Charlotte Pride pays tribute to RAIN founder Debbie Warren, retiring after 28 years of service

Today, RAIN announced the retirement of its founder, president and CEO, Debbie Warren, after 28 years of service to the groundbreaking HIV service organization.

Daniel Valdez, president of the Charlotte Pride Board of Directors, responded to the news:

Debbie Warren is one of Charlotte’s most visionary and dedicated community leaders. But more than this, Debbie has been a longtime friend, mentor, and hero to many, including all of us here at Charlotte Pride. For nearly three decades, Debbie has led RAIN through tremendous changes in the HIV and AIDS epidemics, the LGBTQ community, and the larger Charlotte community. Without a doubt, many people are living full and happy lives today because of Debbie’s life work, her fierce advocacy, and her strong belief in love, compassion, care, and healing. Quite simply, the Charlotte community — and, in particular, the LGBTQ and HIV communities — would not be where we are today without Debbie’s legacy of passionate community service. Thank you, Debbie. Charlotte Pride salutes you on this well-deserved time of retirement!

Warren founded RAIN — then known as the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network — in 1992, in response to the growing needs of people living with HIV at a time when the AIDS epidemic was still at its height.

“Many of us in the LGBTQ community were caring for our friends and working to serve the community at the same time,” Warren said in a press release distributed by RAIN today. “So many people with HIV feared that they might die alone, and I was so deeply moved by that.”

Warren, who holds a Master of Arts from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ken., received her Clinical Pastoral Education at Carolinas Medical Center. Her early work as a hospital chaplain and a caregiver with House of Mercy informed her vision for RAIN.

In its early days, RAIN’s mission was to connect people in faith communities to those who were very sick with AIDS. Warren recounted: “I knew that these two groups had to be brought together for healing. That’s when I started organizing AIDS Care Teams and matching them with Care Partners who were very sick with AIDS.”

In the past 28 years, RAIN has grown to meet an ever-changing community and its needs. The organization now provides medical case management, bilingual education and case management, prevention programs, youth and adult support groups, mental health services, advocacy and education.

The growth in RAIN’s services led the organization to become a national model for education, advocacy, and prevention. In 2010, Warren joined other HIV/AIDS experts at a White House dialogue on the role of public-private partnerships in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

“I had the great good fortune to meet Debbie at the beginning of her tenure with RAIN and have watched with awe as she committed her passion and caring to guiding the organization through various transitions in HIV healthcare locally, statewide and on the national stage,” Jacquelyn M. Claymore, HIV/STI/Viral Hepatitis Director, Division of Public Health, Communicable Disease Branch, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said in RAIN’s release. “She has ensured that RAIN continues beyond its initial vision. …Many people are alive today thanks to Debbie and her work, and many others have better and happier lives because she cares.”

As Warren departs her service at RAIN, she’ll be taking a multitude of memories with her.

Warren shared: “Among the things that will live in my heart: Clients who tell me they are alive today because of RAIN. Traveling to the Ford Foundation in New York to receive its Leadership for a Changing World Award. All of the hilarity from Gay BINGO,” she says. “And the joy and support of the faithful who have sustained RAIN through the AIDS Walk, World AIDS Day events, and on a daily basis.”

Warren began considering her retirement from RAIN four years ago and has worked to ensure the organization’s continued success after her departure.

“The timing is really good for both RAIN and for me,” Warren said. “RAIN is well positioned for a strong, vibrant future. I am excited about the commitment and enthusiasm of young staff and board members. They are amazing — brilliant and creative — and they use all kinds of creative processes to reach people. RAIN’s board and staff care deeply about serving our community and work with incredible medical and research partners. I feel confident that I can entrust this incredible organization with its current and future leaders, enough so that I can continue toward my life’s next explorations.”

RAIN said Warren’s successor has been identified and will be announced before the end of the year.

— Compiled from press release. Featured photo by Gary Benner.