Our People: Q&A with Nathan Smith

Smith ensures RAIN’s message washes through community

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Who says a little RAIN ruins the parade?

Nathan Smith and his colleagues proved at this year’s Charlotte Pride Parade that a lot of RAIN (Regional AIDS Interfaith Network) can actually bring great joy, not only to parade goers, but also to a community thirsting for RAIN’s special brand of loving care.

RAIN is the leading HIV/AIDS service organization in Mecklenburg County.

The mission statement appearing on the RAIN website reads: “RAIN engages the community to transform lives and promote respect and dignity for all people touched by HIV through compassionate care, education and leadership development.”

The non-profit has served close to 1,100 clients in and around Charlotte since 1992.

Smith, who serves as RAIN’s director of development and marketing, will celebrate his 11th year with the organization in January.

He said he’s dedicated to marketing the RAIN brand across Mecklenburg County and into the surrounding region, especially to those in need of RAIN’s prevention, counseling, case management and testing services.

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And if it’s RAINing men like Smith in the Queen City these days, all anyone has to say is: Halleleujah.

For more information on RAIN, visit carolinarain.org or call 704-372-7246.

RAIN is located at 601 E. 5th St., Suite 470, in Charlotte, N.C.

What do you do at RAIN?

I oversee events, donors, giving campaigns, marketing the brand, communications, grants. Depending on which day it is, that’s the hat I wear.

How big of a problem is HIV in the Charlotte area?

Mecklenburg County ranks number one in the entire state for most cases of HIV. On average, seven new cases are reported each week in Charlotte. On average, one new case a day is reported.

What can we do to stop the spread of HIV?

Continue to have honest and frank conversations and not be afraid to talk about your status, whether you’re positive or negative. Also, be OK with wearing a condom if you meet someone. We’re in the South and sometimes talking about sex and things of that nature can still be a little scary. It’s getting over that fear and just having those conversations. You can have fun and enjoy life, but have honest conversations with your partners, your friends. All my friends know what I do for a living and always come to me with questions if they have any. Also, I’ve been involved with RAIN for so long I also have very frank conversations with them, even just chit-chatting.

I was visiting an HIV clinic in the Charlotte area recently and saw a sign on the importance of knowing your status. It was kind of funny to see the sign in an HIV clinic — where clients already know their status — rather than in some public place where you’re more likely to find people who have yet to be tested. Are enough people getting tested?

No. Even if they were doing an amazing job, you can never do enough. Being a non-profit, we have limited resources. I would really love to do a bus wrap, but that would be $10,000. The resources that we have we really try to use, social media and such. We really try, but we have to do a lot more.

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What’s the one thing you’d like readers to know about RAIN?

If you need help, call us. We never turn anyone away. We offer testing every Wednesday night here in the office.

Why is this work so important?

When I first started with RAIN, it wasn’t necessarily about HIV. I have a passion for non-profit fundraising. Starting with RAIN, it really was the staff. Our CEO is also our founder, Debbie [the Rev. Deborah C. Warren]. For her to be here and to be in this field and to still have the passion 24 years later is really inspirational. It’s an amazing organization to work for and they do amazing stuff. Of course, I’m a little biased. We have an amazing staff. We’re a small staff of 12 people. To be one of the largest AIDS service organizations in the Carolinas, doing amazing work, it’s a great opportunity and has been a great honor to be part of it.

Are you from Charlotte originally?

I’m not from Charlotte, but I’m originally from North Carolina. I was born in Wake Forest.

How long have you been in Charlotte?

Since 2002, I believe. It’s kind of a blur. I guess I’m kind of a Charlottean. They always say if you’ve been here at least four or five years, you’re a native. [laughs]

Tell me something about yourself that people might not know about you.

The first thing that pops into my head, honestly, is my parents. Most people don’t know that my dad’s a priest. To have a priest as a father, people say, like, what, with me being openly gay. But, he’s 100 percent cool about it. He’s 100 percent supportive. Both of my parents are. That’s actually where I get my passion from. He’s retired, but he works part-time at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, which is where I’m a member of.

What does your mom do?

She’s a retired social worker.

So, both of your parents worked in professions where they gave back to the community.

I jokingly say that me and my two younger sisters are all kind of screwed in the sense of giving back. [laughs] I do not-for-profit fundraising, my little sister is a vet tech and my other sister is back in school, but was in D.C. doing policy at a non-profit. She has a passion for the field of domestic violence.

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