• OUR MISSION

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    by helping LGBTQ people along their way


     

     
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    THE LGBT COMMUNITY CENTER OF THE DESERT
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Some 40 years ago, front desk volunteer Lou Weaver and his late partner, Jay Sitter, discovered Palm Springs when, during a cross-country road trip from their home in Ohio, they heard it had gay resorts. “We decided it was worth a visit,” he recalls, “and fell in love with the place even though it was July.”

So it’s not surprising that, 24 years ago when Lou retired after leading a very closeted life during his working career (in school administration, during which he served as an elementary, middle, high school principal and curriculum director in the Cleveland area), the couple moved here.

After Jay’s death 12 years ago, Lou developed a passion for volunteerism, first exercised at our art museum where he ended up as chairperson of volunteers.  Eventually, when the administrative details of supervising some 200 workers became exhausting, Lou reverted to being a volunteer greeter, and started looking around for other volunteer opportunities.  It was then that, “with great luck,” he discovered The Center where, he adds, he has been able to do what he likes most - greeting and talking with people - in an environment where, in addition to “contributing to community,” he has discovered “some of the greatest people I’ve had a chance to assist.   

“Aging, with its many challenges, has taught me so many things about life,” Lou Weaver adds. “If I can pass that on by helping others, it makes my day.”

Lynn Simonson

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Seattle, Lynn Simonson spent 45 years as a dancer and dance instructor in New York City and Europe before choosing Palm Springs to live, and where, today, she exercises her long-time commitment to senior wellness at The Center. 

Trained as a classical ballet dancer by former Ballet Russe dancers and at the American Ballet Theater School, after a stint as one of the iconic Radio City Music Hall dancers, she was invited to teach modern and jazz dance (her favorite) in Amsterdam. Over the years, she has since performed with jazz artists, including Bobby McFerrin and Charles Tolliver, and, as a choreographer, worked with such jazz talent as John Coltrane, Count Basie, and Tito Puente.

During her five years in Amsterdam, Lynn also developed her innovative, anatomically-based Simonson Technique of body movement which she continues to teach (New York and Boston next summer, Paris next fall) which she has adapted for her senior fitness classes at The Center. They include: 50+Fit (an all-round senior exercise class), Seated Wellness (chair yoga, an innovative program she developed), and a new program, Better Balance & Brain, a combination of exercises specifically designed to help combat loss of balance and cognition in our aging population.

She has served as a panelist and guest speaker for Dance magazine, as a speaker for various dance conferences, and has served as a judge of dance competitions.  Simonson has received awards from American Dance Guild, National Dance Educators of America, Dance, and National Dance Association of USA. She was honored for lifetime achievement in dance by Encore International Festival, Boston Youth Moves, and Dance New Amsterdam.

“Doing what I do for so many years has allowed me to discover the secret of how seniors can easily change the quality of their lives for the better…and imparting that knowledge is the core of my classes,” Lynn says with her ever-present smile.

Silas Hathaway and Barry Smith, Foodbank Volunteers

Most members of The Center know we have an operation called The Food Bank which provides food and staples for the needy.  But beyond that, few (unless they are clients) know much about it other than that it  gives away food donated by individuals and organizations (weekly on Thursdays, 6-8PM) and where it is (on Belardo south of Ramon).  Many don't realize that it also requires the commitment of some 40 volunteers to make it work.

Two of those volunteers are Silas Hathaway and Barry Smith who, 22 years ago, met in a Palm Springs consignment store, and have been together ever since ("I guess I was shopping for trouble," Silas laughs; they were married a year ago).  Before a very active retirement for both, Silas, a 2nd generation Californian born in Avalon on Catalina, designed and manufactured custom furniture in Los Angeles. Barry is from Toronto where he – sit tight – ran a funeral home and a 287-acre cemetery. When he decided to retire, a doctor told him that if he wanted to avoid becoming one of his own customers, he had to stay active.

Silas moved to Palm Springs to help a friend open one of the first gay bars (the Rainbow Cactus); Barry, well, he just loved the place: “I had spent a lot of time here with my parents.” A few years ago, after Silas recovered from a serious illness and wanted to volunteer to help others, a board member of The Center introduced them to the Food Bank. They've been there ever since (over four years) where, today, Barry staffs the operation's fruit and vegetable station, and Silas the meat station.  

Early on, they discovered that the Food Bank is also more than a market for the needy…by its very existence, it has become a sort of social club for many who have no other means of connecting with excited conversations between patrons often hold up the food lines.

The pair's volunteer activities also extend to their church (Desert Oasis Chapel) where every Sunday as well as for special events, Barry and Silas prepare large meals for the congregation.  

When visitors arrive at The Center on Friday mornings, the first person they probably will encounter is Roger Bengtson, seated behind the reception desk. For him, being there continues a personal commitment of volunteering at gay and lesbian centers (including Los Angeles and New York) that has lasted for nearly 50 years.

 

“I think I always knew I was gay,” he reflects, “and I never hid my gayness, although the political environment often required discretion. When I finally came out to my family in my 20s, my dad was accepting, but my mother was concerned I would not make it to heaven. I always felt loved by my family and never felt rejected.  Working with the LGBT centers reinforced the feeling that I never had to hide my sexuality."

As a child, Roger and his sister had an activity that could have served as a perfect Norman Rockwell magazine cover subject: they ran an orange stand on Highway 39, then a two-lane blacktop near their family’s La Puente orange-grove home, which was shared with a horse, chickens, rabbits, and dogs. But his family was also Fundamentalist Christian and, among their religious prohibitions, Roger wasn’t allowed to go to movies. It was only after he went away to college at San Jose State that he was finally free to explore popular culture, and develop a lifelong passion for film (his favorite movie is Casablanca).

In 2000, after a career as a Consumer Research professional (among clients were Screen Gems and Gallo wine), he and his partner, Beto Sombrio, settled permanently in Palm Springs and he began his volunteer work with various film festivals and The Center. It was the beginning of, he says, “One of the most rewarding parts of my retirement years.  Life is good.”

  • The LGBT Community Center of The Desert

    The McDonald/Wright Building

    1301 North Palm Canyon Dr, 3rd Floor
    Palm Springs, CA 92262

    760.416.7790 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Open Monday - Friday 8:30am - 4:30pm

    The Center is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) public charity
    EIN # 33-0937301

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