The Center on Colfax builds relationships in LGBTQ community

Center allowed outgoing CEO to bring ‘whole self’ to work

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The Center on Colfax, which serves the LGBTQ community, has been going through quite a bit of change over the past few months: The 43-year-old organization changed its name in March to better reflect the people using its services. And now, in the latest transition, Debra Pollock has stepped down as its CEO.

Pollock — who wanted to advocate for medical care in the LGBTQ community — first started volunteering with The Center in 2003, when it was known as the GLBT Community Center. She joined the nonprofit’s development team a year later and became CEO in 2014.

“For 17 years we watched our fellow community members pass away from HIV/AIDS,” she said. “I realized at that point that if we don’t stick up for ourselves, no one else is going to do it for us.”

The Center has begun a national search for a replacement for Pollock, whose last day was July 26. She is moving to California with her wife to enjoy warmer weather. Linda Boedeker is serving as interim CEO.

When reflecting on her 15 years at The Center, Pollock counts among her proudest accomplishments expanding the center’s services and finding the organization a permanent home. The Center bought the building it resides in at 1301 E. Colfax Ave. in 2009.

PrideFest, the annual LGBTQ community event, is hosted by The Center. This is unique, Pollock said. Very few community centers in the United States run Pride events, which are usually run by a stand-alone organization whose sole purpose is organizing the event. During Pollock’s time at The Center, Pride expanded into a two-day event. The nonprofit also added a family area so that everyone could participate.

For David Garcia, board president of The Center who began volunteering in 2005, the addition of the family area was one of the most crucial changes to the event because it allows family members come to support people in the LGBTQ community. Couples in the LGBTQ community also bring their children.

“That is, I think, what really makes me proud. It’s exactly what the community needs,” Garcia said. “From the outside looking in, who may not quite understand the LGBTQ community itself, it gives them a chance to say `They’re not that much different from us.’ ”

The idea has also started to spread to other Pride events in the nation, he added.

Although The Center offers a wealth of services for all ages, such as Rainbow Alley for youths and SAGE of the Rockies for adults 50 and older, the nonprofit has come mean much more to many in Colorado’s LGBTQ community, said Garcia, noting that its reach also spreads to surrounding states that may not offer as many services.

Garcia started as a front-desk volunteer. He had just moved to Colorado and wanted to meet people within the LGBTQ community. The gay bars in Denver are easy to find, but represent only a small sliver of the community here, he said. Volunteering at The Center helped him build lasting friendships that he treasures.

“I got to communicate firsthand with everybody that the center touched,” Garcia said. “It really touches me and sticks with me and I’m proud to be associated in any role.”

Volunteering is also how Garcia got to know Pollock, whose calm demeanor and soft touch will be “dearly missed,” he said.

For Pollock, The Center is a place where people can grow and also learn about LGBTQ history, which is not well-known. The relationships people create are important, and for Pollock, The Center has also given her a place for professional growth.

“My favorite part about working at The Center is getting to bring my whole self to work,” Pollock said. “When you’re LGBT you’re constantly assessing every situation — see if it’s safe to come our or not.”

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