Since the program’s inception in 2019, Lead for North Carolina has recruited, trained, and supported 53 recent college graduates placed in local government fellowships across the state. The real-world impact generated by this program and its fellows would not be possible without a cadre of dedicated partners from diverse institutions throughout North Carolina. Many of these organizations have provided day-one support of Lead for North Carolina in its mission to strengthen public institutions, transform communities, and cultivate a new generation of public service leaders.
Lead for North Carolina is pleased to announce that one of these organizations has renewed its support of the program. The Anonymous Trust has announced it will back the program over the next two years, providing funding for Lead for North Carolina Fellows serving in eastern North Carolina. The funds will support stipends for fellows in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties as well as administrative support for program operation. Economic tiers are associated with County Distress Rankings released annually by the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
“The School of Government is proud of and encouraged by the work of our Lead for North Carolina Fellows,” said UNC School of Government Dean Mike Smith. “Funding from partners like The Anonymous Trust allows us to continue ensuring that a diverse array of North Carolina communities can have the opportunity to host a fellow and that fellows have the opportunity to learn and serve in communities across the state. We are grateful for their continued support of this important program.”
“The Anonymous Trust focuses on rural and under-resourced communities in eastern North Carolina,” said Debbie Aiken, executive director of The Anonymous Trust. “We partner within the communities we serve to understand needs, assets and challenges and to engage with the community to help identify resources to build capacity, amplify results and engender hope. As an inaugural funder of Lead for North Carolina, we have seen and heard first-hand the value that this program brings to the region and are committed to a long-term partnership.”
To date, Lead for North Carolina has placed 25 of its 53 total fellows in eastern North Carolina communities, counties and governmental councils. Nine fellows are serving the state’s eastern region this year.
Those nine fellows include Elizabeth Miller, a Davidson College graduate working in Hyde County, a Tier 1 county on the North Carolina coast. After growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina, Miller has found beauty, challenges and unique opportunities during her fellowship experience.
“I did not expect that eastern North Carolina would give the scenic landscapes of my youth a run for their money,” Miller said. “I have enjoyed not only exploring the region’s beaches, but also wandering through its swamps, rivers, and estuaries. Dealing with persistent hurricanes and flooding has ingrained a unique resilience and grit in the county’s population. Hyde County has a distinct history for such a remote place — what many people have described to me as ‘the edge of the world.’”
During her fellowship, Miller has administered a grant program funded by the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency that funds urgent repairs at up to $10,000 per home for 10 low-income households in the county. The added capacity of Miller’s work enabled the county to successfully close out the grant program in only four months and will allow for critical repairs to nine homes. Miller’s experiences have allowed her to develop a profound respect for the importance of local government work.
“I have learned that public service requires patience, a sense of humor, and wearing lots of hats,” Miller said. “Many of my projects may continue for years, and some may never be completed because of shifting priorities and the capacity of county workers. While administering the housing repair grant, I have had the crucial support of coworkers with diverse political ideologies united around a common goal: to improve the housing conditions of the people we are serving. Those experiences have been deeply affirming.”
Miller’s important work in Hyde County is representative of the vast array of projects that fellows complete. This year, fellows in North Carolina communities have worked on downtown revitalization, town hall accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Main Street business/government collaboration, and departmental efficiencies. These young leaders assist with various critical emerging and ongoing issues, including American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding, broadband access, hurricane resiliency, infrastructure, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Lead for North Carolina is bolstered by a broad base of diverse funders. In addition to The Anonymous Trust’s ongoing support, Lead for North Carolina is backed by a signature investment from the State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation and has received additional funding from AmeriCorps, Golden LEAF Foundation, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, State Farm, Wells Fargo, and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The League is joined by other state partner organizations, including the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and the North Carolina City and County Management Association.
Located at the UNC School of Government, Lead for North Carolina recruits, trains and places the state’s most promising young leaders in paid local government fellowships as a means of strengthening the state’s public institutions, supporting its local economies, and cultivating a new generation of public service leaders.