top of page


Karen CarltonGrants & Operations Coordinator. Pronouns: she, her, hers. After spending a good part of her career as an advocate for people with disabilities, Karen is thrilled to be working for Laughing Gull Foundation on the philanthropy side of the nonprofit arena, supporting other issue areas that she is passionate about. Karen’s work with First In Families of North Carolina and Community Partnerships provided a good foundation for her work with LGF, and Karen has increasingly focused her work on grants management and "all things data." Karen also loves getting to know LGF grantees. Karen has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology from Meredith College. After spending 8 years commuting to Durham from Raleigh, Karen realized that Durham is "home" and moved there in 2015. She and her pack of three dogs love it! In her spare time, Karen loves watching her 11 nieces and nephews grow into excellent young adults and seeing where life takes them. She also spends time with a young man with Down Syndrome, who crawled into her heart almost 30 years ago.

Hez Norton, Program Consultant, LGBTQ+ Equality Program. Pronouns: they, them, theirs. Hez has over 20 years experience as an organizer, executive director, interim executive, and consultant with organizations and leaders that are in transition. Hez served as LGF's Executive Director for 4 years previously and rejoins us now to manage the LGBTQ+ Equality portfolio. Hez has served in leadership positions at TSNE MissionWorksResource Generation, and was the founding executive director of North Carolina Lambda Youth Network. Hez also led the youth involvement program in the NC Governor’s Office and was in the inaugural class of NC Public Allies. Hez was a Fellow with the Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership Program and a Lyndhurst Foundation Southern Community Partner. Hez is a former co-chair of the board of the National LGBTQ Task Force. Other board service affiliations include: Funders for LGBTQ Issues, Funding Exchange, and MataHari Women Workers’ Center. Hez co-authored the report “Leadership New England: Essential Shifts for a Thriving Nonprofit Sector.” Hez earned a BA from Duke University and a Masters of Public Administration from Northeastern University. 

LaTonya Penny.jpeg

Dr. LaTonya Penny, Chief Executive. Pronouns: She, her, hers. Dr. Penny is a longtime advocate for those who have been pushed to the margins. She brings over 20 years of experience leading organizations, serving as an executive director, consultant, and organizer. She founded Mary's Grace Incorporated in 2013 to assist faith communities and schools with creating safe spaces of inclusion with persons who are differently abled. Most recently she served as the Executive Director of Family Abuse Services of Alamance County, Inc. and the Associate Director of Church Services for All Belong Center for Inclusive Education. Dr. Penny is committed to giving time and talents to the community and does so by participating on the boards of North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness (NCCEH) and L'Arche North Carolina.  Her commitment to inclusion led her and her partner to launch Belonging Fellowship, a ministry committed to creating a safe space for all to live out their faith and make an impact in their community through community service and giving. She is a published writer and sought after speaker. Dr. Penny earned a  Bachelor of Arts from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a Master of Arts from East Carolina University, a Master of Divinity from Wake Forest University and she completed her Doctor of Ministry from Campbell University. She is the mother of twins and enjoys spending quality time with family and friends.

Cynthia Renfro, Senior Program Consultant, Climate & Environment Program. Pronouns: she, her, hers. Cynthia is the principal and CEO at Civis Consulting LLC, a consulting firm launched in 2012 to support philanthropic institutions and community-based organizations in developing and implementing strategic and intentional programs. Cynthia served as a consultant on LGF's LGBTQ Program Expansion project in 2016-2017 and managed LGF's LGBTQ Program from 2018 to 2020. Cynthia previously worked at the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the Beldon Fund, and the Turner Foundation in Atlanta. Cynthia serves on the board of directors of the Public Citizen Foundation and Funders for LGBTQ Issues and has joined the Advisory Committee for Front and Centered. She previously served on the boards of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the National Network of Grantmakers, the Environmental Leadership Program, and the Neighborhood Funders Group, as well as on the Capital Campaign Advisory Committee at the Highlander Research & Education Center. Cynthia is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, and went on to become a Rackham Merit Fellow Ph.D student of American History at the University of Michigan. Cynthia loves to read sci fi, binge watch netflix with her partner, and sail in Puget Sound. But she is currently most excited about playing a role with some of the best social justice philanthropy in the South.


Hilary Rau, Higher Education in Prison Program Manager. Pronouns: she, her, hers. Prior to joining the Laughing Gull Foundation, Hilary was Vice President of Policy and Community Engagement at the Center for Policing Equity, a research and action group dedicated to advancing racial justice in public safety systems. In this role, Hilary founded, built out, and led the organization's policy team as CPE grew from a small university-affiliated research group to a mid-size nonprofit organization with more than 100 employees. Prior to working at CPE, Hilary served as a staff attorney at a university-based research and action group focused on gender justice advocacy. She began her career as a civil rights attorney in private practice, representing victims of police brutality and employment discrimination. 


Shannon Ritchie, Communications Advsior. Pronouns: she, her, hers. Shannon is a policy wonk and advocate who builds communications capacity for groups advancing racial, social, and economic justice. Her work applies an intersectional racial equity lens to communications and helps groups center directly impacted people’s voices as experts in public discourse. In 2017, she founded Nectar Strategies, a hands-on strategic communications firm that provides insight, strategy, and engagement support to nonprofits, funders, and movements. Prior roles include: Director of Digital and Innovation with AJ Fletcher Foundation, Co-Founder of The Vote Against Project (referendum campaign to advance marriage equality) and positions at City Year and Harvard Law School. Shannon received a master’s from the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and served as student body president at Wake Forest University. When she takes a break from the laptop, you’ll find her savoring the outdoors across NC, growing flowers and food in her yard, drinking copious amounts of coffee at local shops in Durham, and enjoying kitchen dance parties with her partner and two young children.

bottom of page