Updated March 26, 2021 - 4:37 pm
It’s a dream come true.
Imagine Dragons frontman and Las Vegas native Dan Reynolds and his wife, Aja Volkman, recently donated Reynolds’ childhood home to nonprofit organization Encircle, which provides safe spaces with various programs and therapy sessions for LGBTQ+ youth and their families.
The story of how it happened?
“This sounds so crazy to say out loud — and I haven’t told anybody this but my wife,” Reynolds begins. “I woke up one morning and I had this dream — I don’t even recall exactly what happened in the dream — but it had my parents’ house in it and it had Encircle involved.
“I had never put two and two together,” he continues. “And I woke up. I was like, ‘Aja, I just had this dream. I don’t recall the details other than it made me think, “What if we got my parents’ home and turned it into the Encircle house we’ve always talked about creating here in Las Vegas?” ’ She immediately was brought to tears, and so was I. We just knew, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is what we have to do.’ ”
With the donation of Reynolds’ house, Encircle will expand for the first time out of its home state of Utah, where it currently operates four homes.
“Our mission is to bring the family and the community together to enable LGBTQ youth to thrive,” explains Stephenie Larsen, CEO and founder of Encircle. “Life’s a lot easier when you have your family’s support, and I think sometimes people get stuck for years trying to mend those relationships or with that desire to have their parents understand them. We also believe that if you live in a community where you feel misunderstood or judged, you either don’t thrive there or you have to leave.”
Some grim numbers underscore Larsen’s point.
According to data from the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ+ youth, members of that community seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth and are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared with their heterosexual peers.
“They have a statistic that’s pretty incredible,” Reynolds says of Encircle. “They’ve served over 70,000 kids, and they haven’t lost one of their kids to suicide, which, if you know the statistics of LGBTQ youth, that is incredibly powerful. It means they’re saving lives. To have that in Vegas is just so important.”
‘Home for so many’
It was a family home that was home to more than just his family.
Dan Reynolds’ parents, Christene and Ronald Reynolds, bought his childhood house when he was 1 year old.
The seventh of nine children, with seven brothers and a sister, Dan Reynolds grew up there.
“That was the home they raised all their kids in,” he says. “It was always a home of love and celebrating all of us for who we were. My parents always practiced that. They didn’t care who you were. They didn’t care where you were from.
“They just loved,” he continues. “There were a lot of kids who stayed at that house growing up who had a hard time at their home. It was like a home away from home for so many people in Las Vegas.”
With all of their children grown up and out of the house, Reynolds’ parents decided to sell their home and move into a smaller house.
It just so happened that they did so around the time that Dan had his dream. He offered to buy the house for $1 million.
“We called my parents and immediately they gave their blessing,” Reynolds says. “It just seemed so serendipitous, like it just happened because it was supposed to happen.”
It began with ‘Believer’
The connection between Reynolds and Encircle dates to his 2018 documentary “Believer,” which chronicles the singer’s journey to LGBTQ+ advocacy as a member of the Mormon church, culminating in the establishment of the annual LoveLoud music festival in Utah, with proceeds benefiting various LGBTQ+ charities.
While making the film, Reynolds stopped by the Encircle house in Provo to spend a day talking to the kids there, which is captured in the movie.
“During the time we were filming ‘Believer,’ we were really looking at who — if anyone — was doing things within the religious community, particularly in Mormonism, to change these statistics that are devastating,” Reynolds says. “The suicide rate for LGBTQ youth, especially in Utah, was so high, and it was just continuing to go up.
“Encircle got brought up to us over and over by anyone who was involved in this space saying, ‘Look what they’re doing over here,’ ” he continues. “The second I walked into that house and saw how much of a safe haven it was and how needed it was, especially in that community, immediately I felt like, ‘Man, I wish there was one of these in every city in the whole world.’ ”
The relationship between Reynolds and Encircle would grow from there: Reynolds is now a member of Encircle’s board of directors, while Larsen sits on LoveLoud’s board.
“I think we have the same vision and the same approach, both organizations, how to bring conservative communities along and help them understand,” Larsen says. “We’re both trying to bring people together.”
It’s a 10-year gap they’re trying to fill with something other than secrecy.
“We know, on average, someone who’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, they realize that by the age of 12,” Larsen says. “Generally, they don’t come out until they’re 22. So, that leaves this decade of time where, what are they hearing in communities like mine and maybe yours about people like themselves? From their aunts, their uncles, their church leaders?
“These kids are pounding down that shame,” she adds. “I think what Encircle’s providing is a space where they can come and, instead of sitting at home in silence, they can start working through that and owning who they are.”
To create a more welcome, familial atmosphere, Encircle operates out of actual homes with such flourishes as an open fridge and a piano to play instead of being based in a more antiseptic environment.
“Inside the house, we’re extremely busy every day. There’s a lot going on,” Larsen says. “We have eight programs each week at each home, and they range from a speaker series to service projects to a music night, art workshops. We have programs for parents, to help educate them and help them become more affirming of their youth.
“And then at the core of everything we do is our LGBTQ therapy for all people, all ages and their families,” she continues. This year we’ll do 6,000 sessions. Every session of therapy is subsidized by Encircle.”
Reynolds and Volkman’s donation to Encircle is part of the organization’s “$8 Million, 8 Houses” capital campaign to fund eight new Encircle homes in four states: Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith also have joined the cause, with Apple pledging $1 million and the Smiths giving $2 million.
Reynolds hopes this is just the start for Encircle.
“These homes aren’t needed just in Utah and Las Vegas; they’re needed all across the United States and outside of the United States,” he says. “I think this is just the beginning.”
Larsen estimates that the Las Vegas home will open in about a year, time for Encircle to complete its fundraising and renovate the house.
When it does open, Reynolds plans to be a hands-on presence there.
It may now have a different owner, but its purpose remains the same: to be a home for those who need one.
“Definitely, I’ll be down there as much as humanly possible,” Reynolds says, “getting to know the kids, performing music, being in the house I was raised in. It just sounds like the most fun place to be.”