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    A New Community Space at Openhouse

    By Dr. Kathleen M. Sullivan–

    Openhouse will soon turn 25 years old. Since the time of our founding in 1998, we have created innovative social services, a world class cultural competency training curriculum, programming proven to reduce isolation and improve mental health outcomes, and, of course, housing. The inspiration came from Openhouse founders Marcy Adelman and Jeanette Gurevitch, who envisioned a place where older LGBTQ San Franciscans could live their authentic lives safely and in community with one another. Openhouse has been a beacon of hope and what is possible for these past twenty-four years, and as we grow, we continue to add more programs, services, and physical spaces for LGBTQ older adults in San Francisco.

    One such space is our 75 Laguna building, which has over 7,000 square feet of community program space and is named in honor of Morton B. Blatt and Peter G. Holmstrom, who made a $1,750,000 gift to Openhouse through the Horizons Foundation. Part of that gift, $250,000, is held by the Foundation and is meant to fund maintenance on the space—a welcome investment. A center point of the building is the living memorial to long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS, a mural by David Faulk and a robust community advisory committee that reaffirms a diagnosis does not mean life stops.

    The Morton B. Blatt and Peter G. Holmstrom LGBTQ Senior Community Center at 75 Laguna was made possible through the contributions of many individuals in our community, local partner organizations, and companies like Coterie and Oryx Partners. In addition, we are grateful to On Lok for partnering with us on creating a beautiful community space that houses our joint community day service program.

    The Openhouse campus now includes the Openhouse Community at 55 Laguna, the Marcy Adelman and Jeanette Gurevitch Community at 95 Laguna, The Bob Ross LGBT Senior Community Center at 65 Laguna, and the new Morton B. Blatt and Peter Holmstrom LGBTQ Senior Community Center at 75 Laguna. The buildings are connected via a back courtyard accessible to all residents of 55 and 95 Laguna and community members who are participating in programming at Openhouse. The courtyard has doubled as a place of celebration—from a drag show to celebrate Pride in 2020 to our recent Pride celebration that simulcast the parade with a wonderful DJ and great food.

    The expansion project included 110 units of housing and community space, both of which are possible through the partnerships between Mercy Housing and Openhouse. Originally slated to open to the community in March 2020, this long delayed opening is finally here and comes after some of the space has been open to the community, albeit on a limited basis. Community Support Services, for instance, has had drop-in hours for community members who need help securing housing in San Francisco. In the last year, our housing navigation team lead by Director Carrie Schell and Housing Supervisor Aisling Peterson held 24 housing workshops and helped over 230 LGBTQ seniors connect to housing resources.

    Our Community Engagement team, led by Director Sylvia Vargas and Managers J Jha and Ariel Mellinger, developed hybrid programming for the past several months using a technology called the Owl, allowing community members to be onsite or at home for classes. We also started hosting our wonderful Rainbow Lunch in person again as well as our new Latinx/a/o/e group, a Juneteenth celebration for our African American Community Members that included a day of pampering, and a celebration for Asian Heritage Month. We are looking forward to expanding in-person programs as the pandemic wanes, like our TGNC Sunday dinners and onsite art classes.

    All in all, the space is tremendous, uplifting, and most importantly, meeting the needs of LGBTQ adults age 50 and older. Our courtyard in the back provides outdoor space and community gardens that allow residents of both the 55 Laguna and 95 Laguna space to grow vegetables and flowers. The promise of bringing community together to enhance social networks, learning, and fun is realized at the new center and it will continue to grow as we are able to open up more and more.

    Perhaps the crown jewel of the space is the community day program, a partnership between On Lok and Openhouse. Openhouse Director of Strategic Partnerships and Training, Ephraim Getahun, and his team identify community members for the joint program and shepherd them through the process of getting enrolled. The program is affectionately called “Club 75” by community members and is home to a variety of innovative programs that can be tailored to the different functional and capacity levels of attendees.

    Sulique Waca is the Manager of the program for On Lok; her team includes wonderfully caring CNAs Jhon Htay and Activity Therapist Jeffrey Basile. From gardening, to cooking classes, a visit from the San Francisco Symphony and field trips, this program offers transportation, socialization, meals, and support for our community members who need a little more assistance. Additionally, it offers respite for caregivers, a great need in our community.

    We are proud to officially open the new campus and we hope that, over time, more and more of our community will have the chance to explore and use the community space, and to meet new friends there. As we open this new site, we are again partnering with Mercy Housing on a new affordable development. The new location will be around the corner from our Laguna campus, 1939 Market Street. Stay tuned for information about that project.

    Dr. Kathleen M. Sullivan is the Executive Director of Openhouse:

    Openhouse Benefactors

    By Dr. Kathleen M. Sullivan–

    Morton B. Blatt and Peter G. Holmstrom were together for more than 60 years. They met in Chicago, where Peter was working as a highly successful investor at a well-known brokerage firm, and Morton was following an equally successful career as a commercial artist.

    They came to Northern California in the late 1980s and remained here for the rest of their lives. Avid travelers, they also deeply enjoyed the Bay Area’s arts and culture and contributed generously to numerous arts organizations. Their Greenbrae home was filled with Morton’s remarkable art, their collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain, and other items from their travels.

    Peter and Morton also cared deeply about the LGBTQ community, contributing to many LGBTQ causes over the years. As they put it, they simply “wanted to help as many LGBTQ people as possible.” When they passed, they left a bequest to Horizons Foundation both to create a permanent endowed fund for the LGBTQ community and to identify a capital project in the LGBTQ community.

    The resulting capital gift made possible by Peter and Morton’s generous legacy helped to create, support, and maintain The Morton B. Blatt and Peter G. Holmstrom LGBTQ+ Senior Community Center. A plaque honors their major contribution on the interior as well as exterior of the 75 Laguna Street building.

    Dr. Kathleen M. Sullivan is the Executive Director of Openhouse:

    Published on September 8, 2022