Guest Blog: A Perspective on the Healthy Places NC Agency Partners Meeting

Guest Author: Rachel Danner, Rural Forward NC Summer Program Associate

Healthy Places NC Agency Partners meetings allow many groups working in five Healthy Places NC counties to come together on a quarterly basis to make connections and deepen their understanding of the complex matrix of work taking place across North Carolina to improve health outcomes. At the May 18, 2017 meeting, people working across food systems, disease prevention, community infrastructure, and healthy eating and active living gathered to explore the interrelatedness of their projects, and align their work as much as possible to maximize impact.

As a summer program associate on only day four of my internship with Rural Forward NC, I had a lot to learn, and a lot of new people to meet. During the twenty minute “agency speed dating” activity at the beginning of the day, I got a chance to talk to representatives from MDC, an organization that works with community colleges and community college students to improve health outcomes; the Walking Classroom Institute, which creates podcasts for elementary-aged students to listen to and learn from while engaged in physical activity; and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, which initiated Healthy Places NC and funds many of the agency partners. All the people I met shared with me their dedication to improving the health and wellness of North Carolinians, and their accounts of successes and advances were inspiring.

This is not to say, however, that there are not significant challenges to tackling poor health outcomes in rural communities. Healthy Places NC is a long-term place-based initiative, meaning that successes are hard to measure, and may play out over the course of decades. Those convened do not shy away from addressing some of these issues. A question and answer session with representatives of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust allowed agency partners to raise concerns over what collective impact looks like, and express the need for data showing tangible outcomes. The structure of the meeting also allowed groups who may normally not encounter one another to make connections about how their work could be mutually supportive.

One such example of this connection-building took place during the “County Table Talks” towards the end of the meeting, which allowed agencies working in the same counties to discuss challenges and successes, barriers and strategies, as well as next steps and ways to amplify impact. I sat in on the Rockingham County group along with Jessica Burroughs, the Partnership Manager at Rural Forward NC, Joey Peele, the Catalyst for Healthy Eating and Active Living in Rockingham County, and Jenna Bryant, the program manager at MDC. After discussing the desire of many community groups in Rockingham County to do a community needs assessment, Jenna brought up the possibility of leveraging the resources of the community college and its students to develop, distribute, and analyze a survey. Jessica and Joey committed to exploring this possibility, and to maintaining communication between Rural Forward NC, the Catalyst Program, and MDC. Although some of these conversations were cut short by the end of the meeting, I am confident that the connections made at this quarter’s Health Places NC Agency Partners Meeting will lead to new innovations, developments, and partnerships in the effort to make North Carolina a healthier place.

Photo from North Carolina National Guard

On the morning of October 8th, 2016, disaster struck North Carolina when Hurricane Matthew hit the eastern coast. Bringing record breaking rain and flooding, roads quickly became washed out, rivers overflowed, and entire towns were left submerged underwater. Residents of over 50 counties were ordered to evacuate, and many who couldn’t get out had to be rescued from their homes.

While skies have since cleared and the devastating storm has passed, for many living in eastern parts of NC, the recovery is still not over. Hundreds of families who were forced to leave their homes behind are still living in a state of limbo.

Since the storm, federal, state, and local officials have made efforts to connect those impacted by the hurricane with necessary resources. Disaster recovery centers quickly opened and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has provided over $100 million in funding to the state. However, as time continues to pass, the needs of many residents who were hit the hardest by the storm—communities of lower wealth, communities of color, and rural communities — have been overlooked.

Recognizing this as a huge problem, several statewide groups, including The Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation’s Rural Forward NC program, developed an advocacy group to ensure this population doesn’t fall through the cracks. The group initially included a wide range of organizations invested in various aspects of the relief, particularly philanthropy, housing, rural, policy, and legal specialists.  They currently meet every two weeks to raise issues, share resources, and address policy concerns. Their overall mission is to ensure each affected community has a voice within the recovery efforts and that resources are allocated fairly to all.

