Hi, my name is Carla Smith (she/her). I’m a 69-year-old woman from Chicago, Illinois, and a proud volunteer at the Reception Desk at Center on Halsted. I was born and raised on the South side where I grew up in Wentworth Gardens by Comiskey Park. I’ve been here my whole life, and I’ve seen Chicago from many angles.
Volunteering at Center on Halsted is important to me because I’ve been a part of this community’s movement since the inception.
In the beginning, I spent a lot of time hiding my identity — a lot of us did. As a Black woman, I already had two strikes against me. The fact that I’m a lesbian only added to that experience, and most of my adult career was spent not sharing my sexuality in work spaces to preserve job security because times were much different then. When the AIDS epidemic hit, everyone was afraid. There was this inexplicable condition that none of us understood, but that the LGBTQ community was getting directly blamed for. The resources weren’t there like they are now. There was no Center on Halsted available for us.
Today, I see the spirit in our community as youth walk into the Center expressing themselves as they wish. Center on Addison was created to provide space for LGBTQ seniors and allies. Our testing facilities are right upstairs for the community to know their status and receive support. People come to Center on Halsted for a chance to improve their circumstances and find community. They come here knowing that the Center helps them help themselves, and I know that the Center supports them holistically.
As a volunteer receptionist at Center on Halsted, helping community has always been important to me. From the youth that comes through our doors looking for access to counseling services to the senior who wants to know about our senior programming: We are the Spirit of the Center.
What I see at Center on Halsted is a safe, warm space for community to come, receive the support they need, and be themselves.
While the Center is for and about the community, it also relies on community support to keep the momentum going. This season, the Spirit of Giving is in supporting Center on Halsted as a hub for youth, seniors, caregivers, patrons, clients, organizers, and volunteers — just like me.
You, too, can be a part of the Spirit of Giving by making a gift to Center on Halsted with the link below. Happy Holidays!