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In 1976 in Denver, a small group of dedicated activists launched the organization that is now known as the GLBT Community Center of Colorado — most widely encountered today as the organizer of Denver’s annual PrideFest, plus many other ongoing programs and activities throughout the year. The organization began as, in the words on the “History” page of the Center’s website, “an outgrowth of the Gay Coalition that formed in 1973 in response to police harassment of gay men.”

More from that story:

In the beginning, The Center’s main service was to help people come out. They dropped in — often after walking by the building a dozen times to build up the courage. They read books in the library. They volunteered. They started new activities. The Center ran 12 hours a day, six days a week on “coming-out energy.” Donors arrived with cash in hand, fearing to write “gay” on a check.

Phil Nash first served The Center as a volunteer in 1976 and became its first salaried coordinator from 1977 to 1980. The Center’s budget for 1978 was about $15,000, and Phil Nash — the only paid staffer — made $682.50 a month, plus an allowance for health insurance.

So there you have it: just one example of how one of our most prominent local organizations came to be  with the generosity of the community. If you have any relationship with any of our LGBT nonprofits — which are in many ways the heart and spirit of our community as a whole — our traditions we celebrate and resources we count on owe their existence to low-paid employees who could have easily gotten bigger paychecks elsewhere, and volunteers working completely for free.

Even today, volunteerism and philanthropy is the fuel that keeps it all going. From our small-team athletic groups and LGBT social clubs to our big-name charities and organizations, all rely on people who sacrificed sweat and grit over countless hours for little or no compensation, or businesses and donors who dug into their pockets to pitch in, expecting to tangible return. It turns our “economics 101” lessons from high school on their head.

Why do so many people do so much, in the LGBT community in particular? I think that for many — from the bold activists advocating under-recognized concerns to the friendly receptionists directing steady streams of phone calls — the payoff comes in the currency of acceptance. Volunteering, and giving, is a way for LGBT people to engage in a place they feel they belong, and sometimes that’s hard to find. It brings a purpose, a connection to peers who understand their lives, a way to show appreciation for those they love but who we don’t see getting enough love from the rest of the world. It’s a way to heal their own wounds, making sure the next generation doesn’t face the same challenges. And, in the spirit of those who launched the first LGBT organizations in the first place, volunteering is a way to advance issues that aren’t yet connected to funds. It’s a good-faith investment in something they hope will come.

Finally, I think it’s a sense of responsibility: some things just need to get done, some things just ought to be created for the benefit of ourselves and others, and the best of us ask themselves: if  I don’t do it, who will?

We see this as a long-overdue topic for a cover story — honoring one of the most important components of our community. What better time than the holiday season to highlight this spirit of generosity?

So amidst all the chaos and gift-giving this year, amidst all the extra work hours or shopping and travel plans, please take a moment with us to think about those who volunteer, support and give back — they truly deserve our wholehearted thanks.