“We realized that as decisions were being made, local voices were not at the table, and that was a concern” says Calvin. “That’s why we came together. We wanted to create a mechanism where those who were most affected could be heard, and we knew we had connections to the decision makers who could help make that happen.”

The group got organized around its mission, core constituency, and strategies with facilitation support from Rural Forward NC.  The NC Justice Center, NC Association of Community Development Corporations, and the NC Rural Center have led policy and resource efforts around the recovery effort, including the “Community Allies” session in early March to connect over 90 community leaders with relevant state resource leaders.

The group also expanded within the past two months to include two key sets of leaders:  state government officials from the NC Department of Emergency Management who are leading the recovery effort, in addition to local grassroots leaders who are themselves survivors of Hurricane Matthew.  The addition of these leaders are key strategies for accomplishing the mission of this group, providing local voice to the statewide process and state government answers to local recovery questions.

The Hurricane Matthew Recovery Inclusion Support Effort has so far met twice per month over the last five months, and one of the biggest issues being raised is housing. After the storm, more than 18,000 people were displaced from their homes, and many of them are still living in motels. While FEMA has offered homeowners some options for repairs, the floods destroyed most of the land, leaving few places to rebuild. Additionally, if multiple people lived in a family home, services might  only be provided to the person who owned the house. Options for renters are even less promising. Rental property was already scarce before the storm, so finding a new place is almost impossible. While FEMA has continued to extend the deadline for temporary housing funds, this group is hoping to help develop long term and immediate solutions for when people eventually need to move out of motels.

They are also working to bridge the gap in communication between the people on the ground and those at the state level. Many residents are either not getting the information they need or are being told different things from different people in places of authority. County departments are not always on the same page, and people are often sent back and forth just to find out how to get benefits and support. Given that many people have also lost their cars, traveling this much is not easy. That’s why this group is stressing the importance of a consistent message from the North Carolina Department of Social Services and is working to make sure they are consistently training workers on what to say.

There is also a concern with compensating people in these communities for what they have already done and for the resources they have already depleted to help people. Because funding can take a while to kick in, local governments and organizations have been using their own resources and have been working to help their own communities set up shelters, providing food, etc. Whether or not they get reimbursed for these resources is typically up in the air, so this group is ensuring these types of questions are getting raised.

Lastly, the group also hopes that this recent disaster will prompt preparation for the next emergency now. Seeing the damage both Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Floyd caused to North Carolina makes it clear that long term structures that we can put into place now are necessary. Luckily, many survivors of Hurricane Matthew were on the front-line to help, breaking into neighbors homes to get them out safely, but there needs to be a better, more organized way. “One of the main things we can do is help set up neighborhood collaboratives and coordinate communication structures for future emergencies,” says Calvin. “These types of programs and initiatives will help us to be more pro-active and better prepared if another disaster hits.”


Brandy Bynum Dawson, Associate Director for Rural Forward NC, was selected last year as one of 16 Rural Health Policy Fellows to participate in a year-long, intensive program aimed at developing leaders who can articulate a clear and compelling vision for rural America. As her time in the program comes to an end, she recently presented her policy paper, entitled Rural Community Violence, an Untold Public Health Epidemic to the National Rural Health Association at the Rural Health Policy Institute.

You can view her presentation below:


power-in-collaborationRural communities are characterized by community strength and expertise on their unique needs. Rural Forward NC (RFNC) taps into that strength by bringing together rural health leaders and in some cases, highlighting leadership and unidentified community assets.  The program, funded by Kate B Reynolds Charitable Trust and their Healthy Places NC initiative, supports counties in central and eastern North Carolina participating in the Initiative.  Most importantly the team works with the community to expose opportunities for collaboration and leveraging community assets.  Community organizations are critical to the identification of workforce “boundary spanners”, individuals and organizations that provide critical connections to healthcare.  These organizations can be the link between traditional healthcare setting and community self-care.

