UNC Charlotte alumna Chelsea Gulden is the newest CEO of RAIN, a non-profit organization that empowers those living with HIV and those at risk to be healthy and stigma free.
The Charlotte-based organization is working to end HIV in the community, and offers many treatment services and partners with the Mecklenburg County Health Department for free testing.
Gulden’s journey to her current position began when she found out she was HIV positive while pursuing an undergraduate degree in sociology.
“When I was first diagnosed I thought my life was over, and the life that I had initially envisioned for myself really seemed over. I was pregnant, diagnosed with HIV, and about to graduate from college with a degree I didn’t think I would live long enough to use,” Gulden said.
“I went to the Metrolina AIDs Project (MAP) as a client and gained support and access to resources such as mental health. After I graduated, I applied to work at MAP and within six months I was the new case manager. I experienced the need for services. Being young and newly diagnosed with HIV was a different experience. Seeing the need and being able to provide services to fill the gap guided me throughout the rest of my career.”
During her time at MAP as client and employee, Gulden met UNC Charlotte social work professor Diana Rowan, who encouraged her to apply for a Master’s in Social Work.
“If it were not for Dr. Rowan coming to MAP, I would not have met her and subsequently I probably would not have applied for the MSW program. The social work program at UNC Charlotte has really invested in professors that make big impacts in the local community. After graduation, I have encountered many of them in the field. They are well respected and active in the areas they teach. They really ‘walk the walk,’” Gulden said.
While completing her master’s, Gulden worked in private practice, drawing her closer to the field. After graduation, she began working at RAIN full time, where the need for program development, implementation, and management became critically important.
“I saw the value in making sure the voices of people we serve are included in development. Empowering and training others became my focus and as the years passed I knew leading RAIN was my new goal. When I think back it seems so coincidental but also so intentional,” Gulden said.
While settling into her new position, Gulden hopes to provide quality and services to those living or who are at risk with HIV during the current pandemic. Ultimately, she hopes the organization will be able to break down socioeconomic barriers to end new HIV infections with PrEP and U=U.
“People still assume there is a ‘type’ of person that gets HIV. I do not believe most people understand the concept of ‘U=U.’ ‘U=U’means if someone is effectively treated with HIV medications and is virally suppressed as a result, they are unable to pass HIV even through condomless sex. This understanding is vital to decreasing the stigma of HIV, which is still the underlying cause of many problems,” Gulden said.
For more information about RAIN, visit their website.
by: Katie Rayner, CHHS Communications Graduate Assistant