“Why do I do this work?” It’s an important question to return to throughout our day-to-day working lives. The answer helps us anchor, reconnect, and recommit to the path we’ve chosen. And oftentimes, our why is so much bigger than just ourselves.
We asked Trust staff and grantees to reflect on what inspires their work and visions for community success. Read their stories to learn about the experiences and lessons that have shaped their commitment to creating a more equitable future for all North Carolinians.
This third installment — because we’re all connected — is one of many story collections we plan to share with you in the months ahead.
“African Americans are 30 percent of the population of Old Fort, but we never really had a voice at the table. We’ve always been here, but we haven’t been seen. We formed the working group to give the Black community a voice and be part of the change.”
“I work at the Trust because I believe our city has so much to offer. I was raised here; my husband and I returned to build our family and careers. I also know that the disparities in this community are deep and many of the people I went to school with are stuck—their children are in failing schools, their economic mobility is limited.
The Trust is committed to listening to the community to address economic, education, and health disparities and ensure that every child and resident thrives. I want to be a part of the change.”
Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, Executive Vice President, Programs and Administration
“My story began as a baby girl in Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Kanpur, India. I was brought to the U.S. and raised by a white single mom in rural Minnesota. Transracial adoption provided me insider access to white dominant culture, along with experiences of othering as an Asian American. Navigating the complexities of race in the South as a woman of color and mother to a Black daughter and son with African American and South Asian heritage compels me to work toward a just America where people of all backgrounds belong.
Only by partnering with community can philanthropy be a catalyst to ensure everyone has opportunities to build upon their inherent strengths and achieve their dreams. We strive for a future where residents can tell their own stories and are positioned at the table to ultimately direct investments in their own community.”
“We are all tied together. When we eliminate the persisting inequities across North Carolina, we all thrive.
Early in my life, I had moments when I began to realize there was more to the statement ‘across the tracks’ than what was on the surface. I am privileged to work each day on things I am passionate about, trying to correct injustices, uplifting community voices, and working toward creating a thriving North Carolina for everyone.
If we are successful, charity philanthropy will not be necessary, nor will systems change philanthropy. What must happen now is to establish the mindset to—with a long-term commitment perspective—significantly invest in communities that have a longstanding experience of marginalization and being excluded from shaping their future direction.”
“I began to look at our work and ask, ‘How do we help people take the tools they learn in dismantling racism and put them to action in the community?’ Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘we either live together in unity or we die together as fools.’ That’s where we are right now.”
Alan Welch, Manager of Information Systems
“I was taught from an early age that when others were in need, in both large and small ways, it was my responsibility to answer that need. Working at the Trust is an extension of that mindset. We aren’t waiting to be successful. I believe we are successful every day. When people in need see the efforts being made to improve their communities, it gives them hope for the future.”
Dr. Laura Gerald, President
“Growing up in Lumberton and returning to practice medicine in Robeson County, I learned that communities are not defined by their challenges. They’re defined by the strengths of the people who live there. I try to honor that strength in my work at the Trust. We start by listening to community to determine what solutions are really needed to change the systems that deny them the support and opportunities they need to succeed.
At the center of our work is promoting changes to policies and systems that are needed to right the wrongs of racism. If we can’t do more now in this time of persistent societal and racial unrest, when will we?”
Adam Linker, Director of Programs
“While we are breathing, I think we all have an obligation to make the world more peaceful, more empathetic, more equitable. To change the world, my preference is to start at home in the place I love the most among the people I know the best. I was born in the South and grew up in North Carolina. Both of my children were born here. This is home. So this is where I choose to work and make a push toward progress in ending systemic racism and inequality.”