County honors individuals with Pride of Essex awards

Photo Courtesy of Essex County
From left at the Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month celebration on June 27 are Elaine Helms, founder of the RAIN Foundation; Maren Greathouse, director of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University; Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr.; and Peter Oates, director of health care services for the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center at Rutgers School of Nursing.

NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. and the Essex County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Advisory Board hosted the Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration on Wednesday, June 27. During the ceremony, DiVincenzo presented Pride of Essex County Awards to Elaine Helms, founder of the RAIN Foundation; Peter Oates, director of health care services for the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center at Rutgers School of Nursing; and Maren Greathouse, director of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University, in recognition of their support in the struggle for equality for the members of the LGBTQ community.

“Every year in Essex County, we celebrate Pride Month and our LGBTQ community. It is our opportunity to raise awareness about issues that affect this segment of the population and recognize outstanding members of our own LGBTQ community,” DiVincenzo said at the event. “Our three honorees have done the difficult work in their respective fields of providing support, protecting human rights and promoting understanding.”

Helms is the founder of the RAIN Foundation, which is the first-ever shelter exclusively focused on meeting the needs of homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex adolescents in New Jersey. Through RAIN, she has been able to assist LGBTQI adolescents by providing emergency shelter and resources to further their education, teach financial responsibility, and connect them to employment, long-term housing opportunities and services to support their mental well-being.

A former employee of The Port Authority of NY and NJ, Helms is a survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. Through this traumatic experience, she saw first-hand the critical difference that access or lack thereof to medical services can make. Becoming a disenfranchised worker, sustaining injuries and being dropped by her insurance providers made her think about those less fortunate than she. This inspired her to establish the HBP Reaching Adolescents In Need RAIN Foundation. Since 2013, Helms has helped hundreds of youths to turn around their lives, develop healthy relationships, find employment, find stable housing and lead lives that contribute positively to society.

“I am humbled and honored to receive this award. I started the RAIN Foundation because I saw a need in the community and I wanted to help,” Helms said.

Oates, a registered nurse, is the director of health care services for the FXB Center at Rutgers School of Nursing. He is also clinical director of the Northern New Jersey Regional Partner of the Northeast Caribbean AIDS Education & Training Center and serves as clinical consultant to two community-based residential programs located in Essex County. One serves HIV-infected homeless gay youth and the other serves HIV-infected women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Oates is a member of the N.J. Chapter of Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association and a member of the Rutgers University Gender & Sexuality Workgroup. He is also a founding and current board member of the African American Office of Gay Concerns in Newark, which provides HIV prevention, testing services and resources to the LGBTQ community.

“People ask me why I settled in Newark, but it was Newark who found me. This is a wonderful place to serve the community. It’s important to recognize that the health issues that affect gay men, lesbians and transgender individuals are totally different, and we need to understand these differences,” Oates said.

As director of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University, Greathouse oversees all strategic planning, research efforts, academic initiatives, external partnerships and operations for the center, which examines the impact of bias, peer aggression and institutional climate on students attending institutions of higher education who identify with one or more stigmatized populations within higher education, including LGBTQ and gender non-conforming students, students of color, women, religious and ethnic minorities, and other stigmatized identities and/or experiences. Prior to assuming this role, Greathouse founded and served as the inaugural director of the LGBTQ and Diversity Resource Center at Rutgers University-Newark, director of LGBT Student Development at Towson University and student support specialist at the LGBT Campus Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I am proud to be honored for the work that we are doing. I am honored and excited to serve Essex County,” Greathouse said.