Community Activist Honored for Creating Programs to Assist LGBT Youth in Chicago; Thousands Served Each Year
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to Present Joe Hollendoner, M.S.W., With a 2010 Community Health Leaders Award
August 12, 2010
As he listened to homophobic comments in his Chicago neighborhood and at his all-male school, Joe Hollendoner had a secret. A gay teen, Hollendoner was feeling increasingly isolated and depressed. Then, at the age of 16, he attended a support group session at Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center, a social service agency that offers a range of services to youth, including health care counseling. “Without Aunt Martha’s, and without being connected to the HIV prevention community at a very early age, I am certain my life would have ended up very differently,” said Hollendoner.
Within a few months, Hollendoner went from client at Aunt Martha’s to volunteer to full-time staff person and activist. He became the coordinator of a program to provide culturally affirming health services and education to young gay and bisexual youth. Later, at age 20, and while still in college, Hollendoner was hired by Howard Brown Health Center, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization in the Midwest, to create a “one-stop model of care,” where the health needs of LGBT youth could be addressed. Hollendoner became founding director of the Broadway Youth Center, a program of Howard Brown Health Center and its community partners.
Today, the Broadway Youth Center serves more than 5,000 LGBT and other at-risk youth each year, providing free-of-charge HIV testing and counseling, support for LGBT homeless youth and job training.
For his commitment and service to LGBT youth, Hollendoner has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award, which honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Hollendoner will receive the award during a ceremony at the Foundation in Princeton, N.J., on August 12.
“By the time young people come through our door, they may have experienced a large degree of trauma, including violence—physical, verbal, sexual—or being kicked out of their homes,” said Hollendoner. “What we really appreciate and understand is young people’s resilience, and we practice mutual respect.” Hollendoner likens the Broadway Youth Center’s approach to being “on a road trip.”
“They are in the driver’s seat, and we are alongside with a map and some toll money,” he said. “We need to get them from point A to point B, but we’re going to stop at places along the way.”
Community Health Leaders National Program Director Janice Ford Griffin said “Joe Hollendoner’s courage and commitment to assuring quality comprehensive services in a safe and constructive environment has made a positive impact on the youth and on the entire neighborhood. Joe has an unparalleled vision, energy and drive to help the LGBT community, especially LGBT youth. His holistic approach and philosophy of mutual respect have helped young people overcome tremendous obstacles to lead happy and productive lives.”
Hollendoner is particularly proud of the success of the Broadway Youth Center’s HIV testing program, which trains young people to test their peers. “We conduct about 2,000 HIV tests each year with young people testing other young people. It’s not some cold, clinical environment. The testers are people you can identify with, so you can feel comfortable opening up about your risks,” said Hollendoner. “As soon as someone is diagnosed, one of our case managers meets immediately with the diagnosed client and test counselor to bridge the gap and transition the person into care.”
The greatest challenge, says Hollendoner, who was recently named Howard Brown Health Center’s chief program officer, is the growing epidemic of homelessness among youth, with LGBT young people making up about 40 percent of that population: “In Chicago, we have more than 1,000 homeless youth each night and fewer than 50 youth-specific shelter beds.” His solution includes more resources for prevention and more parental involvement. “We need to help parents understand what it means to support their LGBT child. We expect parents to be involved in teen pregnancy prevention, but parental involvement is not part of the routine for HIV prevention,” he said. In his new role at the Howard Brown Health Center, Hollendoner will be looking to create policies and programs that address these issues more broadly.
Michael Cook, former president and chief executive officer of Howard Brown Health Center, said Hollendoner inspires confidence among a wide array of supporters. “Joe is one of those rare professionals who has the ability to inspire all the stakeholders involved in a cause —those who fund his programs, those with whom he works and, most importantly, those whom he serves. He is as comfortable advocating in the boardroom as he is giving guidance on the street to a homeless youth in need of care,” Cook said.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has honored more than 180 Community Health Leaders since 1993. The work of the nine other 2010 recipients includes specialized care for dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferers in Darwin, Minn.; a worker-owned collaborative that provides healthy food to a disenfranchised community in Oakland, Calif.; medical care for women who are homeless in the Boston; a health promotion program for Hispanics in Central Florida; a disease management program for women living with HIV/AIDS in New York City; services for brain injury patients in Southwest Virginia; medical care and transition assistance for former prison inmates in San Francisco; oral health care for homeless people in Phoenix; and a community clinic for low-income and uninsured patients in Albuquerque, N.M.
Nominations can be submitted though late October for the 2011 Community Health Leaders Award. For details on how to submit a nomination, including eligibility requirements and selection criteria, visit www.communityhealthleaders.org.
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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established the Community Health Leaders Award to recognize individuals who overcome daunting obstacles to improve health and health care in their communities. Today, there are 183 outstanding Community Health Leaders from nearly all states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. For more information, visit www.communityhealthleaders.org.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.