Tallying over 13 years of nationally recognized, award-winning community service with a post-college career currently serving it's third executive-level position to date, walking two really big dogs and manicuring a fully grown, red beard on the cusp of 31, Joe Hollendoner still doesn't appear to have aged a day in over ten years. Chicago AIDS Foundation's newly appointed senior vice president looks much the same now as he did at 19, when the college undergrad and community advocating ingénue spent a semester sliding PSA/resource pamphlets into the occupied stalls of UIC's public bathrooms. Incidentally, days of late regularly find Hollendoner in a guileless, wide-eyed wonder akin to said innocent age of discovery and endeavor. However, it's not from any lack or loss of experiential background, intelligence or senior-level skills. It's just more so because—for the first time in 11 years—he doesn't know where the copy paper is.
The circumstances which have ultimately left Hollendoner desperately seeking Xerox amongst the cluttered shelves of a Downtown office supply closet are those of a full-circle experience. It begins 15 years ago, in his working-class hometown of Aslip, Ill. There and then, the youngest Hollendoner first started exploring the sexually expressive sides of his pining gay pubescence while enrolled in an all-boy Catholic High School. He refers to that period today as his life's "most homoerotic-gay/ungay experience." He defines the gay/ungay concept as the level of sexuality frustrating tension the environment assumes due to a lack of girls for which the teenaged student body of hormonal boys could focus their phallic thoughts. According to Hollendoner, the intensity of the situation often resulted in the "guys feeding on each other."
All things gay/ungay considered, Hollendoner's foresight recognized that his high school's underground guys-getting-off-other-guys scene wouldn't deliver him to the place of fulfilled self-awareness and understanding for which he hoped to arrive, and—unlike other youth his age at the time—he had courage and resources to explore beyond the restrictive boundaries of his hometown and soon landed at LGBT drop-in center of Aunt Martha's Youth Service Center
. There, he found what he was looking for and something that he's come to value much more as well.
"This was the first time I understood what community was," Hollendoner says of the resources and peer group he obtained at Aunt Martha's. "The HIV community was there for me during an important time in my development, which is why I feel so indebted to the HIV community."
At 17, Hollendoner resigned from the fish deli where had had worked part time to accept his first job in social service at Aunt Martha's. The position was funded by Chicago AIDS Foundation.
Fast forward to his college years: Hollendoner majored in social service at the University of Illinois. However, it wasn't long after classes began when he recognized a disenfranchised group in need of outreach. As though bringing his Aunt Martha job out of the South Suburbs and onto the city campus of his own recognizance, with no affiliation or support from any other campus organization, he appealed to university leaders and convinced them of the need to launch "Condom Sense."
"There was public sex clearly going on in the lecture halls," Hollendoner says, explaining the need for "Condom Sense." "These were likely closeted folks, disconnected from the queer community. They didn't need to be criminalized; they needed prevention resources and condoms."
Receiving the OK from university directors, Hollendoner took the reins of "Condom Sense," and boldly entered the campus bathrooms known for public sex and stuffed his outreach under and over the stalls, and in the door hinges and glory holes of anyone who might be doing it. His example inspired and educated other student leaders; on occasion, the president of the LGBT student union, the student liaison for the Chancellor's LGBT status committee and members of the undergraduate student government would follow Hollendoner into the bathroom's brink, where he would show them how shitty outreach can get at times.
While still attending college in 2001, Howard Brown Health Center
hired Hollendoner to oversee the Youth HIV Prevention Program; The same year he is honored as one the Windy City Times
annual 30 under 30, Hollendoner is named the Founding Director of the Broadway Youth Center
which today serves and supports over 5000 LGBT/at-risk youth every year; Hollendoner is promoted to V.P. and Chief Program Officer of Howard Brown in 2010 prior to his receiving the year's Community Health Leaders Award by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, "recognizing those who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities."
Late 2011, Hollendoner makes the realization that he's spent a third of his life working at Howard Brown Health Center
and comments, "that's crazy to think about." He speaks romantically of Howard Brown, its resiliency, it's attraction to him as a service provider and of how hard the decision was for him to leave. However, an opportunity presented itself at Chicago AIDS Foundation, he was hard-pressed to ignore, having wanted to work for the local AIDS service and support agency since they funded his job at Aunt Martha's. A position at AFC would render Hollendoner's career goals achieved at 30, all of which full circle.
Joe Hollendoner officially became a member of AFC staff in February 2012. As AFC's senior vice president, Hollendoner will oversee all programs, manage leaders and develop resources and skills—as soon as he figures out where they keep the copy paper.
"And that's crazy to think about too," he laughs. "I haven't to look for a pencil or a post it in 11 years!"
When not at work, Hollendoner lives in Roger's Park, and is the proud co-parent of two dogs he refers to as "the love of [his] life," following the 11 years prior when "work was the love of [his] life." Hollendoner says that being single is something of a "perfect template" for him but nonetheless hopes that may be one day be able to "create space for someone." Until then, he just likes to cuddle.