Laughing Gull Foundation is a progressive family foundation rooted in the U.S. South.
Meg (Coward) Baesmith, Board President. Pronouns: she, her, hers. As a co-founder of the Laughing Gull Foundation, Meg was honored to take the lead on launching the organization in 2013. In setting up LGF’s first grantmaking programs, operations, and strategies, Meg drew on fifteen years of leadership experience with innovative organizations including the Merck Family Fund, Resource Generation, Bolder Giving, The Food Project, The Farm School and Waltham Fields Community Farm. She was supported and inspired by LGF’s other board and staff members, peers in the funding world, movement leaders, and a set of amazing consultants, to whom she will be forever grateful. As LGF grows into its next chapter, Meg is thrilled to support Hez Norton as LGF’s Executive Director, and to focus on her role as Board President. In that capacity, her current work with LGF focuses on carrying out the foundation’s strategic plan, overseeing the foundation’s asset management, and organizing within the philanthropic sector. Meg holds an Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College. She loves to experiment with gluten free baking, and to cheer on her favorite women’s sports teams of the moment (currently the LA Sparks and the NC Courage). Meg always needs a musical outlet – sometimes it’s dj’ing, right now it’s singing in a choir.
Terrell A. Blount, Program Officer, Higher Education in Prison Program. Pronouns: he, him, his. Terrell joined Laughing Gull Foundation in January 2020. He brings many years of experience advocating for the advancement of quality higher education opportunities for people in prison, and for policy changes that affect system-impacted people. Most recently, Terrell served as a Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice, providing technical assistance to college and corrections partnerships participating in the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Pilot. Prior to Vera, Terrell was an Academic Counselor at Rutgers University for the New Jersey Scholarship for Transformative Education in Prison (NJ-STEP). In addition, Terrell served on the steering committee for the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, and is currently a founding board member of the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network, as well as a board trustee of the Petey Greene Program. In 2019, the Urban League of Union County Young Professionals gave Terrell the “Outstanding Work as a Humanitarian Award”, honoring his work for justice-involved people and service to his community. Terrell holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a Master of Public Administration, both from Rutgers University.
Karen Carlton, Administrative and Communications 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, including setting up office systems and a grantmaking database. Karen loves getting to know LGF grantees, and has enjoyed the Foundation's continuing growth and expansion. 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 niece play volleyball for the Florida Gators, even though she is a Duke fan. She also spends time with a young man with Down Syndrome, who crawled into her heart over 26 years ago.
Christopher J. Cuevas, Program Officer, LGBTQ Equality Program. Pronouns: they, them, theirs. Christopher joined LGF in October 2020. A lifelong peace practitioner, educator, and community organizer, Christopher leads their work for cultural transformation by centering the unapologetic and unwavering power of radical love. A child of undocumented immigrants and a queer person of color, Christopher interconnects their lived experience and drives the necessary heart work of building a culture of peace, compassion, and change through advocating for LGBTQ+, immigrant, and racial justice movements. Through their work, Christopher has led conversations and facilitated campaigns addressing structural racism, health equity, and LGBTQ+ issues. In 2016, following the horrific massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL, Christopher co-founded and served as the executive director of QLatinx, a racial, social, and gender justice movement working toward the advancement of intersecting LGBTQ+ Latinx issues. An avid peacebuilder, Christopher serves on the Board of Directors for the Peace and Justice Institute, a nationally recognized center for peace education. Christopher also served on the Advisory Board for the City of Orlando’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, working to highlight and address the needs of the City’s growing multicultural community. Christopher earned a Bachelor of Arts from Rollins College.
Hez Norton, Executive Director. Pronouns: they, them, their. As LGF's ED, Hez guides the next steps in our foundation's growth. Hez also serves as Program Officer for the LGF Higher Education in Prison Program. Hez brings over 25 years experience as an organizer, executive director, interim executive, and consultant with organizations and leaders that are in transition. Hez was the founding executive director of North Carolina Lambda Youth Network, executive director of Resource Generation, and also served in a leadership position at TSNE MissionWorks. Hez 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 serves on 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 Bachelor of Arts from Duke University and a Master of Public Administration from Northeastern University. Hez enjoys playing basketball, mountain biking, and paddle boarding.
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 Grant-Makers, 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.