With game-changing grant, Colors+ is set to explode in square footage and LGBTQ+ youth support

Three Arches Foundation recently bestowed a $134,000 gift to Colors+ Youth Center—allowing the Fairview Park organization to sign a seven-year lease on a new facility to further its mission of strengthening LGBTQ+ youth and allies by promoting individual and community wellness.

The new space is a whopping 3,500 square feet—a substantial upgrade from the 250-square-foot space Colors+ started in when it opened its doors less than three years ago in January of 2019.

The Buckeye Flame” editor Ken Schneck spoke with Kristen Pepera, co-founder of Colors+, about this game-changing grant and the huge increase in LGBTQ+ youth they will now be able to support.

Construction on the new Colors+ space in Fairview Park.Holy crap! A $134,000 grant is incredible!
It is incredible. We have been waiting for a foundation to take a chance and really put their faith in us. Three Arches has done that. This grant is going to open so many other doors for us to continue to grow. We almost fell on the ground when they gave us a call and told us we received the grant because we’ve been so used to hearing “no” for any amounts above $5,000.

What Colors+ does is a bit different in that these aren’t just youth programs, but youth programs with mental health counselors present, right?
Absolutely. All of our programs are run or supervised by mental health professionals. It’s not because LGBTQ+ youth have mental health concerns, but because the negative and discriminating ways that society and schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can cause higher risks for mental health concerns. We want to make sure that we are fighting against those risks so LGBTQ+ youth have a decrease in suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety. We are very lucky to have well-practiced hands working with these youth.

And do you have a sweet spot in age of LGBTQ+ youth with whom you work?
The sweet spot that we have are middle schoolers. That is where we get the most youth. Especially for youth 12-and-under, there aren’t many programs available because people think that LGBTQ+ youth don’t know their identity at that point. We have had schools approach us and say, “We don’t have any kids in middle school, but we just want to train our high school.”

But kids have been flocking over to our space in droves from middle school. That’s where we see a majority of youth. Some of the parents are looking for a youth-only space when they’re bringing their kids, so it’s important for us to provide that. During the summer, we had some gender expansive playgroups for 12-and-under, and we will be able to host those in the new space.

You are going from 250 square feet to 3,500 square feet in under 3 years. That’s a staggering increase.
Right?! We started in a 250-square-foot space because that’s what we were able to afford because we were new. We know that a lot of nonprofits flop in the first three years, so we wanted to be very cognizant that we put our counseling practice separate so that if we needed to fund the nonprofit in the meantime, we could do that from the counseling practice side.

We’ve been lucky that we had enough fundraising in the first year to move to a 900-square-foot space. Now with this grant, we were able to sign a lease for seven years in a 3,500-square-foot space that we can make our own, have more therapists on the practice side giving support, and more program support on the nonprofit side. This means that youth and families and parents have more options on what they can attend.

Construction on the new Colors+ space in Fairview Park.And you are staying in Fairview Park?
The new space is a block and a half from where we are now. We did a survey about the possibility of moving to somewhere else in Cleveland. People were very adamant in the survey that we not leave Fairview Park. We listened to who we are serving, and we were lucky to find a space we can continue to grow in.

We’ll still be on Lorain Road, and still accessible on the bus line. But now we will be disability accessible, and we will have street frontage, which we don’t have now. Our new building will have big, beautiful windows, on which we will plaster Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, as much as we can for visibility.

We are estimated—even knowing that construction has delays—to be completed this month. So, we are aiming for a January opening. We want people to stay tuned because we want to have a whole weekend of events for youth, adults, and families: drag events, creative events, some events just for adults to get to know the space a little better, Dungeons and Dragons for the youth. Just as much programming as we can do.

Looking back, what have you learned about the relevance and importance of Colors+ since you opened your doors in January of 2019?
This work is so critically relevant, and the importance has increased during the pandemic. [Colors+ co-founder] Lisa [Pepera] recently read an article in the Journal of American Medicine that showed the rates of anxiety and depression of youth doubling in the past year, and that’s just youth in general. In terms of LGBTQ+ youth, the increase has been more than triple. Especially in the trans youth community and especially those who are living at those intersections: BIPOC, Latinx, and AAPI youth.

LGBTQ+ youth have been needing more spaces that are supportive of them and have that extra support with the mental health feel so they can experience that wraparound holistic approach for them and their families. With this new space, we’ll be able to expand our services and support to really make a difference for those very youth.

So, it’s fair to say that you all are excited for this expansion?
Oh my gosh. I think that when me and Lisa founded Colors+, we had big ideas and big hopes and we never could have guessed that in under three years that we would move to a space like this and that things would expand in this way.

We’re super excited and in awe of the Three Arches Foundation. This will be a jumping point for us to be in our thriving space.

Editor’s note: Ken Schneck is a former Board member of Colors+. This story was originally published in The Buckeye Flame on Nov. 24. Republished with permission.

Read more articles by Ken Schneck.

Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame, Ohio’s LGBTQ+ news and views digital platform. He is the author of Seriously…What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew (2017), LGBTQ Cleveland (2018), LGBTQ Columbus (2019), and LGBTQ Cincinnati. For 10 years, he was the host of This Show is So Gay, the nationally-syndicated radio show. In his spare time, he is a Professor of Education at Baldwin Wallace University, teaching courses in ethical leadership, antiracism, and how individuals can work with communities to make just and meaningful change.