“Relationships matter,” the Rev. Jane Spahr once preached. “Relationships matter because relationships are what really change the world.”
In the early 1980s, Spahr helped form a pair of San Rafael-based organizations dedicated to changing the world through building relationships between people in need and the wider community. Whether or not Spahr and the people she inspired actually succeeded in changing the world through such efforts—and many have argued that they certainly did—one thing is quite clear. Those relationships and ideals that were put in place more than 30 years ago have very definitely changed Marin County.
It was at the height of the AIDS crisis, a time when ‘gay pride’ was still a relatively new slogan, and gay people were dying amidst an extraordinary media storm and rising social debate fueled by prejudice, fear and a gap in education.
Having served as assistant pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael from 1975-1979, afterwards serving as executive director of the Oakland Council of Presbyterian Churches, Spahr had recently come out as a lesbian. Though she shortly thereafter resigned from her position, her story ignited a powerful nationwide conversation about gays in the ministry, the power of pride, the meaning of service and Jesus’ message of love and kindness to underserved and outcast communities.
In 1982, Spahr founded San Rafael’s the Ministry of Light, a nonprofit designed to provide needed services and emotional support to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) residents of Marin County. At the same time, she helped found the Marin AIDS Services Network. Today, the Ministry of Light has evolved, adopting the name Spectrum LGBT Center back in the ’90s, and the Marin AIDS Services Network is now the Marin AIDS Project (MAP).
After years of outstanding service to the community, the two organizations that Jane Spahr built are merging to form a stronger relationship as direct partners. Though the names Spectrum and MAP will continue for the time being, both groups are now working as programs offered by San Rafael’s The Spahr Center, envisioned as a kind of one-stop-shop offering a variety of services and programs serving the North Bay LGBTQ community (‘Q’ added to included ‘Queer’ or ‘Questioning’). Those programs include dozens of support groups for adults and teens, their families, health services, HIV testing, needle exchanges and legal and financial assistance.
The Pacific Sun’s David Templeton recently asked Spectrum Services Manager Julie Majdoubi and Marin AIDS Life & Community Relations Manager Andy Fyne to talk about the new merger under the Spahr Center banner, what it will mean for Marin County, the way the world has changed over the last 30 years and what might be changing around us at this very moment.
Pacific Sun: So, what’s happening with Spectrum and MAP? What is the motivation for the merge at this point in time?
Andy Fyne: Both organizations were formed in the ’80s, and though they have remained separate, there has always been close cooperation between us through the decades. Recently, the boards of both organizations decided to merge. One of the main reasons for that was just to be more efficient. We can offer more by working as one organization, and it just seemed logical to name the new organization The Spahr Center, after Janie Spahr, who founded both organizations.
Julie Majdoubi: As individual organizations, we’ve each accomplished a lot with very small staffs. We do it by leveraging what we do with volunteers, and we have good governmental and foundation support and excellent community partners.
Fyne: That gives us the ability to reach out to a lot of people and provide fairly expansive services. We have to be nimble and resourceful, and many of us here do many different things on any given day. We have a very talented and knowledgeable staff. The Spahr Center is unique in Marin County, because it’s the only organization devoted exclusively to promoting the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ people and those living with HIV. Other organizations might serve these groups, but we’re the only organization that solely serves them.
Click ‘Here‘ to read the full interview in the Pacific Sun