“I know I always want to be in the community in some sort of way – that's just what fills my cup.” 

-Daniela Cerón, Program Associate, Triangle Community Foundation

Strongly Connected to Her Roots

Community has always been an integral part of Daniela Ceron’s life. From a young age, the core values of empathy and giving back have been engrained in her life. Growing up, her family was and still is very involved in their local church, a place that has provided cultural affirmation and a supportive community to call home. Daniela recalls each Sunday her parents giving a percentage of their time and money, an act known as “tithing” in faith communities, to the church as a way of saying “thanks.”

These acts of service translated to Daniela beyond her childhood. She grew up in Rural Hall, North Carolina, a small-town northeast of Winston-Salem and graduated from Elon University as a first-generation college student. After graduation, she completed a service year at Alamance Achieves, a collective impact organization that works to improve education outcomes for individuals in Alamance County. This marked her introduction to collective impact work and was quickly inspired by the focus on fixing the root of the issues, not just solving the symptoms of the problem.

  Daniela with her former supervisor at Alamance Achieves.

A Spark for Social Work

During this experience, she was surrounded by social workers and her interest in the field peaked. After realizing how many paths social work could lead her to that aligned with her values and passions, she decided to apply for the Master of Social Work program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Through a variety of field work and internship experiences along the way, she was reassured she was on the right track in her career. Her first placement was at Oak City Cares serving individuals experiencing homelessness and she later interned at The Latino Migration Project (based out of UNC) working alongside local government to incorporate language justice to help immigrants and nonnative English speakers better integrate into their communities.

After completing her social work program, she came across an exciting opportunity – the Shannon St. John Fellowship, a program allowing recent graduates to gain cross-functional experience at Triangle Community Foundation in honor of the pioneering work of the Foundation’s founding President, Shannon St. John. In July of 2021, Daniela joined the Foundation as the next Fellow, working on the Community Engagement team. She dove right into a variety of projects, becoming heavily involved in work centered around the Triangle Capacity-Building Network and resonated personally with this work as a person of color. “We are underrepresented and sometimes purposefully left out of other supportive programs.” Daniela says that seeing so much support designated to leaders of color in the community motivated her and led her to accepting a full-time position at the Foundation as a Program Associate.

Redefining Philanthropy

Since joining the Foundation full-time, she has reflected on how many of her community foundation preconceptions have been shattered. She relishes the social work approach that is intertwined with many of the concepts within the Foundation, in particular really listening to donor’s interests and passions or nonprofit’s struggles and obstacles to determine what the Foundation can do to help. Additionally, through participatory grantmaking, the practice of shifting power to organization leaders so they can respond to the community needs that they know best, has inspired her. Working alongside the North Carolina Collaborative for Stronger Latinx Communities, a statewide funder collaborative providing support specifically to Latinx leaders across the state doing grassroots work, has contributed to her redefining philanthropy and inspired her as she strongly identifies with this often-underrepresented community.

Pictured below: Daniela (top left corner) joined with fellow Triangle Capacity-Building Network colleagues on a virtual meeting. 

When reflecting on her time at the Foundation thus far, she highlights her gratitude for the mentors along the way and the importance of capacity building. Foundation staff members Sarah Battersby and Tanaya Suddreth Lynch are two such individuals. Sarah was Daniela’s supervisor during her fellowship, and Daniela currently works alongside Tanaya on all things capacity building. “Tanaya has shown me just how important being intentional and transparent is with our grantees,” she says. She describes how learning from these individuals has changed her view on many philanthropic processes and opened her eyes to how purposeful and thoughtful grantmaking can be. “Capacity building can mean different things, but it really does make a huge impact on the life of an organization,” she says. She reflects on an organization that used a capacity-building grant to hire a strategic planning consultant which completely transformed their organization.

As Daniela looks to what the future may hold for her, it’s safe to say that including community voice will be a priority no matter where she goes. “There’s always a community that is going to be impacted and I want to make sure that there’s always someone there to listen.”