Channa Pickett & Duke’s Office of Durham & Regional Affairs (DARA)

Fostering Community Care in Durham and the Triangle


CEF received a $5,000 Community Care Fund (CCF) grant through the Duke University Office of Durham and Regional Affairs’ “Doing Good In the Neighborhood” (DGIN) program in October of 2015. We sat down with Channa Pickett, Senior Program Coordinator for Community Outreach, Engagement, and Evaluation, to talk about the CCF grant, her work at DARA, and her story.

When Channa Pickett joined the Duke University Office of Durham and Regional Affairs (DARA) in 2008, she was charged with building and running a grant-making program for Doing Good in the Neighborhood, Duke’s employee-giving campaign. Doing Good in the Neighborhood (DGIN) was designed to connect Duke employee donors to an array of giving options that impact the Durham community. Today, Duke employees can choose to donate to five options — neighborhoods, youth, schools, health, and the Community Care Fund — in addition to being able to donate to the United Way.

CEF received its grant through the Community Care Fund, which provides funding to Triangle nonprofits that present “strong and innovative proposals.” CEF will be using its grant money to deliver and continuously improve personalized one-on-one financial coaching to Durham residents, leveraging these efforts towards stable transitions from shelters into permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Community investment, especially in local schools, is what former Duke President Nannerl Keohane imagined when she created the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership in 1994. “I really believe that Duke has in its heart and in its mission an investment in the community,” says Pickett, “and I think that happens in hundreds if not thousands of ways.”

For over two decades, Duke has bolstered communities and organizations in Durham and beyond through targeted giving and organizational support.

While raising money is not always an easy task, especially during a recession, Duke employees have continued to step up to the challenge raising $647,985 in 2015. Money raised through DGIN has been invested into high-impact programs and organizations that make our community a better place.

“It’s been an incredible experience watching the DGIN campaign grow over the past eight years,” Pickett reflected. “I’m always impressed by the generosity of my colleagues across the campus and health system.” Initially Pickett thought grant-making would be simple; however, she soon realized the unique challenges grant-makers face. “We feel a real sense of responsibility to our Duke donors to invest their money wisely,” Pickett says. “With so many deserving organizations in Durham, Wake, and Orange counties, we often face difficult funding decisions.”

In addition to her work with DGIN, Pickett oversees several Latino community outreach initiatives including Enlaces, a Latino youth outreach program for elementary and middle school students. “In 2008, as we started talking with school and community leaders, we heard the need for more support for our Latino community members,” Pickett recalled.

“We were seeing tremendous growth in our Latino Community,” she says, “yet language and cultural barriers prevented students and parents from accessing many school and community resources and fully engaging in the education of their children.” Partnering with El Centro Hispano, Pickett helped start Enlaces, a strengths-based program that better connects Hispanic students and parents to school staff and resources. The Enlaces team uses a holistic approach to meeting the needs of families and works to enhance communication and understanding among youth, parents, and school staff.

In an earlier interview, Maria, the mother of an Enlaces student at Rogers-Herr Middle School, said the parent workshops and the support of Enlaces staff have made a big difference for her family. “The meetings help me relate to and have more conversations with my son,” she said. “I’ve learned how to create a good studying environment at home, and I feel more connected with my son’s teachers.”

Through the years, Enlaces has expanded the focus from school navigation to parent leadership development and advocacy. It’s been exciting and very rewarding “to see parents go from calling us [Enlaces] for support to contacting the school directly, requesting their own meetings, and advocating for their issues,” Pickett reflects.

Now in her eighth year working for DARA, Pickett is excited to focus on cultivating youth leaders through Enlaces. “Our youth have a lot to say about their own experiences. We want to help them realize change on issues that impact their lives.” Pickett says that it’s “a pleasure and an honor to work in this office and to have an opportunity to invest in others as others have invested in me when I was a student at Durham Tech and Duke.”

We’re appreciative of Pickett’s efforts and of DARA’s generous support of CEF!

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

Chapel Hill: 919-200-0233 Durham: 919-797-9233