SUMMIT, NJ — In just one month alone, The Unitarian Church in Summit raised more than $6,900 for RAIN, Reaching Adolescence in Need, the first and only North Jersey homeless shelter for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. The money was raised over the course of four services in two Sundays through their plate collections during worship services.
The mission of the Unitarian Church in Summit is to be a radically inclusive religious community that feeds the human spirit and heals the world. Rev. Emilie Boggis, minister of congregational life, said the action is “part of a history of efforts for this congregation and Unitarian Universalists to support, include and embrace LGBT people.”
The Social Action Committee is dedicated to causes such as homelessness, and they have been advocates of affordable housing for a long time.
Supporting LGBT youth is an area of advocacy that is unique to the Unitarian church.
“As a congregation that advocates for LGBTQ rights, we discovered how few houses of worship were working at the intersection of homelessness and LGBTQ. We realized we could be a voice and a resource,” Boggis said in an email.
They are dedicated to the needs of all its members, including the LGBT population. One member of the church is also a board member for RAIN.
RAIN opened its doors in November of 2014, in East Orange, to provide emergency shelter services to address the needs of the LGBT community. Of the millions of homeless youth in America, about 40 percent identify as LGBT.
The large population of homeless LGBT youth is due to numerous reasons, including abandonment, abuse and emotional and financial neglect. Many youth have faced rejection by their families when expressing their sexuality, as many parents blame their child’s sexuality on poor lifestyle choices or acts of rebellion. They also experience negativity and exclusion from a predominately heterosexual society.
Brian Halpin, social action chair for the Unitarian congregation, noted that LGBT youth make up a disproportionate amount — 20 to 40 percent of youth and young adult homeless people. “Their needs are often not addressed in traditional homeless shelters and in fact, they often face bullying, discrimination and worse. RAIN’s programs promote self-sufficiency and independence to enhance their residents’ ability to function within their communities.”
RAIN’s founder Elaine Helms and Board president Tamara Fleming were honored at a luncheon on Jan. 17, at the Summit congregation. In a talk during worship services, congregation member Marty Rothfelder called the two his heroes. “They do this work without compensation to address this very real and unmet need.”
There is a crucial need for shelters to promote a safe environment for homeless LGBT youth. In traditional shelters, transgender youth are often classified as a gender with which they don’t identify. This often causes them to become a target of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. They have greater difficulty finding a shelter that will accept and respect them. In fact, some shelters will not permit transgender youth to reside there at all.
In addition to providing shelter, RAIN offers a variety of other services to the LGBT community. They have five primary objectives, which include assisting young people with building healthy relationships, supplying them with money management and budgeting skills, providing education and career opportunities, developing skills that will allow them to live independently and providing them with mental health, substance and medical services. By focusing on these core objectives, the program aims to help the youth live productive, meaningful lives.
The Essex County RAIN Foundation is currently accepting donations to provide food, shelter, and services. They have even created a wish list with amazon.com that includes things that would benefit them to keep supporting the community.
The Unitarian Church is also dedicated to continue helping the LGBT community.
“We are consistently serving LGBTQ families in our congregation as a welcoming community. We will also take a role in northern NJ’s annual Pride Week,” Boggis said.