Lack of transportation, few physicians, and minimal employment opportunities make it hard for rural residents to maintain their health. Calvin Allen, Director of RFNC says, “Despite these challenges, small towns have a unique asset to build upon. People in rural communities often know each other and have established networks.” Value-based care and the opportunity for community-based workers to actively participate in the health of their community recognizes the unique knowledge and influence they contribute, something the traditional healthcare system needs to successfully improve population health.

Currently, Rural Forward NC is working in Halifax County with leaders creating a community health home.  The work is part of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield NC Foundation’s Community Health Home initiative.   Sharing data across department lines is one of the tactics that leaders in Halifax County are using to address the health of their populations, identify unmet need and create opportunities for the broader community to collaborate

During a three-hour meeting in the Halifax Regional Medical Center facilitated by the RFNC team in June, health professionals met to hash out ideas on how to get Halifax County healthier.  Representatives from the community health center, public health department and hospital attended the meeting, as well as primary care physicians. They discussed further coordination to prevent the replication of services, the idea of a mobile care unit to reach frequent or repeat EMS callers, and a new data-sharing tool that the coalition has developed.

Data-sharing is an extremely useful way for communities to work together. “When you develop an intervention, data can tell you where the greatest need is, and where the greatest potentials are,” says Allen.  “The Halifax County team discovered a family with multiple visits to the health clinic and the emergency room for respiration problems, but had no idea until they combined data that one of the parents was a smoker.” Information sharing across departments changes the intervention from treating symptoms to addressing the root cause in the household. This innovation helps departments streamline their efforts so that services aren’t replicated, which makes greater economic sense, and more importantly, patients aren’t receiving disjointed care.

Despite the benefits, sharing data like this can be very touchy. ” A level of trust has to be established to cross long-held boundaries,” says Allen.  “Our local colleagues are doing an amazing job of respecting privacy and also pooling data across department lines. Fortunately, communities like Halifax County have come a long way in establishing that trust.”

In a health climate that is slowly shifting to value-based care, rural communities, especially the health care workforce, need to work even harder to collaborate around the health of the population as a whole. “It takes creative ideas, development, good case-management, and co-operation,” says Allen, “We are seeing the value of crossing department lines when health leaders look beyond their departments and take a collective view of their community.”

marley-braunOn April 15th, Marley Braun joined the staff of NC Foundation for Advanced Health Programs as the Administrative Manager for Rural Forward NC. We were able to sit down with Marley for a few minutes to learn more about her background and goals for this position:

Q:  Where were you before coming to work with Rural Forward NC?

A: I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last 13 years, and I have two children, ages 15 and 18.  I’m originally from Upper Marlboro, MD and went to Elon, I spent summers working in DC and hated the traffic, and I fell in love with North Carolina. My degree is in communications, and I’ve worked for an NBC affiliate and corporate communications role in The DC area, and then moved into a marketing role when I moved down to North Carolina.  I worked at FGI communications in marketing and then at Duke for 10 years, ultimately doing marketing for the Duke Health System.

Q:  What drew you to Rural Forward NC?

A:  After 13 years as a stay-at-home mom I knew it was time to work again. I started volunteering and decided I wanted to do something that made a difference in people’s lives. I’ve known Calvin for many years, and always found the work he does interesting, and very important.  When he moved to this job he seemed to be so busy, and I volunteered to help out any way I could. I was looking for somewhere I could really make a difference. Once I started working here, I saw that this was a place I could have an impact. I’ve always been interested in nutrition and health and those interests fit nicely into this role.

Q:  How have your first few weeks been?

A:  I feel like I’ve learned a lot in my time at home as a mom, and I’m able to contribute some of what I’ve learned from that perspective of being around kids and families in this role as I support Rural Forward. I’ve been a volunteer at the school and for the PTA for years, and can contribute knowledge I’ve picked up in those settings and apply them to projects here, for instance looking at an early intervention for kids in need. Now I can make a difference for many children, even indirectly.

Q:  What do you like most about working with Rural Forward NC?

