It dawns on Seth Compton he had never been away for longer than 24 hours from the safe space he and his team have created at OUTLoud until this week.
He admits the team sent by Giant Tiger to renovate and remodel OUTLoud's headquarters had to take his keys away to keep the entire makeover of the former Summit Room at the Voyager Inn in North Bay a secret.
"His kids," as Compton, OUTLoud's executive director refers to them, arrive in droves to share in the unveiling. Emotions run the gamut from amazement to shock to happiness.
Although there are also many tears shed by supporters of OUTLoud, Wednesday, all were tears of joy over the success and growth in just a couple of short years of Compton's vision of an inclusive place for kids to visit and always know they have a place to call home.
"This is what I've been dreaming about for two years, everything in here is the way I see it in my head," says Compton. "This was not something that I could afford on my own — we've built OUTLoud based on donations and items being donated to the space — to have it come together like this is a dream."
National retailer Giant Tiger learned of OUTLoud's story through the owners of their two local outlets. The relationship started with the North Bay stores donating proceeds from the sale of Pride merchandise and evolved into the local owners advocating for the company to help make Compton's OUTLoud vision a reality.
Lakeshore Giant Tiger owner Sean Wilson says, "Seth has an incredible passion for the community and these children."
Compton says he owes a debt of gratitude to the owners of both the Lakeshore and Algonquin Giant Tiger locations and the company as a whole for not only their contributions to OUTLoud but for their commitment to inclusivity in their hiring and business practices.
Alison Scarlett of Giant Tiger's public relations team says "giving back and making a difference in the communities we call home is quite simply who we are. We pride ourselves in partnering with our local stores on initiatives that are going to make a tangible and lasting impact in those communities."
Taryn Reilly is the team lead for Giant Tiger's employee resource group and says she got involved with the project because OUTLoud provides a safe space for youth. "Obviously, 2SLGBTQIA+ is really important here and we want to support the youth and all of their allies. It's very important."
Giant Tiger brought the project to Canadian designer, writer, and television host Steven Sabados who quickly got on board and shaped Compton's ideas into fun and practical design features seen in the revamped space, including a spacious gaming area, plenty of adaptable seating and workspace, and a quiet area decked out with comfortable couches and piles of books to read.
All told, Giant Tiger contributed approximately $50,000 to the new look of OUTLoud.
Compton says many of the design ideas come from the way he sees his kids use the space daily. The indoor skateboard room has proven so popular that OUTLoud is exploring fundraising and developing a separate indoor skate park to handle the demand.
The reach of OUTLoud is bringing more young people from all walks of life together.
"When I started OUTLoud it was to be that extra support in northern Ontario for LGBTQ youth. With Covid, I quickly realized that every kid needed a space to be," Compton says.
See also: OUTLoud North Bay deemed essential
OUTLoud counts 300 youth as members and Compton says they are seeing an average of 80 kids aged 6–19 per day. A team led by Compton with 17 high school-aged members offers peer-to-peer support for the group and some of a donation of $15,000 from Giant Tiger will go toward professional training to help "fill the gaps in mental health services in northern Ontario."
Compton confirms he is getting calls to set up similar safe spaces for youth in various locales. "That's a long-term vision, not something that's going to happen overnight. I want to make sure my kids are taken care of here first."