This month, Joe Hollendoner joined San Francisco AIDS Foundation as its new CEO. This native Chicagoan said he approached the opportunity to lead the nonprofit “cautiously, but optimistically.” A bit daunted by the thought of moving away from family and friends in Chicago, he said what tipped the scale toward San Francisco was the opportunity he would have to help lead the city on its mission to end transmission of HIV.
“I felt like there was something poetic about the fact that San Francisco—where the HIV epidemic first began—could be the first major U.S. city to have no new cases,” he said. “When I got a call to interview for this position, I thought, ‘Sure, it will be a fun trip to San Francisco. I’ll get to enjoy the weather and then I’ll go back to Chicago.’ But after meeting with the board, meeting with staff, and talking with some clients—I was so moved by the message of getting to zero. In Chicago, we aren’t having that conversation. I really did believe, and do believe, that San Francisco will be the first U.S. city to get to no new HIV transmissions. And I had to be a part of that.”
Hollendoner said he is also invigorated by the role he will play in leading a direct-services organization. For the past three years, Hollendoner focused on structural, environmental and systems-level factors that influence health in his role as first deputy commissioner at Chicago Department of Public Health. Prior to that, he led housing, case management, and prevention programming at AIDS Foundation Chicago as senior vice president. Directing the client-based services provided by San Francisco AIDS Foundation will return Hollendoner to where he began his career in HIV prevention.
“My work started out really focusing on young men who have sex with men and doing peer-based interventions,” said Hollendoner. “But my background is pretty diverse in terms of the populations I’ve worked with. It’s ranged from doing needle exchange on the streets to creating Chicago’s first drop-in program for male sex workers.”
At Howard Brown Health Center, Hollendoner was the principal investigator for the first successful adaptation of a federally-funded behavioral intervention for young transgender women of color. He also served LGBTQ and homeless young people for many years as the founding director of the Broadway Youth Center in Chicago.
“I started in HIV [work] when I was about 16 years old,” he said. “And I have been in HIV for more than half my life at this point. I was a young gay man looking for support, on the south side of Chicago, and I found an LGBT drop-in center that was funded with HIV prevention dollars. That was the first time I was part of a community and the first time I had a voice and identity. Once I got exposed to that world, and to the field of HIV and prevention—and saw how it really embodies a lot of social justice issues—I just became incredibly passionate about it.”
Hollendoner recognizes how the LGBT drop-in center’s services changed the trajectory of his life—and says he feels it is his responsibility to create those same opportunities and programs for other young people and adults.
Hollendoner said that he will focus on listening and learning from staff, clients, partner organizations and other stakeholders to fully understand the direction to take the organization.
He will also join AIDS/LifeCycle riders, volunteers and staff on the 545 mile journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the foundation’s largest fundraising event in June. Hollendoner won’t be riding this year, but plans to train for the event and join the following year. He has experience as a cyclist and as an endurance athlete—having completed two triathlons and five marathons with the Team to End AIDS.
“When I trained for the triathlon, what I found to be most difficult—I hate to say—was cycling. I would rather swim for hours than cycle. When I accepted this position, I knew I was going to have to overcome that. AIDS/LifeCycle sounds like such an amazing experience, I can’t help but be excited.”
Hollendoner is already looking forward and thinking about where to focus the foundation’s efforts in the coming years. “Strut is offering this incredible opportunity to engage gay, bi, and trans men and their health and wellness in a whole new way, so I want to innovate off of that,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t want to lose sight of other populations like folks experiencing homelessness or folks who are using substances like injection drugs. What’s really important is that we build off of the great work that’s happening already—but then take direction from the changing landscape and determine where the organization should go next.”
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