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Bank Initiative Helps Rural Communities Pursue Economic Growth

Sticky Notes on Board

In the nearly two years since the Richmond Fed began partnering with community leaders to help small towns and rural areas across five states become economically sound, an alliance has formed that could be game-changing.

Together, these leaders and the Bank strategized to establish the Rural Investment Collaborative, an initiative that aims to help communities across Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia develop successful proposals that can secure funding for their local projects.

Members of the Rural Investment Collaborative’s steering group and project development workgroup have partnered with the Bank’s Community Development team to advance the effort, and their first signature project launches today — a 12-week virtual program called the Community Investment Training. The Community Investment Training is a partnership between the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and Invest Appalachia, with the latter providing the core training and curriculum for the program.

“This training will equip 20 rural leaders, who were selected by the Collaborative’s steering group and project work group, to receive strategic guidance on how to meet the requirements for significant funding opportunities,” said Jason Smith, the Richmond Fed’s senior community development advisor, who is leading the Rural Investment Collaborative. “Some of these rural areas have not had the resources, capacity, nor the access needed to develop proposals that would secure large-scale funding. The Community Investment Training will teach them how and what to do, and when.”

Members of the 2024 Community Investment Training cohort hail from rural regions across five states in the Richmond Fed territory. They each submitted ideas for a local community project they would like to have funded. During the training sessions, Collaborative leaders and guest speakers will walk them through the steps to creating effective partnerships within their communities, honing their funding pitches, developing the infrastructure to sustain their projects and more.

“We’re at a pivotal moment in this country, because of the federal, state and local investments being directed towards rural communities,” said Brandy Bynum Dawson, a member of the Collaborative’s steering group, and senior program director for the North Carolina-based nonprofit MDC. “We have an opportunity now to be supportive of these communities in ways that have not been possible before.”

This year’s Community Investment Training participants are:


  • Stefanie Johnson, Executive Director, His Hope Ministries, Caroline County, Maryland
  • Craig Sewell, Project Director, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC), Anne Arundel County, Maryland
  • Carla Wilson, Project Manager, St. Mary’s County Community Development Corporation, St. Mary’s County, Maryland


  • Paula Swepson Avery, Executive Director, West Marion Community Forum Inc., McDowell County, North Carolina
  • Angela Caraway, Executive Director, The Caraway Foundation, Anson County, North Carolina
  • Mavis Hill, Executive Director, Tyrrell County Community Development Corporation, Tyrrell/Washington County, North Carolina
  • Anthony Tyre, Executive Director, Clear Point, Beaufort County, North Carolina
  • Chester Williams, Chief Executive Officer, A Better Chance A Better Community (ABC2), Enfield/Halifax County, North Carolina


  • Kim Bowman, Founder, South Carolina’s Rural Innovation Network (SCRIN), Darlington County, South Carolina
  • Steven Brown, President and Founder, Dreams Imagination & Gift Development Program (DIG), Barnwell County, South Carolina
  • Eric Delgado, City Administrator, Laurens, South Carolina
  • Michael Mahaffey, Director of Regional & Global Initiatives, Stoll Industries, Abbeville County, South Carolina
  • Elizabeth Overton, Deputy Director, Southeastern Housing and Community Development, Barnwell County, South Carolina


  • Shelby McDowney, Director of Marketing & Communications, Metropolitan Business League, Brunswick County, Virginia
  • Katie Ryan, Interim CEO/Director of Operations, Clifton Forge School of the Arts, Town of Clifton Forge, Virginia
  • Melisha Wynne, Assistant Recreation Director, Town of Abingdon Recreation Department, Washington County, Virginia


  • Jarrod Dean, Executive Director, City of Williamson Board of Parks and Recreation Commission, Mingo County, West Virginia
  • Victor Farmer, Director, Boone Memorial Hospital Community Health Foundation/Boone Memorial Hospital Inc., Boone County, Virginia
  • Jamila Jones, President, Innovative Community Solutions, Jefferson County, West Virginia

Program also partners with potential funders

Collaborating to improve capital access in small towns and rural communities is a core focus for the Richmond Fed. Carrie Cook, the Bank's community affairs officer and vice president of Community Development, noted that the partnership with rural leaders and with funding organizations is part of what makes this approach to advancing economic mobility for under-served communities innovative.

The Richmond Fed hosted a daylong rural funders event in May 2023, which included leaders from Bloomberg Philanthropy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Harvest Foundation and other entities, to gauge their interest in learning more about rural funding needs and to determine how they as funders might collaborate on streamlining access to public and private investment.

“Availability of funding does not mean that all rural communities are able to access it,” said Smith, the initiative's leader. “The Collaborative partners want to understand how the supply of money to rural communities could be better coordinated so that more small towns can benefit. They plan to use this information to improve their own funding processes and to inform other decision-makers.”

Jen Giovannitti, president of The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, is excited about the opportunity.

“The Benedum Foundation was an early supporter of the Collaborative, because we know how investable the projects are in rural communities, and we want to inspire others to partner in ways that help improve access to capital at a systems level,” she said.

This year’s training cohort members will apply the knowledge they’re gaining in weekly sessions to the draft proposals for their community projects. The training sessions will culminate with an opportunity to practice their proposal presentations.

Each participant also will receive a $2,000 grant provided by the Collaborative that they can use to develop a coalition of local support for their project proposals.

“What's unique about the space is the Federal Reserve is really acting as a partner with us in the work — not trying to do for us or to duplicate what we're doing, but thinking about how it can be a partner that leverages the experience, expertise and relationships the Bank has to help us tackle some of the biggest challenges that are facing our work in rural community development,” said Stephanie Tyree, a supporter of the Collaborative’s work and executive director of the West Virginia Community Development Hub.

According to Smith, that has always been the Richmond Fed’s goal.

“Our partners are so important to the work of the Rural Investment Collaborative,” he said. “They are really taking a key leadership role in all of the design and decision-making processes along the way.”

Learn more about the Rural Investment Collaborative and hear from several rural leaders involved in the initiative.

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Jim Strader (804) 697-8956 (804) 332-0207 (mobile)