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Fred Klingenhagen
Winter Park, Florida
 


Fred Klingenhagen
  Fred Klingenhagen has been volunteering at the Hope and Help Center in Winter Park, Fla. as an HIV prevention educator for nine years, using frank discussions of sex, humor, and his own HIV-positive status to reach audiences in the Orange County Jail and Juvenile Center.
Using Humor to Educate About HIV in Jails and High Schools You would think that after losing both his wife and a long-term girlfriend to AIDS-related illnesses that Fred Klingenhagen wouldn't have a single thing to laugh about. Diagnosed in the pre-protease inhibitor era when HIV was still considered a gay, white male disease, Fred, a straight man from what he calls a "primitive culture" in the suburbs of New Jersey, barely found a reason to live ... let alone laugh. What had started out as a relatively good life, with all of the necessary elements in place to complete the "American dream," quickly turned into a vicious nightmare that sent Fred spiraling into a sea of hopelessness that almost forced him to give up. It was at that point that he stumbled upon hope and help. The Hope and Help Center of Central Florida empowered Fred with the strength that he needed to pick up the pieces of his life and a sense of humor that has become the staple of his involvement in HIV prevention education.

For the past eight years, as a volunteer for The Hope and Help Center, Fred has been educating youth in Orange County public schools as well as in the Juvenile Department of Corrections about HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention. He can also be found in the Orange County jail, educating inmates about the importance of getting tested and protecting themselves, as well as their partners, upon their release back into society. Fred understands that it costs infinitely less to educate a thousand people than it does to provide care and services for one HIV-positive person.

He credits his now deceased mentor and friend, Rob Russell, with teaching him the key characteristic that he believes every prevention educator should possess, a sense of humor. With his crafty concoction of raw truth and humor, Fred's success comes primarily from simply "keeping it real." Whether giving his famous condom demonstration (which features a banana and Fred's co-hosts, Mr. Happy and Madam Wonderful; playful terms for male and female genitalia) or presenting interactive workshops to teens that assist them in talking about sex with their parents, it is Fred's belief that along with humor, a two-way street called trust is essential to effective prevention education.

Fred feels that a student must be able to trust that the educator is giving him/her the raw truth and nothing less. The prevention educator must then trust that the student will digest the information presented, apply it to their particular circumstance and take the necessary steps to reduce their risk factors.

He dedicates this award to the person he describes as the most beautiful, intelligent woman in the known galaxy, his wife Madelyn.

PRACTICE

How long have you been doing prevention education?

Since 1997, after losing my wife and a long-term girlfriend to AIDS-related complications. From there, I got hooked up with The Hope and Help Center in Winter Park, Florida, outside of Orlando, where I currently work on a volunteer basis.

Can you describe how your work has changed since you first started?

My work has taken on a sense of humor. My presentation is currently part AIDS 101 and part stand-up comedy routine. I work in the Juvenile Center in Orlando and also in the Orange county jail. I develop my own curriculum and presentations that use comedy to get their attention.
"When you can make a joke that is on topic that deals with an issue about HIV or safer sex and people laugh but you're also making the point ... that is the best part ... getting the audience to remember things."

What's the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is the people ... the audiences. When you can make a joke that is on topic that deals with an issue about the virus or safer sex and people laugh but you're also making the point ... that is the best part ... getting the audience to remember things. I do a condom demonstration using a banana and my friends, Mr. Happy and Madam Wonderful. That is always a lot of fun!

What's the worst thing about your job?

The running around really tires me out. I am hoping to make a video of the presentation sometime in the near future to make it easier on me. I also don't like the fact that I cannot demonstrate condoms in Orange county schools.

What have been your greatest successes in your work?

Developing interactive curriculums for Orange county schools that combine some AIDS 101 with skills building activities that teach the kids how to deal with peer pressure and how to talk to their parents about sex.

For the most part, what do you think is the biggest risk factor for HIV?

Complacency!

Do you think that current HIV prevention efforts are sufficient? Anything you would change?

I think that they are really effective! I would like to see the rate of new infections decrease. We are currently "holding the line," but I would like to see us "pull the line." Tell the people the truth and let them decide.

