Photography by Beth Mann
For the past 10 years, Pilar Rocha-Goldberg has led El Centro Hispano, the largest Latinx-serving organization in North Carolina. She has navigated the organization in Durham and Orange counties through the changing and often difficult political policies impacting our growing community. And while the work in recent years has been more demanding and complex, Pilar has always led with grace, an unwavering dedication and radical kindness.
“Un saludo no quita lo valiente” (“a greeting does not make you less brave”): Pilar learned this emblematic expression from her mother, and it serves as the groundwork for her leadership style. She focuses on people and the importance of building relationships. It is through this commitment that El Centro Hispano has implemented innovative and community-centered initiatives like the FaithAction ID Program (provides identification for residents without direct access to government IDs), bringing together diverse partners and those most impacted to address the needs of the community in innovative ways. Pilar has also been a staunch supporter of the LGBTQ community, reflected not only in the growth of the longstanding-LGBTQ programming at El Centro Hispano, but also in the diversity of staff.
Pilar is always celebrating life and has danced her way into the hearts of many across [our area] and beyond. – Judith Montenegro, program director at Latinos in the Deep South and the Latino Commission on AIDS
“Don’t just talk about it – be about it!” Geraud Station brought that quote to life when he launched The Helius Foundation in 2015. In fact, he is widely known across Durham as a champion for necessity-driven entrepreneurs, those who start small enterprises out of – you guessed it – necessity.
In my mind, the work at Helius plays out like this: Necessity-driven entrepreneurs can lead us to reimagine and re-energize our business community, but only if they have access to key resources, namely coaching, mentoring, networks and viable financial resources. If done right, it’s a home run. It’s exactly the type of work that Durham espouses.
Now, when you get the opportunity to talk with Geraud, you’ll find him charming, direct and irreverent. (He’s also a talented visual artist.) His unique personality has allowed him to build strong relationships with both the entrepreneurs he serves and the corporate community. He’s a force for good.
Geraud will go to bat for you, challenge convention on your behalf and fight for an equitable process. All you have to do is bring your dream and have the moxy to carry it through. – Jesica Averhart, executive director of Leadership Triangle, a founder of Black Wall Street: Homecoming, and one of last year’s Influencers
I have had the pleasure of knowing Lois since 1985. She has always exemplified a “lady of grace.” She joined the Morehead Avenue Baptist Church and sang in the senior choir with my mother. As a neighbor, I witnessed firsthand her willingness to assist others in the immediate neighborhoods and beyond.
I had the pleasure of working alongside her when she became the vice chancellor for institutional advancement at North Carolina Central University. She was an effective administrator and fundraiser. Her personality is infectious. She is a kind and caring person who wanted all of her staff to succeed. She was an effective coach to her staff and was well respected for her craft. I consider Lois to be a true friend and confidant. – Ernest Jenkins, current executive director of the NCCU Foundation
If I had to describe Lois in one word, it would be “awesome.” She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with. Lois works with the precision and presence of an Army captain, and leads several Self-Help Credit Union teams, confidently bringing the wisdom of an experienced community organizer to our policy and impact, data intelligence, fellowship and community engagement efforts. Lois has a deep sense of history that helps to shape, guide and move us forward. Her energy is boundless. In addition to being one of our driving forces, Lois stays true to her roots and remains grounded in our community. She has earned the trust of the people she works with – both inside of Self-Help and in the neighborhoods we serve. She’s a mentor and role model to many and manages her work with passion and drive, accentuating her success with the rich contralto of a jazz singer – and I do mean that literally. To top off her many talents, Lois boasts an impressive career as an accomplished vocalist. She uses music to engage audiences, much in the way she inspires her colleagues at Self-Help. Simply put: When Lois lifts her voice, the world stops to listen. – Martin D. Eakes, co-founder and CEO of Self-Help Credit Union and the Center for Community Self-Help
Generosity comes to mind when I think of Lois. She is generous with her time, her passion, her care for people and this community. She’s generous with her voice. She’s generous with her actions. She’s generous with her follow-through and her [promises]. Lois is also genuine. She believes in the good of
all things. – E’Vonne Coleman, Discover Durham’s chief operating officer and former executive director of the Durham Arts Council, where Lois was a volunteer
When I first started working with Children’s Flight of Hope (CFOH) in 2010, I got acquainted with Dr. Herb Fuchs as another member of the board of directors. I knew he was an accomplished pediatric neurosurgeon at the time, but what I’ve learned in the years since is that he’s also one of the most amazing, thoughtful and passionate volunteer leaders who has served our organization.
CFOH provides air transportation for kids in need of specialized medical care far from home. As both a medical specialist and a pilot, Herb brings a unique blend of medical and aviation knowledge that has been indispensable in guiding our growing organization. He is the board vice president and the chair of our Mission Delivery Committee. With his support and leadership, CFOH has grown from completing 49 missions in 2009 to more than 1,300 in 2019. Herb’s involvement has been critical in expanding our commercial and private flight programs in effective and meaningful ways. That growth has changed, and often saved, the lives of hundreds of children.
Dr. Fuchs has an ability to keep things in perspective and contribute to smart, sound decisions. Despite his demanding professional responsibilities, he has demonstrated consistent dedication for a full decade to the children and families we serve. His influence has a direct impact on our local community, on our state and on families throughout the country. Children’s Flight of Hope is stronger and better because of him, and I feel privileged to associate and serve with him. – Jennifer Wade, board president of Children’s Flight of Hope
Every time I walk into a Don’t Waste Durham meeting or simply run into Crystal at an event, I get the same ebullient greeting: “Bryce! You have to meet so-and-so!” Ever the connection maker, Crystal leads the environmental movement in Durham through engaging people where they are, with projects they are interested in, and with people they are drawn to. Not only is she constantly singing the praises and reveling in others’ successes, she is also consistently making strides in her own lanes: policy and education.
Through Don’t Waste Durham, Crystal has advocated and innovated in areas [of reducing consumer waste] where, thanks to her, we might be a leading city in the South and hopefully in the country. Her solutions are exemplary. Not only has she tackled single-use plastic bags by advocating for policies to deter consumption, she has also led evidence-based research and facilitated reuse alternatives to prevent policy changes from harming our most underprivileged communities.
In the coming years, while other cities’ landfills overflow and plastic consumption rises, Durham will be enjoying the benefits of Don’t Waste Durham’s work. Durham owes a great deal of gratitude to Crystal’s inspiring and inventive mind. – Bryce Northington
Bryce and Gather Green provide a vital service to Durham and to small businesses. They help us achieve complete transparency and drastically reduce our impact on the environment. As just one example, Gather Green’s full-service waste discovery and management has been crucial for my own business to be able to divert almost 99% of our waste, resulting in just eight pounds of garbage produced over an entire year. Gather Green helps our business community reflect Durham’s values as a city of mindful progressives and early adopters. There is no place like home, and we are so grateful to Gather Green. – Alyssa Cherry
Alyssa is one of those people who one day had a really bold idea, and through very hard work, made it real. Despite the learning curve and the great risk inherent in starting a brand-new concept, she’s been able to do it. (And by the way, maybe we should really be thinking of Fillaree as a fresh revival of old-fashioned, common-sense ideals.) Alyssa is an influencer because people can look at what she represents and feel that their own initiatives might just be possible. At a time when the market is demanding refillable and reusable options that don’t widely exist, Fillaree is bravely breaking the mold and supplying a new product and service [that] people want. The company is a model of a circular economy business that shows where consumer habits need to be headed. Durham is incredibly lucky to have Alyssa and Fillaree. – Crystal Dreisbach