“What draws me to The HOPE Fund is the tireless goal to make southeast Michigan a world-class place to work and live if you are LGBTQ+.”
Growing up gay in the ’90s had its challenges, says John Zervos, a member of The HOPE Fund advisory committee at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
As a young person, Zervos felt isolated. He didn’t meet an out person until he was in high school.
“I will always be incredibly grateful to the generations that came before me,” he says. “The journey that many individuals took to overcome barriers and make life better for LGBTQ+ Michiganders is remarkable but often underappreciated.”
Today, Zervos, 36, serves as executive director of The Global Health Initiative at Henry Ford Health System and was named a 2021 Notable Rising Star in Health Care by Crain’s Detroit. He’s a passionate advocate for improving access to health care for young LGBTQ+ Detroiters and supporting the well-being of transgender individuals. He builds on the progress of the generations that came before him as a member of the Ruth Ellis Center board of directors and through his work with The HOPE Fund.
The HOPE Fund was created in 1994 to strengthen organizations and projects that support LGBTQ+ individuals and families, through targeted grantmaking and technical assistance. In the nearly three decades since its inception, generous donors have contributed more than $4 million to support The HOPE Endowment Fund, its grantmaking program, and related efforts such as the Racial Equality Initiative.
We spoke with Zervos recently about his vision for the LGBTQ+ community and The HOPE Fund.
How did you get involved with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan?
I have known for some time about the phenomenal work of The HOPE Fund at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. As I become more involved in supporting initiatives and organizations that impact the lives of vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth in metro Detroit, it becomes even more apparent the need for an organization, like The HOPE Fund, to ensure resources are available. When an opportunity opened to sit on the board (I was recruited by two current members Sabin Blake and Shane Pliska), I felt there was no better use of my time!
Why do you support The HOPE Fund?
Despite the progress made, there are still many challenges for LGBTQ+ Michiganders. Through work and volunteering, I became aware of some of the important issues facing our community today and the organizations that are making a difference. I’m particularly interested in organizations and foundations focused on transgender individuals and transgender people of color. Personally, The HOPE Fund provides me an opportunity to give back and support an organization that is making a difference in this space. Across Michigan, there are organizations fighting to advocate for and support underserved LGBTQ+ folk. The Hope Fund provides critical support to these nonprofits, including capacity building, program support, and leadership development.
What have you learned about philanthropy since you have been on The HOPE Fund Committee?
The biggest lesson I have learned about philanthropy is the role the funder can play beyond immediate monetary support. The HOPE Fund and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan do a terrific job removing the typical power dynamics between the funder and those they fund. The Community Foundation’s staff members are driven and passionate individuals that truly partner with grantees. The HOPE Fund is very much driven by what community organizations are saying is most needed. Nothing highlights this more than the impact made during the pandemic, where The HOPE Fund made grants to support the operations of five key Michigan LGBTQ+ organizations at a time when just keeping the lights on was the priority.
What is an unexpected outcome of your philanthropy?
Seeing the positive impact your work can make is the ultimate expected outcome. However, one that was unexpected is the people you get to meet along the way. I am amazed by the dedication of The HOPE Fund committee. Many of the members have been with the committee for many years, even some since the beginning. Their unwavering dedication through the years is a reminder that change takes time and commitment. It’s been an honor getting to know the committee members.
What is your hope for the future of LGBTQ+ residents in southeast Michigan?
When I moved back to Michigan after living in New York and abroad, I was immediately welcomed by an incredible and vibrant LGBTQ+ community in Detroit. Metro Detroit has made tremendous strides for LGBTQ+ residents thanks to the many individuals, organizations, and funders who have prioritized LGBTQ+ issues. What draws me to The HOPE Fund is the tireless goal to make southeast Michigan a world-class place to work and live if you are LGBTQ+. This is a goal that I share with the organization.