New gay-friendly youth center opens in Kennewick

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJuly 28, 2013 

Echo Von Echospent a lot of time at Vista Youth Center.

The 20-year-old from Richland especially enjoyed the Friday night dinners in which community groups brought meals and spent time with the youth. Although Vista closed earlier this year because of financial difficulties, a new youth center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth has opened in Kennewick to take its place.

Quest Youth Center meets at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

Von Echo is happy to see it debut -- and not just because family dinner nights are being incorporated into its offerings.

"I make friends here, and I make art, and I can talk about LGBT stuff, which I can't with my family," he told the Herald.

The new center is a project of Three Rivers Coalition, a nonprofit that works toward equality for the LGBTQ community in health care and social work. Karin Conner, the coalition's executive director, was Vista's clinical supervisor. When it went away, it was clear there was still a need, she said.

"For us, this is a very necessary service in the Tri-Cities," Conner told the Herald. "We're hoping folks will realize how critical it is."

Lee West, 24, and Alex Emig, 34, both of Kennewick, were involved with Vista and now are helping lead the new Quest center.

Like Conner, they said it's needed.

"As a youth growing up in the Tri-Cities, I craved a center like this. I felt like I didn't have any resources to help me along on my journey towards adulthood," Emig said, adding that it was "just through individual relationships with people that I was able to (be successful). I want to give back to the youth and make sure they don't have to encounter some of the harsher experiences I encountered."

Emig, West, Von Echo and other Quest leaders showed off the space at St. Paul's on a recent evening -- the couches, the games, the bright colors.

They talked about what the center is offering -- tutoring, educational programs, social services and also plenty of fun, from family dinners to game and movie nights.

It's a special place, they said.

Even the name has special meaning.

"We went with Quest because we wanted something that spoke to having a journey to successful adulthood," said Amanda McLean, Quest's executive director.

"We liked the idea of Quest as a center and as an entity helping (youth) get to that endpoint."

The center is taking donations -- it can use everything from financial support to art supplies to clothing and items for its food bank, leaders said.

More information

-- Quest is run by volunteers.

-- It's open from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays for youth ages 14 to 20.

-- Tutoring, social work and other services are available Wednesdays by appointment.

-- The center also is open Mondays for twenty-somethings.

-- St. Paul's is at 1609 W. 10th Ave.

-- Online:

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