For Don Poppe, a longtime volunteer at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, the choice to offer his services to the Center is born out of a desire to offer his personal thanks for services he himself had received.
"I moved to San Diego in 1997 while dealing with treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, as well as being HIV-positive," he recounts. "I only knew one other person in San Diego and realized I needed some help dealing with life."
After being referred to The Center by an acquaintance, Poppe began counseling and joined the HIV support group.
"I found these to be very helpful to me" he says, "and eventually discovered that I could give back to The Center and to the community by giving some of my time as a volunteer. The participation has given me a sense of being part of the community here in San Diego and has also given me purpose in my retirement as well as a great sense of self-worth when I am able to direct or help those who come into The Center looking for the kind of help I needed all those years ago."
Now, 40 years later, The Center is preparing to celebrate its ruby anniversary with a gala event featuring a three-course gourmet dinner, a lively silent auction and plenty of dancing and drinking meant to reflect on four decades of success, struggles and, most importantly according to recent volunteer Mike Carter, community.
Stories such as these are common for volunteers at The Center, which has grown from being a single answering machine set up in a utility closet four decades ago to the thriving community center that provides more than 50,000 services per year to members of San Diego’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
"I think one of the most significant aspects of The Center is our diversity," says another of the center’s many dedicated volunteers.
"We try to make everyone feel like they are welcome, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual identity or physical or mental disability. It is important that all members of the community can come to a place where they feel safe, understood and comfortable in their own skin. It’s a place to find friends who share the same interests that you do. It’s a place where you can get mental health counseling or be directed to health and social services."
"It’s a place where you can use a computer in our Cyber Center or just read a book in our LGBT library. It’s also a place to [stay informed] of what is going on in the community. You may discover something that you did not know was available, or maybe you have a friend or family member who could benefit from one of the many group meetings or social events we have on our calendar. All of these services and others that we offer are all important parts in helping and encouraging community."
Poppe agrees, adding, "I have been a volunteer for 10 years and continue because it gives me a place in the community. I get to work with some terrific people who bring joy to my life and I continue to grow personally through these relationships. I assuredly feel that I receive much more than what I give to the Center."
As for how others may benefit from the Center being around for another 40 years of service to the community, Poppe says, "You as part of the LGBT community are part of us, and we would like to meet you so that we can grow together for a better life."
The Center’s 40th Anniversary Gala will take place on Saturday, October 19 at 6 p.m. at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. Proceeds will benefit the Center’s community programs. For tickets and information call 619.692.2077 or go to thecentersd.org