Women of Western Wake: Leslie Covington – Cary Magazine

Women of Western Wake: Leslie Covington – Cary Magazine


Leslie Covington’s desire to help others is a family affair.

Her father was a pastor, one sister is a nurse, another a teacher, and the list goes on.

As for Covington, she’s spent the past eight years serving the community as executive director of The Carying Place — and her commitment to service extends years before that.

The Carying Place helps working families who are experiencing homelessness secure independent housing and teaches them financial literacy.

“We’re about trajectory change — we want to eradicate homelessness,” she said. “My role is about leading the organization through the changes in the landscape and doing our work better and better.”

Covington enrolled in college thinking about how she could serve others. Her dad, who passed away in 2017, has been her biggest inspiration. Though he was a pastor, Covington came to realize he was really the “social worker of Richmond County,” North Carolina.

So many people have told her stories of the conversations he had with them, the encouragement he gave, and the times he dropped off food or medicine because they couldn’t afford it in that moment.

“If I can even be a third of what he was, I would be proud,” she said.

She graduated with a degree in social work and went on to work for the YMCA of the Triangle, first as a counselor, then growing into leadership positions. In doing so, she saw needs the YMCA couldn’t meet.

Youth facing problems that were outside the realm of the YMCA’s services got Covington thinking about how she could do more. She went back to get her master’s in social work and became a therapist.

“I loved what I did as a therapist — helping people solve their mental health problems and the things related to that, whether that was homelessness, problems with family, or medication therapy,” Covington said.

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Yet over time, it became very intense, she said. She’d be called out to the streets of Durham in the middle of the night because someone was having a mental health breakdown. The work wasn’t always safe, and it took its toll mentally, emotionally, and physically.

A former mentor from the YMCA, John Collins, called her during that time. Now on the board for The Carying Place, he wanted her to consider coming to work for the nonprofit. Having witnessed her work at the YMCA, Collins said he knew she was the right fit.

“She has dedicated her life at this point to those that she can help and those that are fighting to help themselves,” he said. “She’s just a perfect fit for that.”

Covington interviewed for a program manager position, but was offered the executive director position in the end.

As a woman whose faith is at the center of her life, she said she prayed on the decision and talked with family.

“God’s mission for my life is at the center,” she said. “I just felt led that this is what I’m supposed to do.”

Eight years later, she calls it the right choice.

“It has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Covington said.

Growing up in Rockingham County, “everybody knew everybody,” and neighbors relying on neighbors was a way of life, Covington said. She remembers the entire community feeding off each other’s gardens, or eating off a hog from a local small farm.

“In the best way possible, community means everything to me,” Covington said.

She’s the youngest of six tight-knit siblings and sees family regularly. It’s at the center of everything she does.

“Even if I had welcomed riches, if you don’t have anyone there to enjoy it, then to me, it’s empty,” she said.

Covington brings that attitude to work each day. The people she works with aren’t called clients, they’re called families. When those families find success, many of them come back to volunteer and help other families, just like the community she grew up in.

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“That fits me and that fits my life,” she said.

At a recent event for The Carying Place, Collins witnessed Covington call three or four people “family,” even though they weren’t blood relations.

“These ranged from volunteers to participants in the program to donors,” he said. “She doesn’t know any other way to work.”

It’s also why she builds partnerships for The Carying Place with other organizations and spends time advocating for affordable housing. Covington serves on the executive committee of the Western Regional Community Advocacy Committee (WRCAC) and cochairs the Western Region’s Affordable Housing Action Group, a subgroup of the WRCAC.

“We cannot do this alone,” she said. “We are only as great as our community and our partners.”

Covington is still devoted to family in her free time. She lives in Raleigh and has immediate and extended family in the area. She’s involved with her church and what she calls her church family, as well.

She’s grateful for life in the Triangle and all that it has to offer.

“Anybody can come here and find their way,” she said. “If you’re from a small rural town and it feels big to you, or you’re from New York City and tired of the hustle and bustle — this area has enough for everybody.”


To read the full article and meet the rest of Cary Magazine’s 2023 Women of Western Wake, click here!

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