A:  I’ve already in a short amount of time learned a lot about our state. And a lot about how, especially in Wake county, we have so many services; my kids have had so much more offered to them than most kids in these rural counties that are underserviced. It’s really not fair.

Q:  What are you excited for in this position?

A:  Last week the team went to a meeting in Rockingham County. Based on the 10-year plan, just in Rockingham County, it looks like Rural Forward might be able to bring the kinds of services Wake County kids already have to kids in Rockingham County, even within the next 10 years. They’re working really hard to get everybody in the community working together to offer these kids what they should be offered. Some examples of these services are parks and recreation programs, programs to teach healthy eating, after-school activities and even programs within schools.

Q:  What do you do when you’re not working with Rural Forward?

A:  I love yoga, I like to bike ride, and I love to travel. My favorite places are Italy and Peru, and right now I really want to go to Croatia – I’ve heard it’s so beautiful, and I want to do the Game of Thrones tour.

“You just don’t know how magnificent you might be. Think big.” 
Dr. John Tyler Caldwell, 
8th Chancellor of
 NC State University (1959-1975)

Maggie-SauerI recently ran across this quote from Dr. Caldwell from NC State and it reminded me of the opportunity we all have as we begin 2015.  It also reminds me of the work and passion of the Bernstein Fellows present and alumni…they think BIG and challenge us all to do the same!  There is no work worth doing unless we do it together…partnerships, team-based care, community…these are not separate discussions, it’s inclusive.  It’s not new but it is hard!  The Fellows continue the ideals, passion and courage demonstrated by Jim Bernstein to be bold, think big and work in communities to “imagine how magnificent” they can be.

In the past year, I’ve attended numerous meetings that focus on what communities (rural in particular) don’t have, lack and need.  Hmm…recalling Dr. Caldwell’s words, is that really the place to start?  The NC Institute of Medicine’s Task Force on Rural Health released its NC Rural Health Action Plan in August.  As a participant, it was wonderful to see a variety of community members not always included in healthcare discussions: public safety officers, county managers, and church council members, to name a few, working together with a common goal.   I enjoyed the comradery of my fellow participants, particularly their passion for their communities and their sense of pride, fellowship and commitment.  In fact, the group was insistent that the report reflect a balance of strength and opportunities for improvement.  This quote from the report perhaps best represents this sentiment:

 “NC’s rural communities face many challenges, but they are also quite resilient. There is a strong sense of place and an understanding of community assets. Rural people know the needs of their community. They know what strategies to improve health and well-being will not work and are also open to learning from others. While rural communities are often under-resourced, there is an innate sense of commitment to the community and to each other. And because of this, rural communities are often able to accomplish a great deal with limited resources.” 

Since the report was released the work has continued. The Foundation is working with a large group of stakeholders across North Carolina as part of the NC Rural Health Leadership Alliance.  This group has met for over 20 years beginning with a small group that included Jim Bernstein, Gene Mayer of AHEC, Harvey Estes, MD and Tom Irons, MD.  The Alliance is restructuring its work to address the goals set out in the recommendations of the NCIOM report.  Stay tuned….

The new Rural Forward NC program at NCFAHP works with communities as part of the Kate B. Reynolds Trust Healthy Places NC to highlight and identify the strengths in community with the community.  Calvin Allen and Brandy Bynum are working in partnership with communities in Halifax and Rockingham Counties to begin.

While we have a lot of work to do, I will keep Dr. Caldwell’s words firmly fixed within my view.  As we continue this work together, let’s see just how magnificent we can be: think big!

-Maggie Sauer, CEO & President

calvin-allen-and-brandy-bynumNo day is the same for Calvin Allen and Brandy Bynum, the dynamic forces behind Rural Forward NC, NCFAHP’s newest program.  They could be, and often are, at a county commissioner’s meeting in Halifax County, attending a training in Winston-Salem, and making a stop at the office in Cary to hop on a few conference calls, all within a 36-hour period.

