Mott Haven's Bronx Community Pride Center, the largest LGBT center in the borough, closed its doors on Saturday after investigators say the former executive director stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, and now the youth who benefited from the center hope other area nonprofits can help them with quality of life issues. NY1's Michael Herzenberg filed the following report.
In the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, on the corner of Westchester Avenue and Kelly Street, there was a safe haven for anyone struggling with their sexual identity — the Bronx Community Pride Center.
Krystal Neal, who is transgender, says her life was miserable and full of silence, seclusion and fear until she came to the center as a teenager.
"This is the place that helped me come out to my family my friends the school and helped me become who I am, transgender, today," said Neal. "They made me feel comfortable, express my talent and everything at school."
For 16 years, the Bronx Community Pride Center provided support to countless teens and young adults, giving them artistic outlets and friends facing some of the same struggles.
"It's like an extended family," said one member of the center.
But the extended family of roughly a thousand people has now lost its home. Some of the most active members held a going-away party of sorts on Saturday, the same day the broke center finally closed its doors.
"What are we supposed to do now?" said another member of the center.
LGBT advocates blame the center's downfall on its former executive director, Lisa Winters, who was charged in June by the Bronx district attorney with grand larceny and falsifying business records.
Investigators say Winters stole more than $300,000 from the center between 2005 and 2009, spending the money in part on trips, pet care and even paying off personal debt.
"It's very difficult for everybody here to see this agency close," said a member of the center.
Charlie Dominguez, who worked as the center's youth services coordinator, said he will continue some of the creative programs elsewhere on a volunteer basis.
In addition to art programs that help people with their self-esteem, the center also counseled people who have health issues as well as housing issues. Now the center is trying to farm those cases out to other non-profits in the area.
"A lot of our young people are honestly walking the street at night, just looking for a place to lay their head or some food to eat," says Dominguez.
While LGBT youth can no longer turn to the Bronx Community Pride Center for any kind of support, the center leaves a legacy of lives touched by accomplishment.
"We started having exhibits, selling our work and everything. People started advocating for transgenders all through here," said Neal.