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Training resilient leaders in Eastern North Carolina

When leaders are creative, engaged, and connected to the right resources, they have the potential to address community challenges and transform the places they call home. But, as we have seen with the pandemic—and with the devastating hurricanes rural communities across the southeast have experienced in recent years—some challenges transcend town limits and county lines, and require broader support.

Launched in 2016, Homegrown Leaders takes a regional approach to leadership and community economic development training, focusing on the challenges, opportunities, and strengths of a region. The first series of Homegrown Leaders trainings were based in Western North Carolina, but in this last year and through 2022, the program has expanded to include a 42-county region in the east.

“Eastern North Carolina faces unique regional challenges, many of which are caused or influenced by climate change,” says Rural Center Senior Director of Leadership and Engagement Bronwyn Lucas. “We added resiliency modules to the Homegrown Leaders curriculum to address the substantial threat that hurricanes and other extreme events, like pandemics, pose to our state’s rural people and places.”

In 2020, the NC Rural Center partnered with the North Carolina Office of Resilience and Recovery (NCORR) to deliver this new curriculum as part of Homegrown Leaders East. In addition, the Rural Center, our alumni, NCORR, and the Councils of Government (COGs) are developing a NC Resilient Communities Guidebook and Regional Resilience Portfolios, which are resources that did not previously exist and will be available to communities across the state in the months and years to come. Both the Guidebook and Portfolios will help communities assess vulnerability risks, brainstorm mitigation strategies, and identify implementation steps for projects and solutions that will make rural communities more resilient.

“By training Eastern North Carolina’s existing and emerging leaders in regional community economic development, and by building out a resilience toolkit for communities across the state, we’re ensuring that rural North Carolina has the resources it needs today in order to thrive for tomorrow,” says Lucas.

On the last day of a Homegrown Leaders training in July 2021, NC Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders spoke to the program’s graduates about the importance of a holistic approach to economic development. “Collaboration and diverse partnerships across sectors and the state—and intentionality in leadership and goals—are necessary to build greater resiliency for our workforce, businesses, and communities,” said Sec. Sanders.

The Homegrown Leaders trainings in Eastern North Carolina are funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Anonymous Trust, the North Carolina Community Foundation, Smithfield Foods, the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, and First National Bank. Learn more about Homegrown Leaders here.

Homegrown Leaders graduates from Bertie, Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Greene, Lenoir, Pamlico, and Pitt counties.