LGBTQ support organization Encircle broke ground for a new location in Logan on Tuesday.
Encircle, a nonprofit focused on providing local space and resources for LGBTQ youth, recently kicked off plans for expansion after receiving a $4 million donation from Apple, Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith and his wife, Ashley Smith, and Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds and his wife, Aja Volkman.
The Logan home is part of a project to establish eight new homes in Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona. A similar ceremony was conducted last week for an Ogden location.
“We’re grateful … to all of you who put trust in us that we will be what Logan needs and that we will be a true resource that will bring love and connection to this community,” Encircle CEO Stephanie Larsen said.
The Logan home will be built across the street from Old Main Hill at the former location of the May Swenson house, on land owned by Utah State University. Encircle and the university are still negotiating a long-term lease on the 1.4-acre property, part of which is planned to be a park. Larsen said the design of the new home was intended to represent its predecessor, where the poet Swenson, who was lesbian, spent her childhood.
Speaking at the event, USU President Noelle Cockett envisioned a holistic relationship between Encircle and the university, outlining the various ways the school’s resources could aid in operations, from helping youth explore the humanities, to mental and physical health services, even raising the possibility of the College of Agriculture developing a garden for the home.
“Even more than the land, we see the opportunity to bring programs, events and activities to the house, the families and the youth,” she said.
The groundbreaking ceremony was performed by Cockett, Larsen, Logan City Council Member Amy Anderson, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Joe Ward, and Encircle’s COO Jacob Dunford and Chief Program Director Jordan Sgro.
Founded in 2017, Encircle’s first location was a house in Provo. Two other homes, in Salt Lake City and St. George, have opened since then. In addition to Logan and Ogden, a location in Heber City is currently underway, with expansion into neighboring states planned for the future.
Encircle homes provide services like therapy, programming, and social activities alongside other community resources.
“It’s space — space to be, space to breathe. It’s mental health services, it’s community building, it’s education,” Sgro said at the event. “And I think at its core, it’s suicide prevention, which is why I think we’re all here today.”
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns between 10 and 24, and the risk increases for LGBTQ youth. In a state survey of Utah students in 2019, 48% of gay and lesbian students and 53% of bisexual students reported they had seriously considered suicide in the last year, compared to 15% of heterosexual students.
The groundbreaking also comes in the midst of a national wave of bills in state legislatures restricting transgender youth. In Utah, a bill to bar transgender girls from competing in on girls’ high school sports teams passed through the House and Senate but was not signed by Gov. Spencer Cox.
“It just feels like the timing was right that we’re here now,” Larsen said.
“As president, one of my goals has been to make sure that people feel they belong,” Cockett said. “I am so tremendously glad that USU can contribute our love, our support and our service to the Encircle house and all of the people that they serve.”
During her speech, a flurry of leaves caught in the wind, swirling above the crowd.
“Look at that!” Cockett joked. “It’s a whirlwind of excitement.”