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Albany's In Our Own Voices receives state funding for building, safety improvements

The  In Our Own Voices LGBT Center on Lark Street
Lucas Willard
The In Our Own Voices LGBT Center on Lark Street

A non-profit that serves the LGBTQ+ community in Albany has received funding to make improvements to its building, which has seen an increased demand for services throughout the pandemic.

At 245 Lark Street in Albany, the In Our Own Voices LGBT Center is in need of some upgrades.

In the basement of the facility focused on providing services to LGBTQ+ people of color, Executive Director Tandra LaGrone points to decades-old electrical wiring and a 45-year-old boiler.

“This goes back to the 50’s and it’s just a mess. And we want to make sure that this taken care of in soon as possible, and also this going to be replaced. This is the boiler.”

In addition to new wiring and a boiler, the 19th century building will receive new windows, a new chimney lining, new safety exits and exterior lighting, and have damaged bricks repaired.

The renovations are supported by $125,000 in state funding secured by Capital Region state lawmakers.

Elissa Kane, Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, spoke during a press conference Wednesday.

“If you bring people down and look at your new boiler and your new electrical system and your lighting, you’re going to feel great, we’re going to feel great. And thanks for being here right in the center of our community,” said Kane.

LaGrone said during the pandemic, the number of people being served by In Our Own Voices more than doubled. The non-profit took advantage of telehealth and counseling was moved online, but emergency assistance and other services continued to be provided on Lark Street.

“Our food pantry is still operating Monday through Friday, and our rental assistance, utility assistance, emergency assistance, our domestic violence and sexual assault services all saw a 33 percent increase. And so we adjusted, like a lot of community-based nonprofits had to do,” said LaGrone.

In Our Own Voices also partners with the Albany Free Food Fridge project, hosting one of its refrigerators outside. But LaGrone explained that while In Our Own Voices provides an outlet for the fridge, it has sometimes been found unplugged by people using the outlet to charge their devices. In response, four new exterior outlets are being installed to go with the lighting.

“Instead of, we could have easily just put a cap on the electric to the refrigerator, but that’s band-aiding the issue. The issue is that people have need to have access to electricity, and when you’re struggling you need to be able to charge your phone to have contact with not only family – because family, if you do have family, it’s important, or your chosen family – but for emergency services,” said LaGrone.

The exterior lighting will also provide safety at night for the building, which has experienced break-ins.

In Our Own Voices Board President Rhonda Daniel…

“Not only the safety of our staff, but also those in the community who we serve. So their safety, of course, is of the utmost importance to us. We are grateful, we are thankful and we’re looking forward to the work that is going to get started soon,” said Daniel.

Electricians were already installing exterior lighting on Wednesday. Renovations are expected to be in full-swing in March.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.