Sweet smell of success: Handmade body products and African-inspired apparel offered at thriving Halsey Street shop

Patchouli, frankincense and myrrh are some of the scents that might greet you at the doorway to Ancient African Formula on Halsey Street. That is unless the embroidered prints adorning the mannequins in the store’s display window don’t lure you in first.

Aminata Dukuray, a native of Gambia by way of Sierra Leone, runs the health and lifestyle store with the help of her four daughters. At around 1 p.m. on any given weekday, one can find Dukuray bottling samples of her sweet-smelling body oils, or explaining to her loyal customers how exactly her Super Hair Grow formula works.

Dukuray’s Ancient African Formula skincare and hair care products are all handmade by Dukuray herself in the back of the store. Customers who find themselves there will see blocks of her uncut Shea butter soap ready to be packaged and sold.

aminata dukuray

Aminata Dukuray owns Ancient African Formula on Halsey Street. Source: ancientafricanformula.com.

Dukuray opened the Halsey Street store in November of 2014, but she has been in business much longer than that, making her products for at-home use before becoming a wholesaler and stocking local beauty supply stores all over New Jersey with her products.

“I’ve been in business for a long, long time,” said Dukuray when asked about the origin of her line. “I started making my products at home because my daughter had ringworm, and nothing was working. So I decided to try and make something myself, and that’s how it started.”

Less than a year after Dukuray opened shop, she has built a legion of customers that keep coming back for her sweet-smelling products.

“I buy oils. I buy soap. I buy Shea butter. I even buy earrings. I love her products because they are natural. I use them for everything,” said Kecia Richardson-Gilbert, one of Dukuray’s customers.

Beyond skin and hair care, Ancient African Formula is also home to African-inspired jewelry, artwork and more recently, clothing. As Dukuray bagged up another one of her orders, a customer lamented  the sign outside the store informing customers that Dukuray will not be able to take anymore clothing orders for another two weeks due to her busy schedule.

aaf accessories

Ancient African formula offers clothing, accessories, and artwork in addition to body products.

“I overbooked myself. People were making so many orders for the clothes that I barely had time to make my products,” Dukuray explained. “Customers came in and there was nothing on the shelves, nothing to sell.”

The new additions to Dukuray’s brand are bespoke, embroidered outfits made from African prints — prints that her daughter brings back to the U.S. from her trips to West Africa. From the midday rush in Dukuray’s store, it is clear that her store is thriving.

“Everyone comes here, it’s not just African women. Some people come because their friends tell them about it, and some just come because they see the sign,” Dukuray said.

Even though her store is doing well, Dukuray is not one to rest on her laurels. The businesswoman is already in the planning stages of developing an African-inspired restaurant right next door to her existing space.

“I see it [Ancient African Formula] growing. I see us opening more stores, and not just in New Jersey,” she said.

Ancient African Formula is located at 109 Halsey Street. The shop is open from Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Shop online herePhotograph of Aminata Dukuray via ancientafricanformula.com.

At Print Club Wednesdays, a printmaking party! Inside the popular weekly event in a University Avenue walk-up

The Newark Print Shop, a local printmaking studio on University Avenue, is the place to be on Wednesday nights.

From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every Wednesday, Lisa Conrad, a Newark based artist, teacher, and The Print Shop’s co-founder, hosts Print Club, a weekly printmaking night where seasoned printmakers and rookies alike can come together to utilize the open studio to make prints.

“I think the number one commodity for an artist is space, you might have a vision but you need space to actually make it happen,” said Conrad.

print shop tees

With a grant from The Newark Arts Council, Conrad started Art Bound in 2012, an arts initiative that gave Newark high school students space to create while teaching them the art of papermaking, printmaking and book arts in her own personal art studio. The program would eventually rebrand itself as The Newark Print Shop after a fire claimed Conrad’s studio in 2012.

Three years later, Newark Print Shop is now home to Print Club Wednesday, an Artist Residency Program, workshops and an open studio available by appointment.

Print Club Wednesday is the shop’s most popular event, and at 6 p.m. every Wednesday, local artists, business owners, children and parents flood the 2nd floor walk-up for a chance to make prints for a $10 donation.


#firstprintever by Newark Print Shop attendees

“My partner said that we’re like the speakeasy of printmaking, and I thought yeah, we kind of are,” said Conrad with a laugh.

Print Club attendees casually congregate over food and beverages while making prints on paper or t-shirts for anything from personal use or to promote an existing business. With help from Conrad, shop education director Stephen McKinsey, and the resident artists, new printmakers are guided through the step-by-step process of making a print. When it’s all done, the print shop celebrates the #firstprintever with the shops’ social media community.