Rural Forward NC is an initiative launched out of Healthy Places North Carolina, (HPNC), a statewide initiative led by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.  The Trust has committed to a 10-year, 100-million-dollar investment in 10-15 Tier 1 counties in North Carolina.  Tier 1 counties are the poorest counties in the state, as designated each year by the NC Department of Commerce.  The 10 years of funding for HPNC is exciting and shows the Trust’s commitment to “being in it for the long haul,” supporting counties in multiple ways.  Unlike a lot of other grant programs where funds are distributed and the grant facilitators step back, Healthy Places North Carolina, now in its 3rd year, is using partnerships to implement and support the initiative all over the state.   Program officers at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust work with community partners to build relationships and networks, and manage the implementation of HPNC initiatives.

Rural Forward NC (RFNC) is a program of the NC Foundation for Advanced Health Programs (NCFAHP), which incubates and supports initiatives that focus on community-centered care.

Calvin Allen is the Director and Brandy Bynum is the Associate Director of the Rural Forward NC.  The two work in tandem, going into communities where the need is and sending whichever of the two has most expertise and/or time available.  But they work as a close-knit team, and together they are helping communities move forward to change for the better and improve health outcomes for their residents.

Rural Forward NC works in designated Tier 1 counties – right now Halifax and Rockingham – to make the efforts of local leaders stronger so that they can make real change in communities.  RFNC does not dictate what changes should be made, but supports with the purpose of training and facilitating change.  The first step to this, Calvin and Brandy say, is to help communities become aware of their issues, prioritize the issues, and decide on what changes are needed.  Training, facilitation, resource management, and policy analysis are all central to what Rural Forward NC provides.

“Part of our job is to ask the questions – and to do it as diplomatically as possible,” Calvin says.  He and Brandy often have their own feelings about what may work and the value of some things over others when attending meetings with a community group or in a one-on-one conversation.  “But, that’s not our place,” Calvin says.   “It’s to help bring voices out, and to provide exploration, and to challenge gently, so that the strongest ideas come out and are explored.”  Both Calvin and Brandy agree that the best ideas often are within the community already; they just need to be heard.

playgroundBoth Calvin and Brandy share a background on youth issues, and a big part of their work at Rural Forward NC focuses on the youth voice as well.  In a lot of rural communities, young people go off to college and never come back.  Brandy says that their team wants youth to go out and then come back, eager to re-invest in their communities.  “But, if we’re not listening to them now, why would they want to do that?” she says.  “Rural Forward has been working with organizations that work to bring young people into conversations about issues – like improving access to recreational facilities and programs – that young people can and should be a part of.”

One example of a specific intervention RFNC has been a part of is around child health in Halifax County, where the childhood obesity rate was 34% in 2012.  The team kept hearing that the central “place” in this issue was schools, where kids spend most of their time.  Brandy contacted experts and spent months studying and asking questions about the schools’ perspective on the issue.  The team then brought together school administrators, parent involvement coordinators, school nutrition, and community voices to talk about the barriers and strengths to addressing childhood obesities in the schools.

After months of conversations, 3 program examples were presented and the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH), an in-school/at-home model, was adopted.  CATCH utilizes tools from visual aids of healthy eating in cafeterias, to incorporating conversations about health foods in math and English classes, to materials for kids to share with their families and implement in their own homes.

This is just one of many interventions in which Rural Forward NC has played a role during the past 3 months. They’ve also worked with helping coach community leaders, facilitating various funding opportunities, and supporting the creation of a comprehensive parks and recreation plan to improve access to programs and facilities, among many, many other projects.

