Southern Utah University hosted Encircle on Feb. 13 as a part of their A.P.E.X. speaker series. Encircle came to promote their upcoming LGBTQ+ family and youth resource center in St. George.
Encircle is an organization that prides itself on offering places for LGBTQ+ youth to come in, feel accepted and thrive. They currently have houses in Salt Lake City and Provo where they provide various programs and events for youth and family.
The latest Encircle house will open in St. George on April 18 at 11 a.m.
The event focused on some of the faces of Encircle. They told their stories as well as a brief look at what they do with the company.
Stephanie Larson, the Chief Executive Officer, worked to found the organization and purchase the houses that they run. Larson told her story of coming to accept the LGBTQ+ community after being raised with conservative views.
She went on to learn that LGBTQ+ teens are twice as likely to commit suicide and five times as likely to seriously consider suicide when compared to their straight peers.
This is due to negative and uneducated social messages that pile onto these teens.
“It’s our job to change that,” said Larson.
One of the ways that Encircle works to help the LGBTQ+ community is by having therapy options.
Jared Klundt, Director of Clinical Services, works to organize therapy programs across the houses.
Klundt emphasized that therapy within Encircle has a big focus on recognizing strengths and building people up.
“There are concerns we want to touch on… but holy cow there are a lot of strengths we want to focus on,” said Klundt.
Encircle offers the first 30-minute therapy session for free so that participants can work out what they need and who will work best for them.
Next Jordan Sgro, the Chief Program Officer, emphasized “Friendship Circles” where groups are brought together as a sort of unstructured support group.
Along with optional therapy and support there is a heavy focus on bringing people together through daily events. These include music nights featuring local bands and public outreach Fridays. Encircle wants to be a space of safety for people to come in and be themselves.
“We just want you. Fully you,” said Sgro.
The final speaker was Jacob Dunford, the Chief Operating Officer. Dunford went into his story of accepting his own sexuality that had some members of the audience in tears. His parents knew before he did and they pushed to ensure he knew that they accepted him and that they would support him no matter what.
While he did appreciate the support, Dunford struggled with himself and a desire to be “normal” and live the kind of life his parents had.
Dunford used his story as a chance to further emphasize that Encircle tries to spread that specific message of love and acceptance.
Once each of the speakers had gone through their stories or position with the company they had a Q&A panel with questions from the audience.
During the panel volunteering and donations were brought up as a big part of how Encircle keeps the doors open.
Volunteering is encouraged with several options for those interested. There are applications and further information on Encircle’s website.
Donations are able to be sent to specific houses with a follow-up report that states how the funds were used.
SUU hosts A.P.E.X. speaker events every Thursday in the Gilbert Great Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Next week’s speaker is New York Times Bestseller Sam Kean.
Story by: Alex Schilling
Pictures Courtesy of: Christopher Diamond