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Abdill-Ellis center likely to close

ASHLAND ' If &

36;10,500 cannot be raised by April 30, the Abdill-Ellis Lambda Community Center will close.

The center has seen its funding, both private and public, dwindle over the past several years. Now, after a meeting Jan. 24, the center's board of directors has decided to set a final date to save itself.

We have been in financial crisis for about the last two years, board member and spokesperson Ed Burns said. We have come to the point that it is not financially feasible for us to continue operating the center. So we have set the closing date of April 30 ... .

The primary reason for the center's existence was to provide a connecting point for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The center, now at 717 Siskiyou Blvd., held social events and offered community outreach and education.

Over the years we have always maintained that mission, Burns said. ... We feel the center is kind of like an airport. People who are new arrivals to the community or newly exploring their sexual orientation or just confused, they can come to the center and get all the help they need. Then we send them out into the community.

— The main reason for the financial difficulty is the loss of public funding.

Jackson County has pulled their funding, Burns noted. We have relied on donations from the community, memberships to the center and social events we have put on. But it isn't enough to keep us going.

The center was founded in 1996, a result of an outpouring of donations following the 1995 murders of Michelle Abdill and Roxanne Ellis, both lesbians, in Medford. The center was established with that initial funding.

According to a letter sent to members and the community, the board noted that the center's budget often exceeded &

36;100,000. Jackson County's funding dropped from an initial two-year grant of &

36;36,000 to nothing now. They also explained that at its peak, membership topped 1,000. It now has fewer than 60 paying members.

As of this week, the center had raised just over &

36;2,500 toward its goal. Reaching the goal would allow the center to stay open a year.

We started a campaign in January to raise funds, Burns said. At this point, it is not looking likely that we are going to raise the &

36;10,500.

If the center does close, it is our intention to continue our Web site so people can continue to get information. And we may possibly associate ourselves with some other organization so we can have a telephone line so people could still call and get information or help they might need.

Even if the center comes close to its goal, it still might not be enough to keep it open.

We have discussed that recently with the board of directors, Burns said. We have decided that our position is we need &

36;10,500 or we will need to close the center. Having anything less than that and continuing to operate for an abbreviated period of time kind of buys more of the same.

If it is time for the center to close, we want to be able to do that with some dignity. We think this is the best approach to take at this time.

Recent interest in same-sex unions across the country has not helped the center.

Certainly I think the issue of same-sex marriages and the general political climate in this country right now has made us more visible in the community, Burns explained. That has not translated to additional dollars to operate the center.

Anyone interested in making a donation can call the center at 488-6990, send checks made out to the Abdill-Ellis Community Center to P.O. Box 927, Ashland, OR 97520, or visit on the Web. A notice on the Web site says donations will be returned if the &

36;10,500 goal is not met.

Steve Zimmerman is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456.