Skip to content

News & Updates

RALEIGH – GrowingChange’s Noran Sanford was honored as the 2017 Rural Leader of the Year at this year’s Rural Assembly, held in Raleigh on November 16. Hosted annually by the NC Rural Center, the Rural Assembly is the state’s premier event focused on the big issues facing North Carolina’s rural communities.

The Rural Leader of the Year award recognizes an alumnus of the Rural Center’s flagship leadership development program, the Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI).

Eligible candidates are alumni who, through strong leadership, hard work, and dedication, have enhanced the quality of life in rural North Carolina and made significant improvements in their community, region, and/or the state. The Rural Leader of the Year is an individual who is committed to building partnerships and engaging all citizens in their community or region.

Sanford is the founder and executive director of GrowingChange, a youth-empowered nonprofit that is “flipping” an abandoned prison in Scotland County, transforming the site into a working farm that helps divert young people from prison, provide employment to returning veterans, and improve the wellness of the community.

Sanford plans to give the open-sourced model of GrowingChange away to other communities in North Carolina to help reclaim the state’s nearly 25 closed prisons.

In 2015, Sanford was named a Soros Justice Fellow for his innovative approach to working with youth in the correctional system. That same year, he was awarded the Innovate2Empower Fellowship and traveled to the Netherlands to present his model for members of the Dutch Parliament and United Nations. He was recently named an Ashoka Fellow as a leading social entrepreneur in his field.

Sanford was honored during the Rural Center’s annual awards ceremony, one of the Rural Assembly’s most highly anticipated events. Sanford accepted his award in front of a crowd of more than 400 attendees.

“It’s never easy to choose from the nearly 1,200 REDI alumni across the state who are working daily to improve the lives of rural North Carolinians,” said Rural Center President Patrick Woodie. “But what Noran has done to convert the Wagram prison in Scotland County into a symbol of hope and new beginnings is incredibly inspiring and now a model for communities across the nation. I join his fellow REDI alumni in congratulating him on this well-deserved honor.”


About the NC Rural Center
For 30 years, the NC Rural Center has worked to develop, promote, and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians. The Center serves the state’s 80 rural counties, with a special focus on individuals with low to moderate incomes and communities with limited resources.