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Rural leaders stay connected through Covid

For more than 30 years, the NC Rural Center has trained and developed leaders from all walks of life throughout rural North Carolina so that they can build sustainable and vibrant communities at home. If there is anything we have collectively learned throughout the pandemic, it is that we all fare better through hardship when leaders are creative, informed, and connected to a broader network of support.

When rural leaders graduate from the Center’s Homegrown Leaders and the Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI), they are welcomed into the Center’s Leadership Alumni Network, which continually provides support, connection, and other resources for continued leadership development and community investment. The deep and extreme effects of the pandemic meant that we would need to ramp up support for our rural leaders through this network in meaningful and relevant ways.

Throughout the year, we provided ongoing, exclusive content and resources with information about COVID-19 to the Leadership Alumni Network, as well as conducted surveys to assess pressing needs and mid- and long-term challenges our leaders were facing. We used the results of the surveys to further inform our programming, adapting and tailoring in real-time our offerings to what our leadership alumni—and the communities they serve—needed.

We also hosted webinars sharing what state and federal resources were available to rural communities, including resources related to the CARES Act and statewide economic resources like the NC COVID-19 Rapid Recovery Loan Program. To ensure our leadership alumni stayed up-to-date on the latest information on topics relevant to their communities, we also hosted webinars on new innovations in broadband and manufacturing.

“Throughout the pandemic, we wanted to make sure that our leaders had access to the tools, people, and information their communities needed.”

Bronwyn Lucas

NC Rural Center senior director of leadership and engagement

“Throughout the pandemic, we wanted to make sure that our leaders had access to the tools, people, and information their communities needed,” said Bronwyn Lucas, NC Rural Center senior director of leadership and engagement. “But as the demands on our leaders increased, we also wanted to ensure they had access to resources for self-care.” The Center offered a variety of engagement opportunities for alumni geared towards minimizing burnout and building community (while also having a bit of fun). This took the shape of virtual North Carolina trivia nights, networking events, and a celebration of REDI’s 30th anniversary.

“Keeping our leaders connected to resources—but also to each other—ensures that as our communities face challenges, our leaders are better able to adapt and respond,” says Lucas. “There is value in sharing experiences with each other, and passing that knowledge and those connections onto the next generation of leaders—and that’s what our Leadership Alumni Network is all about.”

Learn more about the NC Rural Center’s leadership programs here.