What is the most important, memorable or useful thing you have learned from the people you work with?

One of the most memorable things I have learned from someone was when I worked with an inmate at the 33rd Street County Jail. He met me at the door as I was leaving. He was a big, buff, Laurence-Fishburne-from-The-Matrix kinda dude, on his way to take a shower. He stopped me, clasped my hands and said, "just keep it real man." That moment had a huge impact on me.

How do you maintain a positive outlook and avoid burning out?

Making people laugh and having my presentations become something that people look forward to ... especially the kids. I had one young guy in the juvenile center that the workers there were having a hard time with tell me, "you're the only guy looking out for us." That meant a lot!

If you weren't a prevention educator what would you be? Why?

Retired! And that's self-explanatory!

What do you think is the biggest problem people living with HIV face today?

Stigma. HIV is seen as a character flaw and not a disease. In Matthew 25, Jesus states that what you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me. We have got to get better in the arena of compassion!

AWARD

Who would you dedicate this award to if you could?

The most beautiful, intelligent and highly disturbed woman in the known galaxy, my darling wife, Madelyn.

PERSONAL

Where did you grow up?

In the suburbs of New Jersey. I am a product of a primitive culture.
"I had one young guy in the juvenile center that the workers there were having a hard time with tell me, 'you're the only guy looking out for us.' That meant a lot!"

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to replace Johnny Carson as host of the Tonight Show.

What kind of work did your parents do?

My dad was an electrical engineer and my mom was a research librarian. They were both marines, as was my grandfather.

When did you decide you wanted to be a prevention educator? (What was your major in college?)

I majored in communications in college.

What other jobs have you had?

I have done some radio work/broadcast journalism. I am technically still a bank vice president for Wachovia, but have been on medical leave due to complications with HIV.

Who were the most influential people in your life, both professionally and personally?

Professionally, a guy that I worked with from the bank who was also a vice president. Also, Rob Russell from Hope and Help who trained me and started me in the speakers' bureau. He taught me to bring humor into my presentations.

Personally, there is Roger Maris (the Yankee baseball great), Harpo Marx and Mr. Robin Williams (I love that guy)!

What do you do in your spare time?

I enjoy writing. I published a novel called Galactically Speaking in 2001, which is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. I am currently working on a screenplay about my parents that takes place during World War II. I am also working on a book proposal for my first non-fiction work ... a kind of straight guy for the straight guy thing, titled Do You Want More Sex? A Guys Guide to Romance Cuisine and Sex! I am also working on a murder mystery, which is collaboration with my wife that is also set in World War II. In between all of that, I take a lot of naps!

Do you have a partner? Kids? Pets?

My wife, Madelyn, is an English professor. We have no children and no pets.

Where do you live? What kind of community is it? What do you like/dislike about it?

I live in a small town called Winter Park, a quiet little bedroom community with brick streets and trees. The only thing that I do not like about it is what I have to pay in property taxes.

If you had any place to live besides where you live now, where would you live?

Beverly Hills, California.

What's the best vacation you ever had?

Two years ago with my wife in Beverly Hills. I love that place.

What's the biggest adventure you ever had?

The long strange trip that my life has been.

What's currently on your bedside table for reading?

S.J. Perelman's Chicken Inspector #2.

What book would you say has had the most impact on you?

Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which will be made into a movie due out this May. It is funny science fiction!

What kind of music do you like to listen to? Who are the artists you listen to the most?

I love rock, jazz and blues. Some of my favorites are The Allman Brothers, Van Morrison and Joe Sample and The Crusaders. I gave you one from each category!

Anything else you think it would be important that people reading this interview know about you?

After losing my first wife and losing my girlfriend, I was ready to stop my medications and figured that I could be off the planet in a year of two. But doing AIDS education for Hope and Help gave me a sense of purpose that allowed me to survive to a point where now I enjoy my new life with my beautiful new bride. Had it not been for the work, I really don't think I would be here enjoying one of the most happy, contented stages of my life.

Interview by Keith Green

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