and youth from all over Utah county, as well as stretching as far as North Salt Lake City and Ogden. Our friendships circles have grown substantially in numbers, from on average 10 people coming per week to over 40, with participants consistently reporting that they leave feeling safe, connected, and supported. According to participant responses, each of our programs is meeting their expected outcomes.
In participants’ own words: “Encircle saved my life”. “This group is the best part about my week.” “I love having a place where I feel like I finally belong.”
In addition to our direct services that we offer, we continue to work toward changing the conversation in our communities through producing research-based educational content and our community outreach efforts, with hopes of creating greater understanding and acceptance. We have worked with retired BYU Biology Professor Dr. Bill Bradshaw and American businessman, author, and historian of the LDS church Dr. Greg Prince to produce a series of pamphlets for public distribution. We hope to provide knowledge that serves to inform, uplift, and encourage understanding of our LGBTQ+ community. (Pamphlets can be found at the bottom of this page)
Our community outreach includes creating LGBTQ friendly resources to be used by families—with a version adapted for LDS Family Home Evenings. We continue seeking to reach a larger audience through print and educational videos, along with our work at the local level. These include working toward publishing a book—Elevate: How We Rise—which highlights the stories of LGBTQ individuals who share a principle or tool they live by that enables them to overcome. This will be a powerful tool of hope for LGBTQ youth and a way to humanize the LGBTQ community to the general public.
Another focus is on our videos—we have produced 10 already, with plans to produce 12 short videos throughout 2018 that are aimed at increasing acceptance of LGBTQ within families and communities of faith. Each week, Encircle invites an LGBTQ guest that has found success in life to come and share their story along with the principles and values they live by, as part of an ongoing speaking series. They are giving hope and a roadmap of how they have risen above challenges and created a meaningful life. We produce one video per month from the speaking series. In addition, we create four seasonal videos throughout the year. These videos share an uplifting message of acceptance within a conservative community and through social media we can reach thousands that would otherwise not hear our message. Our most recent video, “The Perfect Gift” was released for the current holiday season and can be found here: www.EncircleTogether.org/iloveyou.
Encircle recently hosted the first-ever statewide LGBTQ Youth Summit, IGNITE, featuring breakout sessions and a closing event, with the support of Utah’s Lt. Governor Spencer Cox and Utah state senator Jim Dabakis, gathering over 350 LGBTQ youth, their families, school administrators, and allies from across the state. Our hope is that better conversations within the home will result in better conversations back in neighborhoods, schools and churches—making Utah and our nation more safe and welcoming.
Our Flourish Counseling Services, PLLC, center has expanded to include 8 licensed therapists who work with individuals and families for free or a reduced cost. In the 10 months since Encircle opened, our therapists have conducted over 500 sessions of therapy, averaging 4 new clients each week. In November, 16 clients had first sessions, 16 clients had second sessions, 14 clients had third sessions, and 53 clients had fourth and subsequent sessions (a total of 99 sessions during November), evidencing that clients are finding therapy helpful. Fifty percent of the clients are youth and young adults, and 50 percent are adults, including parents of youth. The therapists are dedicated mental health professionals who are willing to conduct therapy at nominal cost ($15 per hour for most sessions) as a benefit to the LGBTQ population. Between 17 and 37 young people attend our Wednesday teen friendship circle each week, supporting and encouraging one another in their interactions with others in families, schools and churches. They report a reduction in depression and anxiety as a result of their participation in group and individual activities.
In order for us to continue our efforts and be able to help more youth both in Provo and in other locations, please consider donating at: www.encircletogether.org/donate.
Thank you so much again for your continued support of Encircle,
2017 was just the beginning,
Encircle is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, donations are 100% tax deductible.