When love, purpose, and passion collide, miracles happen. Encircle is the brainchild of Stephenie Larsen, but it has come to fruition through an amazing team and community to support LGBTQ+ youth and families.
As I spoke with some of Encircle’s leadership, I saw more than leaders and employees. I saw friends that believe in their purpose and support each other on a personal level. They are a tight-knit team that are all aligned in their mission of bringing family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.
Founded in 2016, Encircle currently has three houses in Utah: Provo, Salt Lake City, and St. George. They are also planning to expand into new locations in 2021, including Heber.
What Happens at the Encircle House
Each Encircle House is a safe place where LGBTQ+ teens can be teens, and parents can learn how to better support their children. Encircle has a number of programs that facilitate this objective.
Encircle has about 13 friendship circles a week, with an average of 20 individuals per group. These provide a space where peers can talk openly and safely about what they are going through so that they can receive support. These groups are organized by age, orientation and/or identity.
Encircle has various programs where people can connect and learn. These include service projects, art/music/writing groups, speaking series, and parent programs.
Encircle has world-class therapists that can help LGBTQ+ youth navigate their way through difficult times.
Encircle creates materials to assist others in gaining a better understanding of the LGBTQ+ world.
When I walked through the Salt Lake City Encircle House for the first time about a year ago, the first thing I noticed was that it was comfortable. There was an art room with a grand piano on the right. To the left and in the back were some people in the kitchen having a conversation and eating cookies.
There was no pressure. When someone noticed me, I was welcomed, and I’m a 54-year-old straight male.
I had the opportunity to meet with a few of the Encircle leadership individually, including their founder, Stephenie Larsen. Even though their stories of what brought them to Encircle are different, their passion and purpose for Encircle are in harmony. Also, each one of them praised their coworkers voluntarily. It felt like a big family.
Jacob Dunford (he/him), Encircle’s Chief Operating Officer, has been with Encircle since the beginning. His focus is on building the internal team and structure and helping them see the vision to be inspired and appreciated. Jacob came up with the tagline, “No sides, only love, ” which epitomizes what Encircle is all about.
Jordan Sgro (she/her), Encircle’s Chief Program Officer, started out as a volunteer with her wife as a facilitator in the lesbian group friendship circle. After about a year, she became an employee, responsible for the design, development, and measurement of the programs at Encircle.
Both Jacob and Jordan have remarkable stories of their coming out, and the challenges faced with family, church, and community. For this reason, they are passionate and empathetic toward each person who walks through an Encircle House. Some of the common themes that came up with the leadership that I spoke with include:
Power of Community Encircle would not exist as it does if it were not for the individuals and companies in the community. Each time that Encircle has announced a new location for an Encircle house, the community has stepped up to help with renovation and to provide funding. Additionally, local companies have donated to do things such as HVAC and plumbing. Lastly, Encircle is successful because of the many volunteers that participate and contribute to its success.
Understanding of “Why” Whenever there is volunteer training or other meetings, each person begins by introducing themselves and saying why they are at Encircle. The reasons are as varied as the individuals.
When I spoke with the leadership, each of them said that this experience was one of the most meaningful for them because it brings to light the reason why they choose to work at Encircle. Each of the participant’s “why” adds to the leadership’s “why.”
Visit encircletogether.org to learn more.
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