“I think what makes people keep coming back to Print Club is the enjoyment of the process. They’re doing something with their hands, and they’re creating something. And that’s always exciting,” said Mckinsey.

Print Club first-timers often become print club regulars, and those who have attended a print club can attest to the fact that it isn’t just a print making class, but is rather a congregation of a variety of creative professionals who are interested in the art of printmaking.

“You don’t have to be a printmaker to come to The Print Shop. The point of it all is to make printmaking accessible to everyone in the community; it’s a community space. So everyone is welcome,” said Conrad.

print shop tableConrad, Mckinsey and The Print Club are revitalizing a famed Newark art medium while making sure everyone partakes in the process one way or the other.

“I like think that our job here at The Print Club is to seed the city of Newark with printmakers and watch them grow,” said Mckinsey.

The Newark Print Shop is located at 304 University Avenue. FL 2. Open Studio Print Club hours: Wednesdays 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. Print club is on hiatus until Wednesday, September 2.

As employees settle in, prospects for Prudential Tower to become a center of gravity in its new neighborhood

With this summer’s completion of the new Prudential Tower downtown Newark, West Park Street is again drivable, the sidewalk across from Military Park is newly unobstructed by construction barriers, and 1,900 employees find themselves clocking into spanking new digs every morning.

For employees, the 20-story Prudential Tower is simply a new office. But there’s a little more to the tower than meets the eye in terms of its larger impact on the neighborhood says Richard Hummers, a Prudential executive who oversaw the project during the entirety its four-year arc from conception to completion. (The $444 million project received a nearly $211 million tax credit based on its estimated benefit as a job creation and retention engine in the area.)

“For us, building the new tower wasn’t just about solving a real estate and capacity problem,” Hummers said earlier this week, while sitting in a conference room at nearby Prudential Plaza alongside his colleague, Lata Reddy, vice president of corporate responsibility and president of the Prudential Foundation. Prudential Plaza remains the company’s headquarters, and is located two blocks south of its gleaming, translucent new cousin.


The “Shoppes on Broad” will feature street-level retail and restaurants.

Hummers said the project team also considered how the building site could fundamentally alter its surroundings. “We chose a site that could transform” its broader neighborhood in Newark, he said. Built on a long-blighted stretch of Broad Street, the new tower is positioned to do just that.

First, said Hummers, together with Prudential Plaza and a third Prudential building on Washington Street, the new tower creates something of a campus for its 6,000 Newark employees, but without being walled off from the rest of downtown. Hummers said “constant interaction” among Prudential employees in all three buildings creates more pedestrian traffic. That not only benefits businesses that are currently and soon-to-be located downtown, but also adds vibrancy to the neighborhood, he said.

The towers also add continuity along Broad Street. Together with the newly renovated Military Park and the in-progress renovation of the Hahnes building, both of which Prudential helped finance, the building addresses a significant gap in activated spaces along downtown Newark’s primary artery.

The project’s planners also added some architectural and design elements that consider the pedestrian experience. Prudential Tower features a parking deck that runs from Broad to Halsey Streets along New Street. Parking garages often make for imposing structures, but “the walk from Rutgers to Military Park shouldn’t feel like you’re passing through a dark cavern,” said Hummers. The solution: vertical green space lines the garage wall facing New Street by way of planters filled with greenery. “We wanted to make these spaces feel inviting,” Hummers explained.

Prudential Tower planters

Planters line the parking garage exterior along New Street. Across the street, the Hahne’s building under construction.

The same goal animated the developers’ decision to install a “green wall” standing 55 feet high on the opposite side of the garage. The varying shades of the plants that comprise the wall, which architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates designed, form a mural inspired by the lower righthand section of Prudential’s “Rock of Gibralter” logo.

Unlike the Hahne’s building, which will be mixed-use, Prudential’s new building is strictly an office tower, intended for its employees and for company-sponsored events. And it is those employees, said Reddy, who will be the primary vectors of the company’s interaction with its broader neighborhood.

Some of those interactions will be organized by Prudential, as with a recent youth-geared community service outing to Military Park.

But on a day-to-day basis, both Reddy and Hummers said, they’ll involve employees’ engagement with area social life and businesses, and vice versa.

green wall prudential

Prudential Tower’s “green wall” mural draws from the company’s “Rock of Gibraltar” logo.

