When he heard homophobic comments in his Chicago neighborhood and at his all-male school, Joe Hollendoner privately bristled. A gay teen who had kept his sexual orientation to himself, 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,” Hollendoner said.
Within a few months, Hollendoner went from client at Aunt Martha’s to a volunteer to a 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” to address the health needs of LGBT youth. 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. Many clients have experienced trauma, including physical, verbal or sexual violence. Others have been kicked out of their homes and are homeless.
Hollendoner likens the Broadway Youth Center’s model of compassion and understanding to 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.”
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.
Now chief program officer at Howard Brown Health Center, Hollendoner is looking to create policies and programs that address prevention and parental involvement. “We need to help parents understand what it means to support their LGBT child,” he said. “We expect parents to be involved in teen pregnancy prevention, but parental involvement is not part of the routine for HIV prevention.”
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,” Cook said. “He is as comfortable advocating in the boardroom as he is giving guidance on the street to a homeless youth in need of care.”