Known for her work helping homeless LGBT youth in New Jersey, Elaine Helms came to our attention as a tomboy we wanted to salute. Elaine founded and now works as the executive director of the Essex County LGBT R.A.I.N (Reaching Adolescents In Need) Foundation. They work to provide safe and supportive emergency housing solutions to young adults (18-26) and adolescents who are homeless because of their sexual orientation.
We caught up with Elaine and got the lowdown on her non-profit, surviving the World Trade Center 9/11 attacks and her work as a badass model.
Your job working with LGBT young adults sounds fantastic. Where did you get the idea to help them?
I used to work for the Port Authority at the World Trade Center and was injured during 9/11 attacks. I was disabled and spent a lot of time recovering from my physical and emotional injuries. I wanted to get back to work and I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field.
I was hired by a lab in a clinic doing drug screening. Across the street, I noticed a lot of prostitution going on and I also noticed that many of them were trans-gender kids. I started talking to them and asking them why they didn’t get a regular job. They said they were discriminated against, thrown out of homes and that nobody seemed to understand them. Most of them were on drugs to get high to take their minds somewhere else while they did what they had to do to survive. They wouldn’t stay in the clinic because they were ridiculed by other people there.
This experience gave me the idea to open a shelter to give them love and skills in a safe place where they would be accepted. It’s a newly renovated house that looks like a home. When they come in, they get comfortable and feel like they belong. There is a house mom who lives there and helps them. When they move out, they have cleaning, cooking, laundry and basic life skills. We also have someone coming in October to teach financial literacy so they can learn how not to live from paycheck to paycheck.
What do the young adults need and how can people help support this cause?
Glad you asked! Because our shelter is fairly new but very much so needed, we are always actively focusing on fundraising. It’s the only thing that keeps our doors open as we continue to provide services to help keep our homeless off the streets and in safe housing.
We currently have an ongoing GOFUNDME campaign that just recently launched. Any and all money we collect there goes immediately to operational costs such as lights, phone, food, etc. Most of our funding comes from donations and fundraising and we appreciate every dime so much.
People can also go to our website to find out how to donate to our shelter, sign up for our newsletter, learn more about the work we’re doing as well as see what some of our immediate needs are. We can always use volunteers, mentors, clothing, help with leadership on our board of directors. There is so much that people can choose from to do if they wanted to come along side and help. People can follow us at Facebook.com/EssexLGBThousing and on Twitter at @NJLGBTshelter.
You were recently honored by North Jersey Pride. Tell us about that.
Yes. They honored me for the work my team and I have done in providing a unique shelter that gives anyone that’s LGBT and homeless the opportunity to be safe and be who they are without judgment.
Your passion to help young adults is inspiring. Where does the passion come from?
I advocate for them because we still live in a world where being gay is considered wrong and although important milestones have been reached in the LGBTQ community such as Marriage Equality, we still have to fight for housing rights, acceptance and cultural competency within various support/service organizations.
Unfortunately, our adolescents and young adults are still being thrown out of their homes for coming out of the closet and are still being mocked and mistreated in traditional shelters, especially for our transgender youth.
Marriage Equality has gotten us victory and we’re proud of that but we’re also looking forward to the next national focus to address transgender equality as well as address the fact that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
Tell everyone the story about how you connected with TomboyX?
My fiancé, Tamara Fleming, co-owner of FEMWORKS, is LGBTQ certified and attended the NGLCC International Business & Leadership conference in Fort Lauderdale. It was there during a networking event that I met Fran and Naomi and heard about TomboyX and that they were finalist for the Biz Pitch Content held during the conference.
I’m also known in my community for modeling and have been doing so for over 15 years. Ironically, I go by the stage name of “Pretty Tomboy.” Tamara showed Fran and Naomi a few pictures of me from a few events I modeled and walked in for different local designers in NJ. They both asked if I would mind modeling their product for the pitch contest and of course, I said yes. I got to walk around 700+ people in my new TomboyX underwear. They won the contest and the rest is history!
What is your favorite TomboyX product?
The underwear! The boxer briefs and tank tops are my all-time favorite. The fact they are made for women is the greatest thing because up until now, I wore men briefs and the bands were always tight and created an undesired bulge around my sides. TomboyX doesn’t do that.
Because the tank tops are made for women, I don’t have to worry about the opening to the arms being too wide or big. I give TomboyX an A+.
Who is your favorite Tomboy?
Besides myself, I would have to say Ellen DeGeneres.