To help facilitate this, Prudential invited owners and managers from neighborhood restaurants, including Burger Walla, Nico, Dinosaur Barbecue, Duke’s Southern Table, Green Chicpea and BURG, the new burger and beer restaurant soon to launch in Military Park, to a “Community Partners Reception” and tasting on the building’s rooftop in early August. And while the tower’s construction caused a significant tightening of foot traffic along the north Halsey Street corridor, businesses are already seeing a surge in customers now that Prudential employees have moved in. All told, the building can accommodate up to 3,000 employees.

The “Shoppes on Broad” surrounding the towers will also be key locations of broader community interaction with the development. The shops will essentially extend the project onto the street level, and offer pedestrians retail and food options including a Blaze Pizza franchise and a reported Nike Factory store.

Taken together, these elements represent an “affirmative and intentional” push by the company to embed and integrate itself into its new neighborhood.

Prudential is planning a grand opening for the new towers on September 29th. Prudential Tower is located at 655 Broad Street in Newark.

‘Evolution Open Mic’ takes poetry nights a step beyond

Every Thursday night, Newark burger joint Burger Walla open its doors to Evolve NJ, and the sweet potato tots stop being the only thing drawing Newark residents to this Halsey street spot. That’s because Thursday nights are when Sean Battle, an adjunct professor of English at Essex County College, turns Burger Walla into a space for Evolution Open Mic.

Evolution Open Mic is a multi-layered event, and with the help of his associates — artist and art facilitator Kween Moore, and community advisor Queen Assata — attendees are treated to poetry, musical performances, interactive games and discussions centered on the Newark community and beyond.

“We want people to have a good time at whatever event we host, but we also want it to be of substance. We want people to leave with something that uplifts and enlightens their consciousness,” said Battle.

“Edutainment” is what Battle calls it – a meeting of education and entertainment. “The tagline of Evolve NJ is ‘accountability through artistry,’ so we hope to hold people accountable for their actions in an artistic space, and we hope it carries on to other facets of their lives,” continued Battle.

Take last Thursday for instance. A little after 6 p.m., soft reggae began wafting through the speakers, and the tangy scent of incense replaced the smell of caramelized onions. Participants and guests started flowing in, some just finishing their workdays.

As the room filled up, Battle took the floor and announced that the featured poet of the night would be none other than Newark’s Breya “Blackberry Molassez” Knight. Heads nodded and people exchanged knowing looks. Knight is a Newark poetry scene favorite, and was recently a performer at a tribute show to the late Amiri Baraka.

The theme for the night was “From Tragedy to Triumph” and all the poems followed this lead. Poets reflected on everything from Newark’s resilience as a city to personal triumphs they’ve had to overcome. During a portion of the show that Battle calls “The Nightmare of the Week,” guests debated their love and hate relationship with Newark. Some residents complained about the lack of fresh produce, while others lauded Newark’s authenticity and endurance.

“[Evolution Open Mic] is something our people need. We need something to come to every week where we can release what’s on our mind, relax, enjoy and hear positive vibes,” said Knight.

Battle said that he and his cohort realize that without the broader community there is no art, and that in order to enjoy an art scene, they must first cultivate it. Unlike other open mic shows, everyone who attends Evolution Open Mic winds up a participant in one way or another.

Poets and attendees alike are even urged to contribute to what Battle calls the “canvas of resource,” which is a plain canvas that is set at the end of the room specifically for free range artistic expression. The collation of canvases from past Evolution Open Mic shows will comprise an exhibition during Newark’s annual Open Doors festival in October.

“Life is art. It’s such an influential tool. Art is adding more beauty to the city, and I’m trying my best to do that with my poetry. And so is Sean and Evolve NJ,” concluded Knight.

Evolution Open Mic takes place Thursday nights starting 6 p.m. at Burger Walla, 47 Halsey St. $5 cover plus optional donations. Follow #EVOLVENJ Edutainment on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Isabel Livingston: The ‘savvy’ behind Closet Savvy Consignment in Newark’s Teacher’s Village

Newark native Isabel Livingston is bringing high-end, designer fashion to Newark in the form of her store, Closet Savvy Consignment.

The shop, which is located in Newark’s Teachers Village, offers a carefully selected inventory of designer items, including brands like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. Livingston and her daughter, college student Asata Evans, founded the store in 2012 as an online retail business.

