Thomas Helmstetter

TJ

A 2005 Young People For fellow, T.J. has served as Director of Communications and Development at Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s LGBT equality organization. Previously, he was statewide Communications Director of New York’s labor-backed Working Families Party, where he helped expose right-wing politicians and elevate the spotlight for issues of economic justice. Before that, as a consultant with Blue State Digital, he worked with progressive causes (and corporate clients, too) to raise their profiles (and their dollars) online. While at BSD, he was most proud of his work with LGBT causes including Freedom to Marry and the launch of Dan Savage’s inspirational “It Gets Better” campaign.

Details

Location: Washington, D.C., DC, United States

Campus: George Washington University - Washington, DC

Fellowship Class Year: 2005

    Fellow Groups:
  • Front Line Leaders Academy

Featured Fellow Spotlight

A 2005 Young People For fellow, T.J. currently serves as Director of Communications and Development at Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s LGBT equality organization. Previously, he was statewide Communications Director of New York’s labor-backed Working Families Party, where he helped expose right-wing politicians and elevate the spotlight for issues of economic justice. Before that, as a consultant with Blue State Digital, he worked with progressive causes (and corporate clients, too) to raise their profiles (and their dollars) online. While at BSD, he was most proud of his work with LGBT causes including Freedom to Marry and the launch of Dan Savage’s inspirational “It Gets Better” campaign.

He credits Young People For, the Front Line Leaders Academy, and People For the American Way Foundation for helping get him started.

 

YP4: What do you stand for?

TJ: I stand for a fairer, more just, and more compassionate society.

YP4: How did you become involved with YP4?

TJ: I was nominated to be a Fellow during YP4’s first year of existence in 2005 by one of my classmates while attending George Washington University; I then served as one of YP4’s earliest interns in 2005-2006 during and after my fellowship year.

YP4: What has been your greatest achievement so far?

TJ: Surviving 8-plus years of a career in advocacy and politics! I hope the greatest is yet to come. I am very proud of my work in helping progressive causes and candidates maximize their media exposure and turn headlines into dollars and action.

YP4: What motivates and inspires you?

TJ: Watching change happen. Looking at the marriage equality movement as an example, look at how far we’ve come from 2004 – when I was a college freshman – to today, in just 10 years. Today, a majority of Americans support the freedom to marry for gays and lesbians, our President supports marriage equality and tied Stonewall to Selma and Seneca Falls in his Inaugural address. By the end of the year we will have 14 or 15 states with marriage equality. In 2004, George W. Bush won re-election partly on the most vocally anti-gay rhetoric our country had seen on the national stage, and even progressives were not fully on board with recognizing the LGBT equality movement as equal in importance to the civil rights movements that came before us.

YP4: What is a main goal that you want to accomplish?

TJ: I want to continue working to elect progressive candidates to office – not just Democrats or liberals – but true progressives who will work to level the playing field for all people of all classes, who will fight for equality in all areas of society, and who will take the global climate crisis seriously.

YP4: What is your vision for the world?

TJ: I envision a fairer, more just, more compassionate society comprised of an engaged and educated public and responsive, transparent governments working together to create communities that provide opportunity for all and leave no one to fall behind.

YP4: How do you feel you fit in to the Progressive Movement?

TJ: I’m most comfortable when I’m straddling both the advocacy and electoral worlds, bridging divides and building relationships between the two. And as a communications director, digital strategist and some-time fundraiser, it’s my job to draw attention to and grow resources for deserving causes and candidates within the movement.

YP4: What is a struggle that you’ve faced or are facing in your work?

TJ: Managing burnout and creating a healthy work-life balance sometimes seem impossible when working within the context of an electoral campaign or legislative calendar, but are so critical to staying engaged in the mission and doing the best job possible.

YP4: What advice do you have for others dealing with those struggles?

TJ: Stay connected to your friends and family who will remind you to take care of yourself.  Try not to lose sight of your larger vision for your career and life even while you’re caught up in the intensity of a single campaign. Don’t ignore your personal life.

YP4: How can other Fellows get involved or find more information about the work you’re doing? 

TJ: Fellows can always Facebook me! Info on my current gig, working to win marriage equality in New Jersey: http://www.GardenStateEquality.org

YP4: What advice would you give to the 2013-2014 incoming class of Fellows?

TJ: The best career advice I ever got came from the founder of Young People For, Iara Peng: Spend your 20s accumulating the most skills that you can. Worry less about where you’re working or what you’re doing than what you are learning, how you are building your skill sets, and who you are meeting. I have 15 months until I’m 30 (but who’s counting?), so I’ll let you know if it worked out then.

YP4: If every time you entered a room your theme song played, what would it be and why?

TJ:I haven’t found one yet but am always open to suggestions.

YP4: Is there anything else that you want to say?

TJ: Value your own work, don’t count on others to set your worth for you. Just because you are “doing good,” does not mean that you shouldn’t also be doing well. If the work is critical to an organization’s success, it’s critical that you are also compensated fairly.