CARBONDALE — With a slew of expanded outreach coming in 2023, the Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Community Center plans to have its new 3,000-square foot headquarters open to the public by March.

The nonprofit is leasing a downtown space across the street from the Carbondale Town Square, and more than a dozen volunteers showed up Saturday to start on renovations.

The new space at 118 N. Illinois Ave., will be the focal point for Rainbow Cafe’s many youth, adult, family and parent outreach groups. It will hold office space for staff and provides even more space for things like HIV testing and case management for grant programs.  Soon, plans are to build a stage for drag shows and other live events. Parking is ample on the street, behind the building, and throughout the downtown area.

“It’s amazing to be able to do all that kind of stuff, and have it be downtown and open to the community,” says Carrie Vine, executive director. “This is going to be a work in progress. We’re very excited.”

Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center leadership team

Rainbow Cafe leaders and members, from L to R: HIV Prevention and Testing Coordinator Carlos Perez, Youth Programming Coordinator Benito Goff, Youth Programming Assistant D’Tre’veouz Graham, Executive Director Carrie Vine, and Community Health Workers Cy Chamberlain and Alex Socorro.

Rainbow Cafe provides programming for LGBTQ+ youth, families and adults that includes support groups, social opportunities and advocacy throughout 20 southern Illinois counties. It also provides AIDS/HIV testing, community health improvement, harm reduction outreach, and COVID vaccine advocacy; and collaborates with numerous local agencies and Illinois higher education institutions on related initiatives.

RC was founded in 2000 and currently operates out of an office at 1320 Giant City Rd. The group will move into its now home, formerly the Carbondale Trophy Co., after renovations that include new flooring, a new bathroom, installing a kitchen and building a stage, Vine says.

Being located across the street from the Town Square Pavilion is also a great fit, she says. Already, Rainbow Cafe holds several annual events in the grassy town square, including its annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. With its headquarters right across the street, Rainbow Cafe will be able to hold some of its events outdoors with staff and volunteers able to properly monitor them. Vine says ensuring that kind of oversight is especially important because Rainbow Cafe works frequently with youth.

Saturday’s first workday helped get the new project off to a faster-than-expected start, Vine said in a Facebook post afterwards. “We cannot give enough love and appreciation to the volunteers who helped us get more done than we anticipated. Our new space is looking so good!”

Volunteers tackle floor replacement at the new headquarters for Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center.

Volunteers tackle floor replacement at the new headquarters for Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center.

While work continues on the new space, Rainbow Cafe continues to hold its youth programming at its current office while also holding simultaneous parent and family outreaches at area groups and businesses. For example, the upcoming Unconditional Parent and Family Group will begin meeting at Gaia House Interfaith Center, 913 S. Illinois Ave., Feb. 3 on the same night that Rainbow Cafe hosts its weekly Friday Night Youth Drop-in. Vine said Rainbow Cafe will continue to aim for parent and family gatherings that coincide with youth gatherings, so that those traveling from more distant parts of RC’s service area will find activities for the entire family regardless of age.

Watch Rainbow Cafe’s Facebook page for more information on upcoming work days. Meanwhile, other upcoming events for Rainbow Cafe include the new Wellness Wednesdays Jan. 18 and every Wednesday featuring outreach about how to improve your health and quality of life at the Center for Empowerment and JusticeTrivia Night Jan. 21; and a Queer Takeover bowling event Jan. 22. For more southern Illinois events including supports groups, go to The Real Mainstream’s Southern Illinois Events Calendar.

(cover photos courtesy of Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center. You can also learn more about Rainbow Cafe in the January 2023 print edition of The Real Mainstream, available at Rainbow Cafe’s current headquarters, the Center for Empowerment and Justice, and increasing locations throughout southern Illinois. You can also order the print edition for home delivery here.)