The Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th Opens its Doors

SAAF opens a safe space for Southern Arizona's LGBTQ youth

The Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th. Photos courtesy of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation.

By Megan Wadding, May 2018 Web Exclusive.

In January, the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF) announced its newest project: A center to house the nonprofit’s LGBTQ youth-centered prevention programs, including Eon, HIV Youth Peer Education (HYPE), and Arizona’s Life Links for Youth (Project ALLY).

As a result, the ribbon cutting of The Thornhill Lopez Center, a 5,500 square-foot youth center in the heart of Tucson’s Fourth Avenue District, took place Jan. 18.

This project is the most-recent initiative being funded through a $1.8 million capital campaign which began in March 2016 and has raised more than $1.5 million, to date.

Curtis Thornhill, a Tucson native who now calls Salt Lake City “home,” has provided the lead gift for the campaign and has challenged SAAF to raise an additional $300,000 by the end of March 2017.

“I was born in Tucson and grew up in southern Arizona,” Thornhill stated. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support of amazing mentors who have guided and challenged me to reach my full potential. The Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th is an opportunity to equip a new generation with the same gifts.”

The Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th will provide a safe space as well as skills-building, advocacy and culturally competent care to LGBTQ youth and their allies ages 13 to 26.

“Since taking over many initiatives from Wingspan, southern Arizona’s LGBTQ community center for more than a quarter century, two and a half years ago, we here at SAAF have searched for the right way to re-launch LGBTQ programming in Tucson in a sustainable way that was directly responsive to community needs and immediately addressed gaps in services” said Wendell Hicks, SAAF executive director, in a press release. “The Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th will do just that. We are so fortunate for the support of Mr. Thornhill as well as the nearly 100 other donors to the campaign, so far.

Michael Lopez, associate director of LGBTQ prevention services.

The Center will be open Monday through Friday, after school from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and every third Saturday of the month. To oversee operations, SAAF has hired Michael Lopez as the associate director of LGBTQ prevention services.

“In his new role, Michael will serve as a liaison for LGBTQ community groups and will also oversee SAAF’s LGBTQ youth prevention programs,” according to a SAAF press release. “We are grateful to SAAF’s board of directors, who approved the allocation of funds two years ago to begin implementing LGBTQ initiatives in our community with a development focus. Through the creation of the new … role, we are excited to now direct our efforts on the expansion of LGBTQ programs at the Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th.”



Following the center’s grand opening, Echo caught up with Adam Ragan, SAAF’s associate director of LGBTQ initiatives, to find out more about Tucson’s new safe space.

Echo: How did the idea for a center come about? Is it meant to replace Wingspan’s old center?

Ragan: When SAAF acquired the Wingspan name and two of its existing programs, the Anti-Violence Project and Eon, we undertook a community-needs analysis to discover what the community needed from these programs and what they’d support. The idea came about in listening to the community’s needs and desires for SAAF’s LGBTQ youth programming.

Echo: What did the community-needs analysis find?

Ragan: Through focus groups and information sessions, SAAF heard over and over that youth were the priority of our community. The community wanted youth to have a physical safe space that they could call their own. They wanted to support it and make sure that we owned the building. Knowing this, we undertook the work to locate a space that fit the bill.

Echo: What were the first steps to making this happen? What all does it entail?

Ragan: The first step is always to listen to the community. Not just hear what they say, but actively engage in the conversation. When you center the community’s needs in your work, you not only have their support, but you have programming that can transform lives. Undertaking a massive capital campaign is a big step for a non-profit. SAAF’s fiscal reputation is such that we had early support for the Center. Opening a youth center takes working with our friends, new and old, to not only secure financial support, but in making sure the youth have a space they’ll use. So, in a nutshell, you have to build trust on a foundation you’ve long established. Our Executive Director, Wendell Hicks, worked tirelessly with our board of directors and community leaders. Our programs staff worked with youth to make sure the space would center youth.

Echo: Who all was involved in this undertaking?

Ragan: We’ve been so fortunate to live in a community that trusts us and supports this work. Our donors, our friends, our elected officials and community leaders. Our youth. The Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th is the embodiment of a community center in that our entire community has been involved.

Echo: What would the community be interested in knowing about the new center? What is the building like?

Ragan: The Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th is a 5,500 square-foot youth center in the heart of Tucson’s Fourth Avenue District. 4th Avenue has been called the heartbeat of Tucson and we’re excited to be located there. The building is an historic site dating to 1925. Working with Poster, Frost and Mirto architects and A5 Design and Construction, we renovated the space to meet the needs of a commercial space that also feels warm and welcoming. Located on streetcar and bus access, it’s also a short walk from Downtown and the University of Arizona.

Echo: Can you explain how the Center got its name, Thornhill Lopez?

Ragan: TLC4, as we’ve taken to calling it, came about as a name through our meeting Curtis Thornhill. Curtis is a businessman and a philanthropist with roots in southern Arizona. His hope in naming the center —he’s the Thornhill; the Lopez is in honor of his maternal Grandparents— is that youth have a space to move from a place of endurance to a place they can thrive.

Echo:  What sorts of support and services will the Center provide?

Ragan: The flagship program at TLC4 is Eon, a SAAF space for LGBTQ youth. We’ve got staff to help youth, including art programming, educational opportunities and career help.

Echo: Why do you believe that our community, specifically our youth,  needs a place like this?

Ragan: Because our youth matter. Because too often LGBTQ youth experience stigma that we can prevent by giving them a space to grow, be safe and lead. Because our community as a whole does better when we protect and mentor our youth.

Connect with The Thornhill Lopez Center on 4th



Address: 526 N. Fourth Ave., in Tucson