Alumni Spotlight: Courtney Hall, Interfaith Works

Posted in News Story Spotlight

Courtney Hall is the incoming CEO of Interfaith Works. He has previously worked as the Vice President of Programs at Housing Up, and with the DC Child and Family Services Agency. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with Courtney about his career serving homeless populations in the D.C. area, and his experience in the Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program.

CPNL: The nonprofit sector is vast with many important causes to champion, what led you to pursue a career serving homeless populations?

Hall: Most of my career was spent in the child welfare system – child protective services and foster care. I did a stint in the government where I helped lead efforts to administer public welfare like, SNAP, TANF, child support, etc.

While I really enjoyed that part of my career, I began to notice that many of our families were vulnerable in specific ways. Particularly, many of them were housing insecure, and that often produced all kinds of trauma. The insecurity of not knowing where you are going to lay your head at night, while juggling employment, raising your children – all of those stressors have a harmful effect. I saw a pattern beginning to emerge, and I wanted to take the opportunity to see if we could get further upstream, and begin working with some of these families before their circumstances became so chronic.

I had a colleague once describe society as being a social safety net composed of firewalls. These firewalls are in place to help all families obtain assistance before their circumstance becomes too critical. We can talk first about the informal firewall, that is our informal support system. Maybe these are people in our congregations or religious circles, people in our social circles, aunts and uncles, or other kinds of relatives. These are people who can assist, and sort of step in when things get really bad for a family. Many of the issues experienced by families are addressed within this network. The needs experienced by child welfare-involved families, however, generally exceed the support available within this network. So the next firewall, if you will, is the formal support system: the education system, hospitals if a parent or child becomes sick, etc. Again, for too many child welfare-involved families, the resources available within these systems are also unable to meet their needs. So, by the time these families are referred to the child welfare system, they are already very vulnerable. In some cases, the only decision to make is child removal. This was such a traumatic outcome to observe over and over again. More so, the trauma experienced by these families was so significant. I started to see that there may be an opportunity to begin helping these families much earlier – before their circumstances breached all of these other firewalls. This really was the reason that I pursued homelessness and housing insecurity, because this seemed to be a more proactive approach to helping the vulnerable.

Interfaith Works interested me because of their expressed interest in ending poverty in Montgomery County. It is good and necessary work to help people become housing secure and get access to essential services. This need has significantly increased as we deal with the broad impacts of this public health emergency. This work is courageous and difficult – and some would say that the needs are intractable, entrenched – baked into the very fabric of our society.  For this very reason, I think that we can do more – we can move the helping process further upstream to interface with vulnerable citizens before their circumstances become so critical.  Homelessness and not having access to essential needs is an unacceptable experience for many vulnerable residents in Montgomery County.  However, the common cause of these symptoms is poverty.  And in my observation, poverty is generally caused by a lack of opportunity.  That’s a message that I’m hoping to amplify at Interfaith Works – that addressing the root cause of poverty is central to our mission and our work.

CPNL: Your work at Housing Up focused on providing affordable housing and comprehensive support services to homeless and low-income families, and your new position as CEO of Interfaith Works will continue to focus on homelessness. What are some of the ways your organization has addressed the needs of the homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hall: The risk for experiencing homelessness has increased during the pandemic for many DC residents. In the last six months, we have expanded the number of people served at Housing Up. The work that we do through Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Rehousing, Transitional Housing, and Affordable Housing remains essential to the residents of the District. Thankfully, the District acted quickly to prevent evictions, so our housed clients remain so. However, many of our residents lost employment and have needed assistance with basic necessities, like food, clothing, and essential household goods. Many in the Housing Up network have been very generous during this pandemic, which has enabled us to meet a portion of the current need. There is always a need for more and we ask our community to continue their financial support of our work.

CPNL: As CEO of Interfaith Works, what is something you hope to achieve in your new position?

Hall:  At 47 years old, Interfaith Works (IW) is well established, has a solid reputation, and does commendable work. Since my appointment was announced, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many people who are connected to IW. Consistently, I heard praise for the way that IW staff support the most vulnerable Montgomery County residents. I hope to enhance our work by developing innovative ways to directly address the root causes of poverty in Montgomery County.

CPNL: How has the certificate program helped you in your career, and how do you anticipate it will help you in your new role?

Hall: Through the Certificate Program, I really had an opportunity to understand how to operate as an effective nonprofit executive.  This helped me to improve my work at Housing Up and, I’m sure, will serve as a foundation for the work I am privileged to lead at Interfaith Works.

One significant mind-shift occurred when I heard Valeria Lassiter present on effective resource and fund development. Prior to this experience, I’d always viewed fundraising negatively – the nonprofit organization that is always begging for money from those who are uninterested in their cause. Certainly, sometimes fundraising will be that way. However, Valeria explained the concept of Donor Development and how, through her 11-step process, an organization could target efforts and maximize donor engagement.  While I was aware that donors should be developed, Valeria’s explanation was revolutionary for me. She provided a practical guide on how to move an individual from a prospect to a long-time supporter.

CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals who are considering participating in the Certificate Program and particularly applying for the Crimsonbridge Leadership Fund scholarship?

Hall: If you get the opportunity to participate, do it now – don’t wait. Moving through the program is not as difficult or intimidating as it may appear. You will definitely expand your network and your base of knowledge through your participation in this program. 

Spend some time figuring out how you want to grow as a nonprofit executive before you begin the Certificate Program. While this may change as you begin the program, figuring this out early will help focus your attention. 

I would advise all Crimsonbridge scholarship recipients to connect with Danielle Reyes. She is an excellent resource. It was at her prompting that I created a professional social media profile – specifically Twitter. This move has helped me to connect with others in the homeless services community and has been the primary vehicle through which I remain apprised of how others are helping the most vulnerable in their communities.