Dr. Laura Gerald: Listening and Learning to Make our Work Stronger

Portrait of President Dr. Laura Gerald

As we near the end of the year, I want to share what we’ve been focusing on in 2017 at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and give you a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Talking with residents and organizations around the state is central to what we do. Learning from the community members we serve and leveraging their expertise is fundamental to how we work. As we celebrated the Trust’s 70th anniversary in June, we released our updated Strategic Vision and underscored our commitment to the issues Kate B. Reynolds cared about—health, education, and economic opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender, or income.

To connect with community and make a long-term impact, as Mrs. Reynolds intended, we believe:

  • We must always start by listening.
  • The power, and the existing strength, of a community to work together to make and sustain change is at the root of all we do.
  • Everyone needs a seat at the table if we are going to support change.
  • Changing the system is essential to affect outcomes in an equitable and sustainable way.
  • Fostering equity in health, early childhood education, and social services will ultimately help our entire state succeed.
  • I’d like to share a few examples of how we lived those beliefs in 2017, and how we hope to grow in 2018.

In 2017: We listened. We learned. We listened more.

Great Expectations and Forsyth County


  • Forsyth Family Voices: Through our Great Expectations initiative, we continued to work closely with local agencies to build their capacity to listen to and learn from the parents and families they work with every day. We heard from parents that too few children have access to the health services they need, and too few parents are aware of all of the resources available to them. To that end, we continue to invest in the Forsyth Connects universal home visiting program and in exploring Help Me Grow, which connects young children and their families to the services they need. In this newsletter, you can read more about the success of Forsyth Connects and how nurses work one-on-one with each family to understand their needs and provide tailored support.
  • Forsyth Family Voices Learning Network: Given the richness of the Forsyth Family Voices work, we supported a Learning Network for agencies and parents interested in continuing to meet and engage authentically with one another and others in the community. Nolo Martinez is leading that work, and you can read more about the rich training and conversation happening monthly with agency partners and parents.
  • Family, Friend and Neighbor Research: We recently completed a research project that surveyed more than 1,000 parents and 400 caregivers to better understand families’ child care preferences and why many children are not in licensed child care. One of the lessons learned is that there is a need for new ways of thinking and talking about child care that is more reflective of the variety of arrangements parents choose for their children. The research also showed that although nearly 75 percent of parents are happy with the care they are receiving, those findings and other challenges vary by income level. According to the data, child care providers have a great deal of knowledge about how to care for children but need more resources and supports. The researchers are still analyzing the data, so stay tuned for more information and issue briefs.
  • Assessing Current Funding Interests: We launched a survey in Forsyth County earlier this month to gather community feedback on our current Local Impact in Forsyth County program area and funding interests. We are excited to hear back from key partners, stakeholders, and residents as we assess how we can best support a healthy, thriving Forsyth County for all residents today. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts with us, you can access the survey here.

Healthy Places NC and Health Improvement


  • Supporting Deep Community Work: In our Healthy Places NC communities, we supported projects that acknowledge that health is more than just health care and that build the capacity of residents to make change. For example, in Edgecombe and Nash counties, the National Association of Community Development Corporations is providing training to underserved residents so they can advocate for their communities around issues such as fair housing and segregation—both of which are predictors of health. Read more about the exciting work underway here.
  • Reflecting on Five Years of Healthy Places NC: As we celebrate the five-year mark in some of our Healthy Places NC communities, program officers have paused and reflected on what we’ve learned, community priorities, and where we’re going now. Just last week, we held a Community Engagement Planning meeting in Durham with a small group of community members from around the state to help the Trust think about the best way to reengage Healthy Places NC communities in 2018 around key health issues the communities have identified. We will continue to build on the rich assets in each of these communities as we partner with residents to sustain the work underway.
  • Helping Residents Access Health Insurance: Quality health care for all, as Mrs. Reynolds worked for in her lifetime, means quality health insurance today. When the Affordable Care Act legislation passed in 2010 and enrollment began in 2013, it opened a huge opportunity to increase health care coverage, and the Trust invested deeply in this work. As the landscape shifted over the past year at the state and national level, we convened many of the organizations working throughout North Carolina to hear from them and identify their best thinking around what is needed to help people keep their coverage. What we heard is that enrollment is still a big concern and, to that end, we invested more than $1 million this past grant cycle to support enrollment efforts locally and around the state, and to provide clarity around current options for North Carolinians.

In 2018: We will continue to respond to what we heard. And we will learn more as we go.

Looking ahead, this deep community work will continue. We are excited to hear more from parents in the Forsyth Family Voices Learning Network. We will conduct a deeper analysis of the Family, Friends and Neighbors research and use that information to shape some of our Great Expectations investments in order to respond to what parents are telling us they want and need. We will conduct a series of Community Engagement Summits in the first Healthy Places NC counties to learn more about what is working well and what we can improve to have a greater impact.

We will continue to be transparent about what we’re learning and how we’re adjusting our work, because we can’t do this without all of you. Thank you to all our grantees, partners, community members, our Trustee at Wells Fargo, and others who support us in these collective efforts.

As we close 2017, I would like to wish all of you a restful holiday and a peaceful New Year. We are excited by what lies ahead in 2018!