The air outside of the one-n-ten LGBTQ youth center smells like burnt toast. The beige walls are charred with black near boarded up triangular windows. The roof is spotted with holes that firefighters cut. A city-issued chain-link fence surrounds what was once a safe haven.
From looking at the tarnished structure, you’d never guess that just days ago, this place had a staircase painted with rainbow colors. You’d never know that 22-year-old Justin Jones once called this place “the gayest, [most] fabulous thing you have ever seen.” You wouldn’t see all the smiling faces of LGBTQ teens who called this building home.
But the community is rallying together after a Wednesday fire that left the one-n-ten youth center on Third Street and Weldon Avenue a total loss, director of development Travis Shumake says.
The fire injured no
The flames that shot up around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday were originally deemed suspicious, but investigators say they no longer have reason to believe that’s the case. Fire department spokesperson Captain Reda Bigler says the cause is still unknown, but it could have to do with spontaneous combustion or faulty wires.
The center, which Shumake says reaches about 1,000 LGBTQ youth, ages 14 to 24, in the community on a regular basis, was once a place where people like Jones would go for a shower, a warm meal, and understanding.
In the aftermath of the fire, the center is calling on the community to help supplement food, clothing, and things, rather than money, Shumake says, though they will accept donations to support a summer camp they organize each year.
One-n-ten was planning to move to a new location in September anyway, and the nonprofit was just renting the building that burned. Despite the fact they were already on their way out of the building, Shumake laments a goodbye that was cut short.
“That place holds a lot of memories for our community,” he says. “It was our first brick-and-mortar, full-service youth center. It’s just the shock of losing your home.”
On Thursday afternoon, programming resumed as usual at The Parsons Center for Health and Wellness. People gathered in a room, where volunteers served mac and cheese to hungry teens. Tables were covered with donations of items such as water, tooth brushes, deodorant, tampons, Cheetos, and a green electric guitar by 4 p.m.
For young people like Jones, these donations meant a lot. He found one-n-ten as an 18-year-old and soon joined its housing program, which helps youth experiencing homelessness, teaching them soft skills like how to save money and get a job.
“They taught me so much,” says Jones, who now has a steady gig working for the Human Rights Campaign. “That I could be out and be myself … one-n-ten always knew who I was and they just helped me be more comfortable.”
He has fond memories of making enchilada lasagna in the kitchen of the old center and hanging out with friends who quickly became more like family to him.
Jones considered the one-n-ten youth center a safe space.
“I’ve known it as home for so long,” Jones says. “This is the feeling of, like losing a home … I like to call it the happiest place on earth — and it‘s not Disney World. It’s one-n-ten.”
Jones says, when he first learned the center was gone on Wednesday, he didn’t want to talk about it. He teared up. But today, he’s holding it together and pushing forward.
He knows that though the building has been destroyed, his memories will live on. And so will his makeshift family.
“We’re so close, and we’re in each other’s lives because of this one center and it brought me so much closer to my community and I don’t think nothing could take that away,” Jones says. “Home is always where the heart is.”
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How to help:
To give a financial donation, go to onenten.org/waystogive.
In person donations will be accepted at The Parsons Center for Health and Wellness at 1101 North Central Avenue Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m.