Calvin and Brandy hope to take their work in policy, training, facilitating and convening, and go even a step further.  They want to be able to look at what happens in different counties, seeing what the connections are, and figuring out if there is a strategy that could be useful for multiple places in a community-driven approach.  They recognize that broader strategies can be effective and can save time and money, but they also emphasize the importance of recognizing that every county and every community is different, and sometimes there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

hulahoopingThough Rural Forward NC is primarily focused on health issues and outcomes, they also have the flexibility to work on issues that are one step beyond health, but that have a clear impact on health.  The HPNC team recognized that, if people are healthier but don’t have jobs, or there’s a gang issue, or an overall lack of opportunities, the chances for sustainable health improvements will diminish.  Brandy is quick to share her expertise and passion for juvenile justice and improving education in order to keep kids out of the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. Calvin has years of experience in community economic development, specifically rural economic development, and is passionate about finding out how and why communities grow or don’t grow.

Calvin and Brandy also enjoy the chance to work as a team, and say it’s exciting to see how aligned they are on their goals, objectives, and values.  They’ve also embraced their new role as part of the Foundation.  “It’s a group of people that are very dedicated to community, and see the value of having all voices at the table,” Calvin says.  “They see the value of true inclusion.  And to have that span from the community to the governor’s mansion and beyond in terms of influence…that makes working here an amazing experience.”

Rural Forward NC is the newest part of the NCFAHP, and complements the pillars of the NCFAHP through leadership, being community centered in shaping practice, helping to drive innovation, and affecting policy.  “Those underlie our values, how we do our work, as we do our work,” says Calvin.

All in all, it has been a busy first few months for Calvin and Brandy at the Rural Forward NC.  The program currently has three years of funding, and when asked how they’ll know if their work is successful, Calvin answers by focusing back on the communities: “Our success is really based on the success of the counties.  Are they achieving the goals that they’ve set up?  Do they have a vision?  Do they have strategies for achieving that vision?  Are the entities in the community strong, and exhibiting leadership?  Do they have strong leaders?  This is how we measure success.”

And this, like the rest of their work, shows how Calvin and Brandy, while experts in their field, are putting their whole selves into training, facilitating and equipping communities, rather than dictating what they think is best.

Calvin and Brandy are undertaking a huge initiative with Rural Forward.  But their passion and drive, their dozens-of-meetings-a-week schedules and their heart for seeing people and communities succeed, as well as the work they’ve already done in this short time, show that people really can change the world.

Brandy Bynum PortraitBrandy Bynum, Associate Director at Rural Forward NC, has a strong connection with the Tier 1 counties in which she works: she was born and raised in a neighboring Tier 1 county, Northampton County.  Brandy attended public schools growing up and especially enjoyed her creative writing and English classes, “because I got to talk a lot,” she says.

Brandy was also a driver for her school’s electric vehicle team, and raced electric cars across the country.  She raced wearing big overall suits, and says when she beat the guys she’d “take my hat off and say ‘you got beat by a girl!”  Brandy describes herself as being passionate, inquisitive, content, and strong-willed. “Once I set my sights on something, I can’t really put it down,” she says.

Brandy attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for her undergraduate degree, where she studied psychology and sociology.  She realized that, rather than working one-on-one with individuals, she was more interested in helping spur societal change.  This led her into public policy, first through pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration at N.C. State.  Brandy says that as soon as she started the program she knew that policy work was exactly what she wanted to do.

During her Master’s program Brandy interned at NC Child, and transitioned into a job as a policy analyst after graduating.  She continued for 12 years with NC Child, and served most recently as their Director of Policy and Outreach.  In her role as Director of Policy and Outreach, she supported Healthy Places NC, which included a lot of community outreach and helped her form relationships with some of the same communities that the Rural Forward is now involved.

Brandy thinks that the biggest challenge in her new role will be trying to fix everything, and keeping herself healthy while committing so much of her time and herself to communities.

This work excites her because she can go home at night knowing she was helpful, whether it was just by listening to someone’s concerns or challenges, or by having helped solve a challenge.  “I want to do good work that’s going to impact communities for the long-haul,” she says.

“I don’t just want a job.  It’s knowing that I’ve done something good for the day.  I woke up this morning for a reason, and I’m doing something that’s making a difference.”

Calvin_AllenCalvin 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.”