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For 30 years, leadership development has been at the core of the Rural Center’s mission. We know that thriving rural communities need leadership that is inclusive, connected, informed, and creative.

We know leaders are not born fully formed. They are nurtured. They are encouraged. They are supported and they need to be celebrated. Resources that may be available to an emerging leader in our state’s thriving metros might not be readily available in some rural corners of our state. Yet, it is in those places where a single individual can have the greatest impact on the transformation of a place. It is also in those places where the loss of a capable and well- equipped leader can have the gravest consequences.

Developing leaders who are well-trained, better supported, and fully-resourced is essential for the future success of rural North Carolina. That includes established and emerging rural leadership. Leaders who believe in the potential of the places they call home, who are ready to build stronger economies in their local communities, and who will not shy away from the challenges that lie ahead. We at the Rural Center often refer to these leaders as community “spark plugs.” Their vision, their dedication, and their leadership is what drives the engine of rural economic and community development.

The Rural Center has developed a variety of programs to support those leaders—those “spark plugs”—in the work they do in their communities, counties, and regions.

Our flagship leadership development program, the Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI), trains rural leaders to examine their communities and regions through a comprehensive, community economic development lens. The program instills the tools and skills needed to create a collective vision and to build upon existing capacity to create sustainable change.

In its 29th year, REDI has now trained more than 1,300 rural leaders, weaving a tight-knit and supportive alumni network statewide.

Through our Homegrown Leaders program, we take the REDI curriculum into the eld and challenge local leaders to develop a broader and deeper regional approach to rural economic development and leadership advancement. Homegrown Leaders creates a space for local leaders to train alongside other leaders from across their region, building the partnerships and shared knowledge necessary to reach across county lines and work together toward a common vision.

The profiles in this booklet highlight just a few of the hundreds of inspiring stories of our rural leadership alumni. Their dedication to their communities and regions is unwavering. We are proud to stand by their side, to help them, their towns, and their regions reach their full potential.

The full booklet can be read here.