“When my daughter was a junior in high school, it became time to consider college. Tuition and costs became very real numbers, and we realized how unprepared we were. So we decided to go into business,” said Livingston.

cs ig

A scene from Closet Savvy Consignment’s Instagram feed

With the goal to bring an extra $10,000 dollars into her home, Livingston purged her designer-laden closet and began Closet Savvy on a self-hosted website. She embarked on the occasional pop-up shop setup when the opportunity presented itself.

Over $10,000 and 10,000 Instagram followers later, Livingston saw the potential in converting the business into a brick-and-mortar store, and eventually launched the cozy and chic boutique in the new development on the south end of Halsey Street.

Livingston said social media created a built-in audience that has benefited the shop since opening day. “Having the time to have built up that social media following made all the difference,” Livingston said. “Without 10,000 people being able to see my stuff everyday and just opening my door to the world, this could have been a completely different situation for me.”

To be sure, in addition to now being a physical store, Closet Savvy is still a thriving social movement. Livingston’s followers talk about everything from the store’s latest designer products to natural hair trends to pop culture. The social platform has also powered Livingston’s buying reach, with Closet Savvy offering customers the opportunity to purchase products directly from the store’s page for an added shipping fee.


While the social media activity adds dimension to her brand for followers well outside of the city, Livingston says the store itself provides a carefully considered experience for the nearby shoppers who venture in. Walking into the store, it’s clear to see what Livingston is referring to. With a Chanel-embossed drink tray, monogrammed Louis Vuitton trunks stacked against the wall, and Beyoncé blaring from the speakers, Closet Savvy is a dream experience for shoppers in her demographic.

“When you shop with a woman, you’re really on an intimate level. You get to see how she really feels about herself,” Livingston mused. (Closet Savvy also offers a selection of men’s apparel.)

“Women come in here as total strangers, and by the time they leave, we’ve bonded. They leave here promising to come back, and you can’t get that online. People come here, and it really is an authentic experience.”

Closet Savvy is located at 35 Maiden Lane, just off Halsey Street in downtown Newark. The shop is open from Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Shop online here, and visit their thriving Instagram community @ClosetSavvyConsignment.

Images courtesy Closet Saavy Consignment.


Guard d’Avant music festival draws hundreds of Newark’s ‘lifestyle’ crowd to Military Park

This past Tuesday, as the sun set over Military Park, a diverse tableau of families, groups of friends large and small, area professionals, and music lovers massed on the park’s north lawn to take in the final installment of the Guard d’Avant music festival.

Beneath a banner emblazoned with the series’ mission, to “protect and serve the stellar and progressive” cultures in Newark, a succession of eclectic artists took the stage, including Seattle-based alternative hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces; experimental Atlanta-based rapper Rome Fortune; and R&B singer/songwriter and Newark native Peter Winstead, Jr.

Every Tuesday for the past five weeks, Winstead, Jr., who in addition to being a featured act also created and produced the festival under the banner of his branding and marketing company, The Honors Program, treated festival goers to an eclectic lineup of performers from the area and beyond. They included MoRuf, Dam Funk, Oshun, Rush Midnight, and an assortment of other acclaimed musicians and DJs.

This Tuesday concluded the second year of the festival’s summertime run. The community’s overwhelming response to the festival is a sure sign that Winstead, Jr. is among the entrepreneurs and creatives who are successfully tapping an existing market for well-produced lifestyle events right here in town.

dilettante fest

Photo Credit: Andaiye Taylor

“Peter’s vision to get people to enjoy not only this park, but also to introduce them to a new level of conscious music, is critically important, because Newark has a diverse amount of talent, and creating this sort of space is necessary for the growth of our city,” said Alturrick Kenney, who in addition to being a festival mainstay, is also manager of port operations for Newark Works. Kenney’s wife and one-year-old daughter also attended several festival dates.

Festival goers said there were several layers to the series’ appeal. Some were fans of the featured musicians and genres; others were taken in by its eclectic vibe; and still more reveled at the opportunity to enjoy and participate in Newark’s burgeoning contemporary arts scene. Parents and their children made the festival a family affair; and artists and entrepreneurs from the area turned out in significant numbers, gathering to exchange ideas and enjoy each other’s company.

“A couple years ago, events like this weren’t happening [in Newark]. We would go to New York, Jersey City, Montclair and places like that. So this is good. It’s great to have something for Newark,” said real estate agent Melvin Sykes, who has represented numerous commercial tenants downtown. Sykes brought a picnic basket full of fried fish, wheat bread, and assorted shaken-on-the-spot mixed cocktails for friends and nearby audience members to enjoy.

melvin sykes

Photo Credit: Andaiye Taylor

A glance around the park made it clear that many other attendees were letting their hair down and making the event their own. “A lot of Newark residents have never been to NJPAC, they’ve never been to Prudential, but here, it’s completely free and it brings a different atmosphere,” said Amani Abdul-Majeed, a production assistant at Newark’s All Stars Project. “It offers residents and outsiders [alike] a genuine taste of Newark,” she continued.

