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AIDS Researcher Volunteers at Center on Halsted, Shares Time and Talents

Mark Enselman, special events organizer at the Center on Halsted

Mark Enselman, special events organizer at the Center on Halsted, says his volunteer position gives him “the feeling of being a professional in the big kid world.”

Enselman, 24, is a senior volunteer at the center, which describes itself as “the Midwest’s most comprehensive community center dedicated to building and strengthening the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.” The center is in the Boystown neighborhood, which is the first officially recognized gay village in the United States.

Enselman is involved in the special events department and helps coordinate fundraisers for the center.

He moved to Chicago in June 2010 from Omaha, his hometown. He has a sense of humor about his motives for coming to Chicago. “I moved to Chicago, A: to get out of Nebraska, but also to find a bigger city that has more opportunities and gives me a better chance of getting further in life,…and to achieve the things that aren’t necessarily achievable by staying at home and doing the normal farm work,” he said in a recent interview.

Enselman said he has known he was gay since late childhood. Coming from a more isolated, less gay-friendly environment is what motivates him most to volunteer at the center, he added.

“Growing up, I never had the opportunity to be in a community as diverse as we are now,” he said. He added that he didn’t even know there was a community center for gay people until moving to Chicago and learning of the center while at the city’s annual gay pride parade in June. He was surprised that such a support system even existed.

“The lack of support has grown me into a specific individual, which I’m proud of,” he said. “But if I had had the support that the center offers, I believe I would be completely more comfortable with who I am and the way I interact with society.”

Enselman’s mother is a physician, which prompted him to want to help people at an early age and stirred his interest in science and medicine. He attended Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., where he got a bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in chemistry and Spanish.

He works at Abbott Laboratories, an international pharmaceutical and health care products company in the northern suburbs. His job involves working with clinical trials performed on drugs in development, making sure Abbott is following Food and Drug Administration regulations, and ensuring that trials are coming along as they should.

Enselman said he wants to attend medical school and is applying to grad schools around the country. He is also applying to be on the center’s junior board of directors. While it is also not a paid position, the move shows his drive to get further in life.

“I basically self-promoted myself,” Enselman said of how he got to be a senior volunteer. He is good friends with Jacob Kosior, director of volunteer services and special events, who saw something special in Enselman from the beginning.

“It’s how easy-going he is,” says Kosior of Enselman’s success at the center. Kosior met Enselman in December 2010 at the center’s annual holiday event.

“The whole thing was a logistical nightmare,” Kosior said. The Center on Halsted Holiday Party, where the center invites all local business owners and sponsors to interact and enjoy drinks, was very busy that year. Enselman was on coat check duty and there were so many coats that the coat rack broke and he had to bring out a cart.

“People were getting annoyed by the situation, but Mark was able to joke with them and make everyone more relaxed,” Kosior said. “He’s not only personal, but professional.”

People who use the center as a resource have the same opinion. Mikey Mullen, a friend of Enselman’s and a user of the center’s services, agreed that Enselmen’s people skills are what make him stand out. “Mark is a very approachable guy with a big personality and a big heart,” he said.

Enselman is particularly interested in working with HIV/AIDS research and prevention. He does it on both fronts: At his job at Abbott Labs, he is working with clinical trials in development for HIV vaccines and HIV/AIDS antiviral medicines, and at the center, he works with health screening and testing. The center provides psychological help for those affected by the disease.

Enselman said he is exited about the recent $1.6 million HIV prevention grant the center received in November 2011 from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

“It’s beyond belief,” he said. “It speaks to the record of what the center stands for and how it’s helping the community of Chicago as whole.”

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