Joey Helton understands why people would question how he, as a gay man with a boyfriend, worked for seven years for the Salvation Army, raising millions of dollars for the religious nonprofit that discriminates against LGBT people.
Now working for AID Atlanta since Jan. 2 as development director, Helton, 34, said he is ready to bring his “whole self” to an organization he believes in and he hopes others will not focus on his last job with the Salvation Army.
When Helton talked with Cathy Woolard, interim executive director at AID Atlanta, about working for the Southeast’s largest HIV agency, he said they talked about bringing his “whole self” to work.
“I just feel like at AID Atlanta I can bring my whole self. I can bring my partner with me to events. I never discussed my personal life and especially being in a gay relationship with a man while at the Salvation Army,” he told the GA Voice. “And I knew it was time to make a change.”
“My friends knew and we had conversations [about working for an anti-gay organization], and some of them were very passionate,” Helton said. “I can understand people having questions. But when I raised money for the Salvation Army, I would go out and solicit for people who would be helped.”
Helton said that as a boy in East Tennessee, he was one of those who received assistance from the Salvation Army. He was raised by a single mother who worked full-time and went to school at night full-time to become a nurse. When he was nine and his brother was six, his family received assistance from the Salvation Army, including food donations as well as Christmas gifts.
Helton and his brother also participated in the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs, which offer after-school activities such as sports, field trips, music programs and other enrichment programs.
“I’ve been there. I know first-hand what they do,” Helton said. “We weren’t homeless and were better off than many being helped. But I saw the good [the Salvation Army] did. I would think of those in need when soliciting money. When I would go out I would see myself as a child. I was raising money for people like me.”
Helton and his team secured more than $10 million during his more than seven years working at the Salvation Army through effective major gift solicitations, creative sponsorship opportunities and effective donor cultivation, AID Atlanta stated in a press release announcing Helton’s hiring.
Helton was personally responsible for raising $3.5 million for the organization. While at the Salvation Army, he served as divisional resource development director for the Georgia division and as the regional resource development director of the Kentucky – Tennessee division before moving to Atlanta.
Helton received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Public Health degree from East Tennessee State University.
Woolard would not directly comment on Helton working for the Salvation Army after being asked through AID Atlanta’s PR agency.
“Joey’s resume stood out from the competition,” Woolard said in a written response. “We have big plans for the growth of the organization, and Joey’s experience is critical to reaching that goal.”
While working at the Salvation Army in Georgia, Helton said he participated in several AIDS Walk Atlanta events and also made donations to AID Atlanta.
But Helton said he never talked about his personal life while he worked with the Salvation Army. He said it was like living in two separate worlds ― the professional and then the private. Now, at AID Atlanta, he said he can combine both.
“Now I can think of those in need while working for AID Atlanta. Those who don’t have access to health insurance. I mean, thank goodness we have AID Atlanta because I believe every life deserves hope,” he said.
“I can apply the same passion and work ethic to AID Atlanta. I want to help my community. Not just the gay community, but the entire community. Let’s not forget the underlying reason why I am here. This is not about me. It’s about the people AID Atlanta serves and continuing to have the funds to do so,” Helton said.