Military Park Partnership vice president Ben Donsky concurred. “Guard D’ Avant has built its success from last year and draws more people each week. This program is our most successful at bringing in a mix of Newark residents, downtown workers, and visitors from elsewhere in New Jersey and New York,” he said. “It brings hundreds of people each week to the park, and it’s the park’s most popular summer program.”

Although the event drew an estimated 350 attendees on its final date, success for Winstead, Jr. wasn’t just about attracting a crowd. He also set out to achieve something more elusive: creating an authentic cultural space.

“Guard D’ Avant is another place where progressives can come and just have a home and be safe. We [already] have Afropunk, which is doing amazing work, so we just want to have some other avenue and platform for like-minded people to come and express themselves and have a good time,” he said.

By finding ways to create sustainable spaces for contemporary art and music to flourish in the city, Winstead, Jr. is hoping to change what he sees as an outdated narrative of Newark into a more nuanced one that depicts it as a home for creative and commercial growth.

Peter Winstead, Jr.

Photo Credit: Abstract

“It’s so important for us to have a space where we can do things like this, and where we can just create. It makes the city more desirable, as well. Newark is a beautiful place as-is, but we’re trying to fight the [negative] narrative that’s out there.” For Winstead, Jr., that change isn’t merely about marketing, but also entails creating the space and context for the culture to blossom organically.

Judging by the smiling faces dotting Military Park at Guard d’Avant’s curtain call, it seems Winstead, Jr. is onto something.

Featured image: Abstract

Mr. Adams Steakhouse unveils riverfront experience with new patio extension

First a new rooftop bar. Now a riverfront patio. With the unveiling of rodizio steakhouse and sports bar Mr. Adams‘ new river-facing patio, a Newark establishment is once again offering some experiential variety to area patrons.

The patio is the latest in a series of upgrades that Mr. Adams, formerly Rio21, has undergone since around the time of its name and ownership change in late 2013. Before those improvements, the establishment comprised its current dining room, its current side bar, and not much else. Management has since converted what were once offices and rentable conference areas into a large, square bar complete with ten flat-screen televisions, booth seating with personal beer taps, and an open space on the south end of the restaurant where a DJ occasionally sets up and spins.

Now enter the riverfront patio. The new outdoor dining and bar area went head-to-head with a basement nightclub for consideration as the establishment’s next big undertaking. Looking to take advantage of the warm months, Mr. Adams’ principals chose the patio, said manager Andrew Ferreira. The bottom-level nightclub is slated to launch next summer.

The patio itself offers a panoramic view of the Passaic River, a full bar with six beers on tap, two flat screen televisions against the bar’s back wall, which is made of unfinished pine, and a bar menu for dining. Four chandeliers made of Coors Light, Bud Light, Corona, Super Bock, Stella Artois, and Sam Adams Summer Ale beer bottles grace the patio covering. (The chandeliers arrived the day of the patio’s July 16th opening on order from Etsy, said Ferreira, and employees had quite a time “emptying” some of the bottles so they could assemble the chandeliers ahead of the unveiling.)

mr. adams beer chandaliers

Visitors should keep in mind that the patio sits on an undeveloped stretch of the Passaic River, and the vistas in the middle distance feature some of New Jersey’s most characteristic industrial topography. The bar itself doesn’t directly abut the river: it is Mr. Adams’ lower parking lot that actually connects the base of the patio area with the Passaic waterfront.

Still, the patio’s considerable height over that lot offers a clear shot of a river that varies from lightly streaming to mildly rolling. The view is unobstructed by tall buildings, making for a decent look at airplane landings and, if one’s visit is well-enough timed, a lovely evening sky as the sun sets opposite the east-facing river view. All in all, the extension adds welcome variety of scenery and atmospherics to the dining and drinking options here in town.

mr. adams tableau

Bartender Jasmine said the patio has seen nice-sized crowds for the 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekday happy hour as awareness of the extension has grown, and added that the new area, which can accommodate 80 people in its dining area and eight comfortably seated at the bar, was packed for the Ronda Rousey UFC rout in the wee hours of this past Sunday morning.

