When Stephenie Larsen envisioned a nonprofit to help the LGBTQ+ youth community, she never thought it would change so many lives.
After learning about the alarming rate of suicide among LGBTQ+ people in her community in Provo, Larsen knew something had to be done.
“While driving downtown, I found this house with two rainbow stained glass windows, and I knew that this was the place,” she said.
By Valentine’s Day, a year later, Encircle, Provo’s first LGBTQ+ center, was more than a house; it was a shelter that would save thousands of lives.
“This house may look small, but it’s going to do big things,” said Barbara Young, founding board member and Encircle champion on the center’s opening day. “This pebble is going to hit the water and make ripples – circles – circles upon circles encircling families, and encircling LGBTQ+ kids for years to come.”
Today, nearly four years after Encircle’s founding, the initiative has taken on a national character, with influential and unexpected collaborations.
An Urgent Initiative
Studies show that, despite facing much higher rates of depression and suicide attempts, many LGBTQ+ youth across the country struggle to access therapy and mental health services.
In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24. LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
For their part, nearly half of transgender youth have seriously considered suicide, and approximately one-quarter have attempted suicide.
One of the most influential factors in the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community is family and community rejection, isolation, and loneliness.
That’s why, since its founding in 2017, Encircle has served more than 70,000 people and funded thousands of family and youth therapy sessions, providing a lifeline to those facing suicidal ideation, isolation, and depression, helping them build a local community and forge a path forward.
It has been an especially urgent need during the pandemic, which has isolated many more young people from friends and other support systems outside the home.
Encircle, whose motto is “no sides, only love,” was created to bring families and communities together so that LGBTQ+ youth can thrive. Encircle launches a new “$8 Million, 8 Homes” capital campaign to further that vision and reach more people, which will establish eight new Encircle homes in four states — Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah. Encircle already has three homes in Utah, in Provo, Salt Lake City, and St. George, with a fourth under construction in Heber.
To kick off the campaign, Qualtrics founder and Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith will contribute $2 million. Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds and his wife, artist Aja Volkman, will donate Dan’s $1 million childhood home in Las Vegas.
For its part, Apple will donate $1 million and contribute products that promote digital connection, creativity, and education. Apple CEO Tim Cook, Ryan, Ashley Smith, and Dan Reynolds, and Aja Volkman will also serve as honorary co-chairs of Encircle’s new campaign, supporting the nonprofit’s expanding efforts to build community, acceptance, and understanding for LGBTQ+ youth and their families.
Donations will help launch Encircle’s national expansion, with new community resource houses in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. In addition to a $1 million contribution, Apple will donate iPads and other products to expand Encircle’s virtual programming and inspire new avenues of digital connection, creativity, and education.
“All people should feel safe and supported enough to be open about who they are with their community and themselves,” said Cook, who has visited the organization’s Provo house, and who himself proudly came out as gay in an editorial for Bloomberg Business in 2014. “Encircle is helping to bridge divides and bring people together – sending a powerful message that the greatest thing you can aspire to become is who you truly are. It’s my hope that every young person who feels alone or unsupported can find connection and community at this incredible organization.”