New Staff feature: Calvin Allen, “The Product of Great People”
Calvin Allen, Director of Rural Forward NC, has always liked challenges. He grew up in Raleigh, NC, and attended public high school at Broughton. His favorite class was public speaking. “It’s funny because it always scared me. I liked it because it was a challenge, to be a shy kid, and get up in front of a group and realize that I had something to say,” Calvin says.
Calvin attended Duke University, majoring in English with a concentration in cultural studies, and literature with a concentration in media studies, resulting mostly in film and video related classes. He originally wanted to go into broadcasting, but ended up studying film theory. Though he did not become a professional broadcaster, Calvin has done some voiceover work for the award-winning documentary film “The Life and Times of Joe Thompson.”
While at Duke, Calvin stumbled into the Interaction Committee, whose purpose was to promote interaction between any two groups on or off campus (i.e. students and professors, men and women, races, sexual orientations, etc.). The group facilitated open mic discussions, lunches with the president, among other events. Calvin says, “I realized that it was working with community groups, and working on the issues that were most important to people that drew my attention and energy.”
Calvin worked in several places, including the Southern Rural Development Initiative, the National Community Forestry Service Center of The Conservation Fund, and the Golden LEAF Foundation before coming to Rural Forward, but has always been based here in North Carolina. While working for the Southern Rural Development Initiative, he helped small towns from Arkansas up to West Virginia figure out how to be sustainable without having to become big cities to do it.
Calvin says that balance will be one of the greatest challenges in his new role, especially figuring out how to make the larger strategy of Rural Forward NC a priority amongst all of the individual community priorities. He says he and Brandy are lucky that many of their local community partners have offered them space to use while on the road, and knows it will still take time to strike balance between the strategy and on-the-ground efforts.
In terms of the rewards, Calvin reports there is no shortage in this role, and that every day and week bring new successes. Just this month he was in the community and talking to someone who had a challenge around staffing. Calvin was able to give them an idea that helped them find at least 10 hours of work per week from existing staff resources without having to spend more money, and made a great step towards a solution. “That felt very good for the Rural Forward and for me personally. We’re able to, just by connecting people and resources, have an impact.”
Calvin describes himself as constantly open to experiences, to ideas, and to people, and he credits others for his skills and success: “I am the product of a lot of great people. I feel really lucky to have had a wide variety of experiences, and a lot of people who’ve trusted me when they didn’t necessarily have a reason to. So, I’m really thankful for my mentors, and the people who have helped me get a position like this that feels so ideal for me.”