Center in a Box

A project to Equip churches and faith communities to connect
with LGBTQ people in their neighborhood

Center in a Box is a multifaceted program that combines resources, connections, and the power of churches and faith-based organizations with community organizing techniques (in person and internet-based) to form a powerful force for community transformation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and (especially) transgender people. 


According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (2017), about 550,000 youth experience an episode (longer than one week) of homelessness during a year. 20-40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+ (National Recommended Best Practices for Serving LGBT Homeless Youth, 2009). While living on the street, LGBTQ+ homeless youth, particularly trans youth, are at high risk of physical and sexual exploitation. They are also more likely to be involved in commercial sex work, and more likely to die by suicide. Suicide is also epidemic among housed LGBTQ+ youth, most notably among trans youth, half of which have seriously considered suicide, and one quarter having attempted (Grossman & D’Augelli, 2007). 

Because LGBTQ+ youth experience family rejection, bulling, and discrimination, their stress levels are often high, resulting in physical, mental, and sexual health disparities. These health disparities are serious, and include disproportionate rates of depression, drug abuse and addiction, and HIV/AIDS. Aside from these outcomes, LGBTQ+ youth experience many of the same health disparities that other disadvantaged groups do, including high rates of tobacco use, higher rates of obesity, and lack of preventative health care access. 

Center in a Box Summary

Center in a Box is a multifaceted program that combines resources, connections, and the power of churches and faith-based organizations with community organizing techniques (in person and internet-based) to form a powerful force for community transformation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and (especially) transgender people. 

Establishing faith-based centers for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies is an efficient, practical way to create community-wide change that will benefit all LGBTQ+ community members. Through systematic community organizing and programs designed to improve outcomes among LGBTQ+ youth and elders, the Center in a Box project provides faith communities with guidance and support in building a strong LGBTQ+ and allied community and forging the feelings of connection that save lives. 

Across a decade working with LGBTQ+ and marginalized youth, we have created and implemented several variations of Center in a Box, each designed to fit the needs, resources, culture, and climate of the community. Some centers have grown to see close to 100 youth each week. Others see fewer than 10 youth per week, but serve a crucial function in the lives of these youth and create the same supportive community, benefitting LGBTQ+ people of all ages. Some of these youth groups have been focused around art, others around the provision of basic needs supplies such as food and clothing. Regardless of program format or setting, these centers provide a perfect opportunity for equipping youth with information and tools to help them navigate their world in a healthy and positive way. Perhaps more importantly, every youth center, regardless of structure, provides youth (and all community members) with a supportive, affirming space in which they feel affirmed, supported, and confident. 

The Center in a Box project aims to facilitate the creation of 100 faith-based LGBTQ+ youth centers throughout the US, in both urban and rural areas, and throughout every region of the US. Using online platforms, materials, curricula, detailed how-to, and questions and answers will be shared freely with anyone interested in starting a center in their community. Drawing on our experiences starting and overseeing youth centers, we will convey critical information about the process of starting a center, and providing effective services and supports to youth on an ongoing basis. More information on the structure and content of these free-access materials (including a manual, webinars on key topics, and curricula guides) can be found in Training Content and Materials (below).


Center in a Box Goals

Center in a Box encompasses three overarching goals for the communities adopting this model: community organizing, improving outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth, and improving outcomes for LGBTQ+ elders. Objectives for each of the goals are listed below. For some communities, the focus will be community organizing and youth only. For those who choose, serving elders and providing intergenerational LGBTQ+ programming can be a natural extension and valuable program, benefitting people of all ages, with target outcomes for elder’s paralleling target outcomes for youth. 

Community Outcome Goals

  1. Community Organizing
    1. 1.1.Improve broad community knowledge of issues faced by underserved youth, empower communities to meet the needs of youth
    2. 1.2.Increase family acceptance and support of LGBTQ+ children through educating and supporting parents and families
    3. 1.3.Increase in LGBTQ+ youths’ feelings of safety and support in their schools
  1. Improving Outcomes for LGBTQ+ Youth
    1. 2.1.Ensure that youths’ basic needs are met (housing, food, clothing, etc.)
    2. 2.2.Increase youths’ self-efficacy and perception of support
    3. 2.3.Reduce incidence of youth suicide
    4. 2.4.Increase youths’ understanding of healthy relationships and reduce victimization
    5. 2.5.Reduce health disparities among LGBTQ+ youth
    6. 2.6.Improve youths’ education and employment outcomes
  1. Improving Outcomes for LGBTQ+ Elders
    1. Ensure that elder’s basic needs are met (housing, food, clothing, etc.)
    2. Increase elder’s self-efficacy and perception of support
    3. Reduce incidence of elder suicide
    4. Provide mentoring opportunities to involve elders in contributing to the positive development of LGBTQ+ youth
    5. Reduce health disparities among LGBTQ+ elders
    6. Improve elder’s economic and employment outcomes 


Center in a Box Manual

Parity provides mentoring, webinars and in person training for churches and faith communities - email us for more information and let us know how we can help you! Content in this section will be added soon - check back or email us to be notified as content is added.

Introduction and Background

Chapter 1:  Youth

  • Bullying
  • Family rejection
  • Suicide
  • Homelessness & victimization
  • Youth in church
  • Religious homophobia/internalized homophobia
  • Multiply marginalized youth & intersectionality
  • Service needs of youth

Chapter 2:  Elders

  • Community
  • Volunteers & mentors
  • Mental & physical health
  • Housebound
  • End of life

Chapter 3:  Why Churches?

  • Resources (space, kitchen, gym, stage)
  • Ready volunteers
  • Needs of churches
  • Religious homophobia
  • Building bridges & protective factors
  • Natural partners with service providers

Chapter 4:  What Can You Do?

  • Drop In (varieties, advantages/disadvantages, what to keep in mind)
  • Special Events - holding your own (types – service project, movie nights, dance, concert, advantages/disadvantages, what to keep in mind)
  • Special Events – piggybacking (types – pride events, GSA activities, LGBT centers nearby, advantages/disadvantages, what to keep in mind)

Chapter 5:  Getting Started

Assessing Need

  • What is the need in your area? – overview of needs assessments
  • Have a theory, and test it (talk to youth, service providers, parents, and educators, and collect stories)
  • Ask Facebook and social media

Assessing Capacity

  • Who wants to help? What do they bring to the table?
  • What physical space is at your disposal?
  • Do you have an umbrella organization? Will your church say “yes”?
    • Get church to say yes by describing need nationally and locally, telling stories (have someone there?), assuaging their fears honestly

Determining Your Structure

  • Will a church be the umbrella org?
  • Starting a 501(c)(3)
    • Pros & Cons

Mission & Vision

  • Why is this so important?
  • If you don’t know where you are going, you will likely go nowhere
  • Use this to make your case

Chapter 6:  Helpful tips and techniques

  • Partnering with and harnessing local media
  • Connections with helpful local and national organizations
  • Fundraising and Grants 
  • Sharing your story