The Jim Toy Community Center, located in Ann Arbor, is closing their physical location at the end of January due to financial impacts caused by COVID-19, but the online atmosphere will remain open for all.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Jim Toy Community Center has been able to function well online, via Zoom, and will continue to do so. However, a GoFundMe page has been started to help lift some of the financial burdens, as the organization is run strictly by volunteers and donations.
The Community Center is named after Jim Toy, a University of Michigan graduate and the first publicly “out” man in Michigan, in 1970. Since then, Toy has continued to advocate for the equality of all sexual and gender preferences.
Continuing to work towards Toy’s goals, the Jim Toy Community Center has been supporting the LGBTQ+ community across Washtenaw County for over 25 years. The vision the organization strives to achieve, according to their website, is to “provide information, education, social events, and advocacy by and for the Queer and Ally community.”
To fulfill its objectives, the Community Center is able to host other groups and events that support its mission, including Ann Arbor Pride, which they will be hosting again, in 2021.
In August 2020, the virtual nature of Pride allowed the organization to reach 20,000 people, in 11 states. The Jim Toy Community Center President, Joe Schoch, was pleased with the outcome event, calling it “an amazing revelation.” Though Schoch hopes they will be able to meet in-person again soon.
“Zoom has been a pretty efficient way for us to build community. As vaccines are getting distributed and communities and small gatherings are becoming more safe we are also exploring the options of what could small meet-ups could look like, in person...We want to be cautious, we want to be responsible,” Schoch said.
Overall, the Jim Toy Community Center’s members have been able to tackle COVID-19 by viewing it as a learning opportunity and a way to expand themselves in a different way.
“We have been around for over 25 years and...we have certainly have handled our fair share of obstacles and growth and perseverance and COVID-19 is just another one of those challenges that we are dedicated to coming out stronger than where we started,” Schoch said.
The organization is always looking for ways to grow and develop as a community. They are able to obtain this as time progresses and new members join and volunteer.
“The Jim Toy center is a true community center in which it’s not governed by one person or one idea. We thrive off of diversity of thought, diversity of point of view and perspective and so if people want to get involved in it in a deeper way or just to submit feedback or some comments or ideas we would always love to listen...there is always room to grow,” Schoch said.
Schoch stresses the importance of community building and keeping Pride alive all year long.
“For me, Pride means visibility. For me, Pride means safety. For me, Pride means comfort, self-assurance, and building a sense of community. Without community, issues that LGBTQ+ go through can be very lonely and very difficult and so as we move forward I’m looking for stronger ways to make sure that Pride does live on throughout the entire year, not just the summertime or those traditional seasons,” Schoch said.
Though the physical location is set to close, The Jim Toy Community Center is very much still open and accepting to all who are interested.
“Just because our physical space is closed doesn’t mean that the community is gone or that the center is gone. You can reach out to us through our email, phone, Facebook, and let us know how we can help,” Schoch said.