Long one of the most proactive of Charlotte’s LGBTQ nonprofits, Time Out Youth Center (TOY) is currently remodeling their newly-purchased facilities at 3800 Monroe Rd. in east Charlotte, N.C. The organization’s hopes for the new property, according to Executive Director Rodney Tucker, are huge — but the staff and sponsors have the dedication to achieve their dreams.
TOY was victim to gentrification in the sense that the land around the N. Davidson St. building in NoDa is becoming yet another apartment complex, and the new owners of the building itself want higher-paying tenants. Upon being booted from their current location in NoDa, the organization saw the silver lining in the news.
“Staff sat down and did the dream list of what we were looking for,” Tucker told qnotes. “We’re very fortunate because the [new] building was set up the way we needed it, so we haven’t had to add much to it.”
In an exclusive tour of the location, currently undergoing renovations, qnotes staff discovered an enormous space — 7,500 square feet, according to Tucker — with a great number of private offices, five bathrooms, a large kitchen, a pantry and two huge rooms that the organization plans to dedicate to youth space.
“We knew we needed group space that would hold 50-70 kids comfortably in one room,” said Tucker, indicating that typical Friday night attendance reaches at least that level. “[The youth] can’t get over how big it is. They’ve been helping in the design process, so they helped pick the colors for the furniture, what they want the fabrics to be like, even down to what kind of lighting they want and being able to dim lights in the space so it stays more cozy.”
Beyond the rewards for TOY’s current participants, Tucker and the board of directors have big hopes for the organization’s future in the new space. The offices, being subleased to other LGBT organizations, provide not only extra income, but also an opportunity for community-building that wasn’t possible in the old location.
“Being able to partner with other folks in a different way, having those new partnerships, is going to make a big difference,” Tucker said. “As well as offering that community conference space so that the whole community can be involved in Time Out Youth. And the kids can see the adult LGBT community and see how they fit in when they age out of our programs.”
A number of LGBTQ non-profits and advocacy groups have committed to sharing space in the new TOY building. They’ll also be sharing ideas, passion and resources.
“We’re partnering with Equality NC, one of our tenants,” Tucker said, smiling. “We just announced a partnership with them to take our school outreach program to a state-wide level. They’ve taken two offices. Transcend Charlotte has taken two offices as well.”
“Equality North Carolina and Time Out Youth Center are committed to protecting LGBTQ young people through advocacy and direct services,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC. “We are now more than ever proud of our work to protect especially the most vulnerable among our community, and are thrilled to work with Time Out Youth Center and with the support of Bank of America.” Tucker says that a lot of TOY’s youth also participate in Transcend Charlotte, whose Trans Closet program will soon be housed in the Monroe Rd. location. Transcend’s executive director, Trey Greene, will occupy another office as TOY’s in-office therapist.
“We plan to expand therapeutic services to not only be for youth but also parents,” Tucker said, adding that the organization looks forward to eventually “expanding programs that will take us to a seven-day-a-week center, offering services that are a bit broader.”
Among these new services are hopes to develop a youth shelter within the next few years. TOY already has a Host Home program that places homeless youth with host families, but the demand is higher than current resources allow.
“We’re adding a shower facility and a laundry facility for youth that are currently homeless,” Tucker said, but the organization’s plans are even bigger. “A youth shelter has always been in the strategic plan for the board of directors. It was our number one goal to look at.”
However, a project that big will likely take a lot of planning — and TOY has already begun. In 2016, they compiled a study of LGBT youth homelessness and found a dire need for more shelter facilities.
“With purchasing the building… it becomes a real way that we can make it happen,” Tucker said. “We structured the plan, and year one of this is just getting the center moved in. 2018 we will take a year and hire a consultant, to help us do some research about what does the housing program look like and how much does it really cost.”
The research year will be full of travel, options and decisions. Members of the board already have plans to visit similar shelters elsewhere in the country to provide a starting point for thinking about the project. The point of these trips is “to see what’s out there and figure out what matches best for Charlotte,” Tucker said. “The year after that we’ll either start a building project or renovation to use our current building to make the shelter.”
TOY’s aspirations are huge, including expanding their school outreach programs to outlying counties. These programs involve sessions with parents, teachers and school counselors. Part of the organization’s mission is to facilitate school gay-straight alliances and encourage youth to take leadership roles.
“Our organization takes a very systemic approach to helping the kids,” Tucker said. “It’s not only the kids that come in, but all the systems that support them… we’re going to try to do a lot more work with school boards, to do advocacy work to put policies in place that will protect our students.”
For an organization that has recently doubled its resources, there’s still more potential yet to be tapped. Time Out Youth’s future is looking bright, and it’s all due to the relentless efforts of Tucker, the board, and the staff.
“Everybody wants to be here,” Tucker said. “This is their passion, and it shows up in the work they do and the care that they give back to kids.”