Ferreira said the patio will be open at least through September, and that management is considering adding a glass enclosure and heat lamps in order to extend patio availability deeper into the fall months.

Mr. Adams is located at 1034 McCarter Highway. Follow Mr. Adams on Facebook and Instagram.

Pro tips

  • To enter the patio, park in the north lot (just past the steakhouse on approach from the northbound side of McCarter Highway/Route 21) and walk to the stairway in the direction of the Passaic River, opposite the road.
  • Device battery power low? There are in-floor outlets between the first and second tables, and underneath the fourth, counting back from the bar on the river side of the dining area.
  • On tap as of this publishing: Bud Light, Stella Artois, Goose Summer Ale, Landshark, Shock Top Lemon Shandy, and Hoegaarden.

$50M social impact venture fund will launch in Newark this fall

Newark Venture Partners (NVP), the first early-stage social impact venture fund in the New York metropolitan area, will be formally announced this afternoon at the Newark headquarters of digital audiobooks company Audible.com, the city’s fastest-growing private sector employer. The fund will start accepting startups this coming fall.

A bi-partisan group of stakeholders, including mayor Ras Baraka, U.S. Senator and former Newark mayor Cory Booker, State Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, and business luminaries including Audible CEO Don Katz, NVP founder Tom Wisniewski, and philanthropist Ray Chambers are all scheduled to attend.

The $50 million fund will provide innovative technology start-ups with capital, mentoring, services, and workspace in a 25,000-square-foot space featuring ultra-high-speed bandwidth. That workspace is now under construction at One Washington Park, the home of Audible.com and Rutgers Business School.

Social impact companies are those that marshal their founders’ entrepreneurial energy and acumen to solve societal challenges, including public safety, education challenges, employment, and the dissemination of public services. Stakeholders also hope NVP will create downstream employment opportunities for area residents, and that it might pull Rutgers graduates into its orbit, reversing a trend of college graduate “brain drain” from Newark.

Also to be announced is Newark’s new high-speed public wi-fi network, which leverages the city’s unique access to “dark fiber,” or unused fiberoptic cables. Downtown Newark and other neighborhoods will be able to access that network.

The goal of both initiatives is to establish Newark as a technology and innovation hub, and to position the city and New Jersey as choice locations for early-stage technology companies — particularly ones that will help propel economic development and point their resources toward the types of challenges that cities like Newark need solved.

Prospective startups should visit Newark Venture Partners’ website to express their intent to apply.


10 years in, Lincoln Park Music Festival still looks to inject its artistic vibe into home neighborhood

Pressing forward after historic LGBTQ marriage victory, Essex County LGBT RAIN launches GoFundMe campaign to provide safe spaces

While the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in all 50 states last week was a historic victory for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community and their allies, those who have been fighting for full equity for this community still have many hills left to climb.

One issue that acutely affects LGBTQ youth in particular is homelessness. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as the general youth population to become homeless, due in significant part to familial rejection some LGBTQ youth experience when they come out to their families. These homeless youth experience an elevated risk of sexual violence, mental health problems, and suicide, among other potential crises.

The Essex County LGBT RAIN Foundation is trying to combat this issue by opening their doors to LGBTQ individuals who are being turned away by their families. RAIN recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund a safe space for LGBTQ people in need of support.

The organization, founded by Elaine Helms, provides emergency shelter services while promoting “self-sufficiency and independence in order to enhance [their] residents’ ability to function within their communities,” according to their GoFundMe page. In addition to basic needs like food and shelter, RAIN plans to offer other support services that promote self-sustainability, healthy relationships, sustained employment, and stable housing.

While the program focuses on homelessness, it welcomes any of the LGBTQ community’s members who need support in order to become “successful individuals that contribute to society in a way that makes them feel whole.”

The organization also seeks to assist LGBTQ students who are at a higher risk of dropping out of school due to bullying, physical and verbal harassment, lack of a support system, and lack of recourse and protection by school staff.

The fundraising campaign is seeking donations to establish the organization’s assistance program; they say a $10 donation can feed a resident for nearly a week. According to the organization’s GoFundMe page, one hundred percent of donations will be allocated toward paying one full year’s mortgage – or $27,600 – to house the residents.

Those interested in contributing to the GoFundMe campaign may do so at http://www.gofundme.com/lgbthousing. RAIN asks those who cannot donate to spread the word on social media by sharing the link, or contacting the organization to volunteer at essexlgbthousing.orgFeatured image via Essex County LGBTQ RAIN’s Facebook page.