LGBT Center of Greater Reading opens Wellness Center

LGBT Center of Greater Reading logo

On Jan. 9, the LGBT Center of Greater Reading in Berks County celebrated the grand opening of their LGBTQ+ Wellness Center. According to the Center’s CEO, Michelle Dech, the event was a rousing success.

“It was gratifying seeing such an overwhelming show of support from our local community,” Dech said. 

Members of that community included residents; federal, state and local government officials; and representatives of many local businesses. Dech admitted that by the end of the evening, she was “exhausted,” but she slept happily that night.

The origins of the Wellness Center goes back several years, to pre-COVID times. Dech held discussions back then with the Center’s board, which supported the idea. However, shortly after those discussions, the COVID lockdown put all such plans on hold for the duration.

About six months ago, Dech decided it was time to move on the idea. In the meantime, the Center had acquired additional space that could be used for the Wellness Center, as well as other programs. Dech and her colleagues determined the services the community was in need of and came up with a plan to determine the services the Wellness Center could provide — and, importantly, what it could afford.

Since initial funding for the Wellness Center has been minimal, Dech and her team had to devise a strategy that would enable them to circumvent the obstacle of having little or no money with which to hire providers. They devised a plan to offer service providers space rent-free, while negotiating arrangements with providers for a certain number of hours per month, either on a volunteer basis, for a deep discount, or through some other arrangement.

While still in its early days, the Wellness Center has already managed to line up a variety of healthcare services for its community. These include counseling and resource advice to persons living with HIV from AIDS Care Group; HIV screenings from Co-County Wellness Services; chiropractic and massage therapy services from Dr. Super’s House of Health; plus a holistic meditation program.

Dech says that she is in the midst of discussions and negotiations with other local providers and agencies that will greatly expand the range of services offered by the Wellness Center in the near future.

“I’m confident we’ll be able to provide a program of robust offerings in the future,” said Dech.

Despite the services to be provided being on a volunteer or discounted basis, there are certain legally-mandated protocols that all healthcare providers must follow to ensure patients are given quality care. As such, Dr. K. Ashley Brandt is serving as the Center’s clinical director. Her primary focus will be to oversee the services, ensuring that the various healthcare providers are properly following the necessary protocols.

Dech says that she and her colleagues are deep in the process of sending out grant proposals to lock down funding for the Wellness Center. She can foresee the Center reaching a point where they will find it necessary to hire staff, such as a nurse practitioner.

Dech admits that we are in an era where funding for LGBTQ-specific programs — particularly on a federal level — is problematic at best. She cites the issue of last year, where House Republicans in Washington zeroed out funds earmarked for programs at several LGBTQ community centers, including the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia, and their own LGBT Center of Greater Reading.

Despite these setbacks, Dech remains optimistic. She is encouraged by positive responses from a number of local funders, citing the example of the Wawa Foundation — which provided a modest grant to purchase needed equipment — and, of course, the impressive turnout in support of the Wellness Center’s grand opening.

“We can only trust the community will support our efforts,” Dech said.

The LGBT Center of Greater Reading is located at 640 Centre Ave., Reading, PA. For more information, visit or call 484-513-3170.

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