On Wednesday November 16, Director of Center Families, George Fesser, LMSW, received a Sol Award (Sun Award) from the Hispanic AIDS Forum. Community members gathered at Battery Gardens in lower Manhattan for the event. The Sol Award acknowledges extraordinary acts of compassion, courage and leadership that, like the sun, spread enlightenment, strength, and sustenance for a healthy life.
The Hispanic AIDS Forum created the Sol Award in 2007 to honor individuals and entities who demonstrate compassion, courage and leadership in our shared struggle to eradicate HIV/AIDS and its root causes from our communities. According to HAF:
The global AIDS epidemic has spread great misfortune among millions of people, showing us the widespread devastation caused by chronic illness. As we fight AIDS and other chronic illnesses, it becomes increasingly clear that in the United States and throughout the world the gift of life often depends on one’s ability to buy healthcare. We, however, at HAF firmly believe that quality healthcare is an indiscriminately universal human right. In our profound appreciation of our partners who both share and practice this belief, we are proud to formally recognize their tireless work in the ongoing, collective endeavor to make the fundamental human right to healthcare a reality.
George Fesser learned early on about dedicating himself to bettering the lives of others. At 19 years old and just out of high school in Miami, George joined the Missionary group “Amor en Accion” and went on missions to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, helping the poorest of the poor. This is also the time when he came to grips with being gay and learned that he was HIV-positive. Being honest and authentic with his fellow missionaries and family members about his status cost him his membership in this Catholic organization, and caused a break between George and his father which continues until today. This was his first stark experience with homophobia and bias against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities and those living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
However, George did not give up. He pursued volunteer work at Miami Children’s Hospital and soon after was hired and worked for a number of years at the adolescent psychiatric ward helping social workers and nurses deal with suicidal teens, 40% of whom were LGBT. Simultaneously, George obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work at Barry University.
In 1998, George moved to New York City to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work. However, a Kaposi Sarcoma diagnoses delayed his plans to begin graduate school; instead he concentrated on beating his cancer and moving forward in his career as a prevention counselor at Streetworks Project, where he worked with homeless teenagers. After one year of chemotherapy, George beat cancer, and began to work for Montefiore Medical Center as a research associate for the New York Academy of Medicine.
In 2002 he began to work at Aid for AIDS International. After this, George was a Prevention Counselor at the Western Queens site of the Hispanic AIDS Forum, where he worked for almost four years. He then moved on to The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, and while working full time as the Coordinator of Substance Abuse Prevention & Immigration Services, completed his Master’s Degree in Social Work at Columbia University, School of Social Work. During his time at the Center George coordinated and provided direct support services to LGBT immigrants from over 50 countries. George also created the Center’s LGBT Immigrant Social Action Group which helps LGBT immigrants learn more about the laws that affect them and how they can use their stories to promote change in a system that does not recognize the unique needs of the LGBT immigrant population.
In his new role as Director of Center Families, George is responsible for organizing education and support services for prospective parents and families in the LGBTQ community, as well as overseeing the groundbreaking LGBTQ Foster Care Project. George is now engaged to JC his partner of 8 years, and they enjoy a great life together with their Terrier, Oxy.
We are proud to have George on our staff and congratulate him on receiving this prestigious award.