The idea for Encircle House began with one simple question:
How can we bring people together to create a better community and a better tomorrow?
Founder and CEO, Stephenie Larsen, strives to provide the answer through Encircle, a non-profit center for LGBTQ+ youth and their families.
Stephenie is a Utah local and BYU law graduate who went to Washington D.C. to draft legislation to protect the traditional family. After meeting her husband’s uncle, John Williams, another Utah local who had a strong influence in SLC with his restaurants and preservations of old historic buildings, her world shifted. John, an openly gay man, helped Stephenie see the need to acknowledge that families come in all shapes and sizes — families are not a one size fits all. Seeing how John used his selfless and giving personality to help build better communities and create a better Utah — Stephenie decided to make a change.
When Stephenie moved back to Utah she was surprised to learn how high suicide rates are. She felt that as a society we were going backward. She shared, “Did you know that suicide is the leading cause of death for youth in Utah, and that LGBTQ+ youth are three times more likely to take their lives than their straight peers?” Stephenie couldn’t understand why youth were, and are continuing to take their lives as if their lives didn’t matter. She questioned how we were not moving forward to protect those who needed it most. She called upon John to help create a safe space for youth — and Encircle was born. She stated she wanted to create a home for those that did not feel comfortable in their schools, homes, or wherever they were. She aimed to establish a safe place where youth would enter and instantly feel loved and secure.
“It’s interesting to see how much one person can influence many,” Stephenie mentioned while retelling her story with John. She found that, like John, it only takes one person to be the positive change for a community. Her goal came to fruition on Valentine’s day of 2017 when the first Encircle House was created in Provo. In the four years since they first opened their doors, Encircle has helped thousands of youth. They have expanded their programs to communities in St. George, Salt Lake City, and, coming fall 2021, Heber City.
Encircle has been helping youth from the Wasatch Back for years. In a self-reported study, it was found that 12% of Wasatch county students self-identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. In a press release for Encircle Mayor Kelleen Potter shared, “that represents a lot of youth who are vulnerable and need acceptance, love, and support. It also represents a lot of families and an entire community that needs resources to better understand how to provide that acceptance, love, and support.”
Encircle’s goal is to support every one of them through their new Heber location: The Collin Russell Home. The naming rights of the home were donated by Emma and Isaac Westwood in honor of Collin Russell and Michael Westwood. The Collin Russell Home will be a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ+ youth of the Wasatch back. “We hope that our support will help fewer LGBTQ+ youth go through the hardships that we saw Collin go through,’’ Emma Westwood stated in the press release. “Collin not only was an example of unconditional love to my family but to everyone he came in contact with. He wanted everyone to know they are loved and worthy of connection and belonging. Collin changed our lives for the better.”
Encircle’s mission is to bring the family and community together to allow the LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.
Everything they do is based on the notion of “there are no sides on love” which means no judgments. They are purely here to help with the mental health of individuals. Encircle offers mental health therapy with licensed clinical therapists who specialize in issues unique to LGBTQ+ youth. Additionally, they provide both in-person and teletherapy from the best affirmative mental health therapists in every one of their homes. They also offer programs that range from art and writing classes, to service projects, programs for parents, support groups, and far more. They have created their own educational materials such as pamphlets, books, and videos to help youth and families. Encircle homes have an open-door policy — anyone is welcome daily from two to eight every evening. Through this, Encircle creates a safe space for youth to come together to talk about what they are going through, to make connection, and learn to live their most authentic lives. Encircle focuses on making youth feel at home. “Come do your homework, play the piano, or eat food out of the fully stocked fridge. That’s entirely what Encircle is about — being there for youth by creating safer and more loving communities.”
So far over 700 people from our community and all over Utah have donated to The Collin Russell Home. Encircle has received an outpouring of love from the Heber Valley. “People can always donate,” Stephenie remarks, “Naming rights can be purchased for rooms such as the kitchen or art room or donate by purchasing furniture or landscaping supplies.” Encircle aims to bring the community together and relies on us heavily as their houses are created by the community through volunteers. People can donate appliances, tile, or different products that can help the house. You can also donate your time or through monetary donations. The Collin Russell Home will also have a cafe where all members of the community can grab a bite to eat. All proceeds will be used for Encircle’s therapy program. Stephenie shared that every dollar made through the café will go directly back into providing mental health for the youth that need it most — those that come to Encircle who do not have insurance or cannot afford therapy can receive help from the donations. Additionally, they will have a grand opening and ribbon-cutting in late fall of 2021 where business, government, entertainment, and sports representatives will be coming to support Heber’s Collin Russell Home. Encircle invites all community members to attend.
Encircle is excited to be a resource in Heber for everyone — to be a place of love that brings people together to create a non-judgmental community that helps us all to be better people. Their hope is that youth grow up with good mental health knowing that they’re loved and supported by their families and community. It also becomes a community project to make sure that everyone feels love not only in the home but outside of it, too. “That’s our only goal,” Stephenie states, “to bring more love and understanding to the community — that’s it.” So, I push the question back on you, my fellow readers, are you ready to come together to build a better tomorrow?
For more information or to donate please visit encircletogether.org.