Lora Ceperley and Dana Buckner have been a major part of the LIKEME Lighthouse from the early planning stages – 14 months out – through this one-year anniversary. Right now, as co-chairs of events for the Lighthouse, they’re helping to plan its first anniversary event on March 9.

The center will have an open house that day from noon to 5 p.m. Local songwriter/singer/musician Kristie Stremel will be on hand from 2 to 4 p.m. for a meet-and-greet and will have copies of her CD available. Ceperley and Buckner said that it’s unlikely that Stremel will be able to perform that day because she’s still recovering from an injured hand that prevents her from playing guitar.

Organizers wanted to have her participate, though, Ceperley said, “because she was an important part of our opening concert” in March 2012. They also plan to have LIKEME Lighthouse founder Chely Wright and board president Chuck Walter participate by using Skype from New York around 4 p.m. Other local politicians who are LGBT allies will also be at the event.

In addition, Ceperley said, “No birthday party is complete without a cake, so we’ll have a cake and food and beverages and door prizes.”

They were still working out details about speakers and guests at the event, but they encouraged people to check the Facebook page (LikeMeLighthouseKC) and website (likemelighthouse.org) for updated information. The Lighthouse also has a free online newsletter that is going through a redesign, Ceperley and Buckner said. Readers can subscribe via the website.

Buckner said that a couple of exciting events are also in the works for spring and summer, but they can’t talk about them just yet. “Keep looking at our website for other special events coming up,” she said.

Since the LIKEME Lighthouse’s launch, countless volunteers, board members and advisory members have been busy creating events for the Lighthouse, which is open seven days a week.

Director of operations and treasurer Char Daniels, known affectionately by many as “Aunt Char,” has been a driving force since the early planning stages with her niece, Chely Wright. Ceperley and Buckner both credited volunteer Felicia Kyle for managing many of the day-to-day operational sides of keeping the Lighthouse open and available, staffed by volunteers seven days a week.

The center’s weekly calendar includes movie nights, social events, meetings, educational seminars and more. From the beginning, its goal was to be a safe, welcoming space for all LGBT people and allies in the community, especially for younger people with no place to go. A comfortable lounge is available, as are three computer stations and a library. In addition, there is a large meeting room and they are working on a second large meeting room that organizations in the community can use.

Some of the groups that meet at the LIKEME Lighthouse are Hear Me Out Toastmasters, SAGE, Lavender Ladies, KC Bear Mafia, two transgender support groups and a poetry club. Ceperley said they are working to build the educational aspect of the Lighthouse, noting that many local professionals have already held seminars.

The meeting space was available free in the initial months after the Lighthouse opened, but in 2013 it began to charge a modest fee. The rates are $25/hour or less, depending on the size of the room. Members of the center get 50 percent off the rental rates.

The group has been fine-tuning its website, with a new community calendar being created by Dianna Kuhlman. Other groups have tried for years to have master calendars that community organizers can use not only to know when events are occurring, but also to prevent scheduling conflicts when planning their own events. The calendar is being designed to put the power of input in the hands of the organization submitting information.

In order for the master calendar to be effective, Buckner said, “We first need to get that calendar ready to go on the website. And then we will go to each organization that we can, meet with them and identify a single person that Dianna can work with to train how to do this. If we just say to everybody, ‘Send us your stuff,’ it’s never going to work. It’s going to have to be more proactive, and we will be going out and grabbing people by the hand and bringing them in.”

Buckner and Ceperly were married in Iowa in 2010 and have been partners for nine years. In addition to their work on events at the center, they are both board members and they hold down full-time jobs. They live in Lee’s Summit with their three children.

The Lighthouse also has information about the Trevor Project suicide-prevention hotline for youth in crisis and a dedicated area of the center for people who are calling the hotline, Ceperley said.

“If someone comes in and is in crisis, they can go into the Trevor room, and it’s very private. It has a desk … and a hotline for them to call, and it goes to the Trevor Project.” (The hotline is at 866-488-7386, and the website is www.thetrevorproject.org.)

LIKEME is not alone among community centers being run by volunteers. Centerlink, the organization of LGBT centers nationally and around the world (www.lgbtcenters.org) says this about LGBT community centers:

“Centers serve a vital and multi-faceted role in many communities across the country. They are often the only staffed nonprofit LGBT presence in the area and the first point of contact for people seeking information, coming out, accessing services or organizing for social change. Forty percent of LGBT centers provide direct health care and 10 percent of these centers exclusively serve LGBT communities of color, youth, seniors or women. At the same time, half of the LGBT community centers have budgets under $50,000 and no full-time staff.”

Of her own volunteer service, Ceperley said, “It’s been really rewarding. Not that we weren’t busy, but we did want to find something meaningful to volunteer our time for. When we initially met Char and heard that the Lighthouse was coming, we thought ‘Wow, this was really something we could really get behind and help out with.’

“We had no idea the level it would grow to,” she said as the two women laughed. “We’re definitely not bored.”

The LIKEME Lighthouse
3909 Main St.
Kansas City, Mo.
Monday – Saturday: noon to 8 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 6 p.m.

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