The CEO of San Jose Youth Nonprofit has a “personal stake” in change


By Loan-Anh Pham, San Jose Spotlight

March 10, 2023

The new CEO of a Silicon Valley nonprofit that helps homeless teenagers faced bullying and intimidation as a gay youth. He hopes to use this experience to transform the lives of young adults struggling with their own identity.

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Josh Selo took over as CEO of the Bill Wilson Center last month, replacing former CEO Sparky Harlan, who retired after 40 years.

“As a member of the LGBTQ community (and) as a parent of black children, I have a personal interest,” Selo told San Jose Spotlight. “We have so much more to go if we’re really going to live in a community where people can live their lives as themselves… and I want to help make that possible for the next generation.”

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Selo spent his first month absorbing everything about his team and the communities they serve. The nonprofit organization has been a local powerhouse for 50 years, advocating affordable housing for foster parents and LGBTQ youth.

Selo, 47, said his new job has a strong connection to his personality. Raised in Los Angeles, the middle of three children, said his family was supportive of his gender identity. But he had a tough time at school and there was little to no LGBTQ representation in the media and elsewhere. He said his work at the Bill Wilson Center allows him to serve LGBTQ teens and young adults while addressing the differential access to resources faced by LGBTQ people of color.

“There weren’t many mentors or people who supported people like me who were just starting to discover our identity and what it means,” Selo told San Jose Spotlight. “How can we continue to…ensure that our community is inclusive, open, and welcoming to all?”

Selo said he struggled to find books about LGBTQ experiences growing up but still nurtured a love of literature and theatre. He was inspired by high school classes that taught him to find meaning behind words. He brought this profound perspective to his time at UC Santa Barbara, where he majored in Theater and Religious Studies.

“My ability to connect with people, my ability to tell a story … Those are some of the skills that have helped me overall in my career,” Selo said.

Go forward

Selo moved abroad after graduating in 1997 and eventually landed a job at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, where he spent the next 11 years. He began advocating for teens and ran a program called Operation: Chicken Soup, which convened every two weeks to encourage community discussion while a giant pot of broth simmered in the background.

“You had to skim the fat, chop the veggies. As the soup simmered, I brought in articles on food insecurity and housing insecurity and we spoke to the teenagers. ‘What do you think about it? What does this mean to you?’” Selo told San Jose Spotlight.

Josh Selo said adopting his daughters brought him a deeper understanding of his legal work. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

Selo and his husband adopted their two daughters in 2009 and 2012. They moved to Silicon Valley in 2013 to be closer to family where his husband is a software engineer. In 2016, Selo became the executive director of West Valley Community Services, a nonprofit that provides housing assistance and basic needs like groceries and hygiene kits.

Kohinoor Chakravarty, development and communications director for West Valley Community Services, said it only took one phone call before she wanted to work at the nonprofit. She said Selo’s approach to leadership aligns with her values.

“We hit it off right away,” Chakravarty told San Jose Spotlight. “He’s one of the main reasons I started at West Valley Community Services.”

Children and the Learning Curve

Selo said adopting his daughters brought another level of understanding to his legal work. Injustice became deeply personal as parents sought to address issues of systemic racism. Selo said he’s had conversations with his daughters about the police and that as a white parent of black children, he too has a learning curve. That learning now extends to his work at the Bill Wilson Center, he added.

“After we adopted the kids, our family changed and my awareness of the world changed along with my family,” Selo said.

Sujatha Venkatraman, interim general manager of West Valley Community Services, said that in the seven years they have worked together, Selo has brought empathy to every project. Her mobile grocery store initiative, known as Park-It Market, worked to remove the stigma around food insecurity and poverty by giving residents the option to shop in the pantry, rather than simply handing out pre-filled grocery bags.

“He’s a very compassionate leader,” Venkatraman told the San Jose Spotlight. “He’s leaving the organization in a really good place. Of course I will totally miss working with him.”

According to Chakravarty, Selo is a perfect fit for the Bill Wilson Center.

“Josh’s lifelong dream was to work with the LGBTQ community,” said Chakravarty. “He’s going to pull this off … and he’s going to be just great in his new role.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

San Jose Spotlight is the city’s premier nonprofit news organization dedicated to independent political and business reporting. Please support our public service journalism by clicking here.

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