The largest LGBTQ youth organization in the state is coming to Wasatch and Summit counties.

Encircle is opening its newest and fourth location in Utah, at 81 E. Center Street in Heber City. The grand opening Saturday featured a handful of speakers, food, carnival rides and tours of the facility.

Like the nonprofit's other locations, the Encircle Heber Home will offer therapy, support groups and other programming for LGBTQ youth, students and families. Encircle hopes the location will fill a gap in safe spaces for LGBTQ youth in Summit and Wasatch counties, as an average of 6-10% of all Encircle guests come from Wasatch County, and 2-5% from Summit County, according to the nonprofit. Encircle is also in Provo, Salt Lake City and St. George.

When deciding on a new location, the group looks at what resources are and aren't available to LGBTQ youth and their families, according to Jordan Sgro, executive director. Feedback so far from the community has been nothing but excitement, she said.

"We generally try to go to conservative communities. We find that those communities have very few resources available," Sgro said. "Heber is one of those where there's an amazing LGBTQ youth and family population there, and there really was not a singular gathering space or community center there specifically for LGBTQ youth and families."

The Heber location is a historic building that Sgro said is an "iconic building in the Heber community."

It was built in 1892 by Abram Hatch, who served as probable judge in Wasatch County, and as a member of the Utah Territorial Legislature. The purchase of the home was made possible by a mixture of small donations from the surrounding community and larger corporate sponsors.

Encircle Executive Director Jordan Sgro gives a tour of the newly opened Encircle House in Heber City  on Thursday.
Encircle Executive Director Jordan Sgro gives a tour of the newly opened Encircle House in Heber City on Thursday. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

"We really wanted to do justice to this home for the community. We know that the community loves this building," Sgro said. "So we wanted to do right by that and keep the character of the home while also updating it and renovating it to make it a very welcoming, warm space for youth and families."

The location will be dedicated in memory of Collin Russell, who died in December 2018. Russell's sister and brother-in-law, Emma and Isaac Westwood, purchased the naming rights to honor him.

"He was a gay man and, I think, really struggled with his identity and the dynamics of family and religion, and just trying to find his place in the world," Sgro said. "When his sister Emma and her husband, Isaac, took a tour of Encircle, they saw the youth just really experiencing joy in the space and felt like this is something they wish that Collin and their family would have had."

Emma Westwood said the family is proud to have Encircle Heber dedicated in honor of her brother, and looks forward to seeing all the good it will do.

"Collin was a bright light in our lives and to all who knew him," she said in a statement. "His spirit was infectious and will continue to inspire all who come to Encircle's Heber location. Encircle and its services are so valuable for LGBTQ+ youth and their families, and this home will be a lifesaving resource for the community."

Artwork is seen at the newly opened Encircle House in Heber City  on Thursday.
Artwork is seen at the newly opened Encircle House in Heber City on Thursday. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

LGBTQ youth in Utah face a high suicide risk, with 2022 data from The Trevor Project finding that half of LGBTQ+ youth in Utah had seriously considered suicide in the past year. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10-17 and the second-leading cause for ages 18-44.

Encircle hopes the Heber home will help save LGBTQ lives in Summit and Wasatch counties.

"Encircle is preventative. We want to get into these youth and families' lives as a resource before families fall apart, before youth are experiencing loneliness and depression and rejection and are thinking about suicide. We don't ever want it to get to that point," Sgro said. "We want Encircle to be a space where people feel safe, included, like they matter and like they're worth it and that we want them here alive with us."

More information about Encircle and its services is available at encircletogether.org.