The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection originally was the 7 Rivers LGBT Resource Center when it was established in 2004. It was the result of data compiled for a master’s project being done by Kelly Teachout in 2003. Teachout gathered together some venerable LGBT activists to share the data and explore the potential for establishing a resource center for the La Crosse LGBT community.
Among those who served on the first advisory board were Teachout, Ann Kramer, Beth Cherne, Mary O’Sullivan, Jeanne Fischer, Dan Lintin, Pam Walhovd, Joy Holthaus and Cindy Killion.
The nine advisory board members met regularly for nearly a year, hashing out details and issues before drafting a mission statement and filing its Articles of Incorporation as a nonprofit, 501 (c) (3) organization.
The first mission statement was: “We are a voice and presence promoting understanding and building connections regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The advisory board members envisioned the organization as being a resource for not only the LGBT community but for the larger community of La Crosse. To achieve that goal, the board members felt a physical space would serve two purposes: it would be a space in which the LGBT community could gather and connect along with allies; and it would provide resources, not only for the LGBT community but for those in the area seeking information about the LGBT community and its issues.
The advisory board members also felt it necessary for the organization to be visible within the La Crosse community. The board members frequently imagined someone in the community donating a house that would be used for coffee klatches and other events for the LGBT community.
There was no donation of a house forthcoming so the advisory board members, who became board members when the 501 (c) (3) status was approved, set up shop in 2004 in a small, three-room office suite on the third floor of the Scenic Concept Building in downtown La Crosse.
One of the primary goals for the Center, during its early years, was to be visible and be a point of connection to local institutions and businesses. For instance, the Center partnered early with Gundersen Lutheran’s library to create a section on LGBT information to better serve patients. Another goal was to create a business/services-friendly database so the LGBT community would know what businesses and services to patronize.
Among the services provided by the Center during its early years was a support group for parents of LGBT children. GALAXY came later and was a group the Center accepted from the YWCA.
Board members contributed endless hours of volunteering to keep the Center open, along with assistance from Americorps.