The Daily Tar Heel – In light of ‘rural week,’ organizations work to make a difference in less populated areas
By Lauren Zola — March 29, 2023
Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, 78 contain rural areas — which make up approximately 40 percent of the state.
And, on March 20, Gov. Roy Cooper proclaimed “Rural Week” as a celebration of the rural communities in the state.
In the proclamation, Cooper said small businesses in rural areas need to be strengthened. He emphasized revitalizing broadband internet access and health care access in these areas.
Additionally, Cooper wrote that a strong rural workforce will be important in building local economies in the future and addressed the necessity of bridging the urban-rural divide in N.C.
Many organizations and municipalities are specifically addressing the needs of underserved rural areas across North Carolina.
Orange County Commissioner Amy Fowler said the county’s Board of County Commissioners is working to increase broadband internet access to rural areas and to fund farming businesses.
She highlighted conservation easement programs — legal agreements to conserve natural resources in a specific area — as one method that helps make farming more viable.
Fowler added that water and sewer boundary agreements help prevent urban sprawl.
“That has helped Chapel Hill grow up instead of out,” she said.
Additionally, Fowler said a lack of reliable internet access was an issue that came to light during the pandemic when most teachers were teaching students virtually.
In terms of health care, Fowler said Orange County made use of a mobile unit that drove to rural places such as Cedar Grove Community Center.
She added that Medicaid will also help in funding medical-related transportation for individuals.
Courtney Richardson, the community relationships specialist at the Rural Opportunity Institute, said the organization gives people access to resources in order to lessen mental trauma in rural communities.
This can be a result of socioeconomic status and race in rural communities, Richardson said.
ROI works with multiple agencies, including schools and faith-based organizations, to provide training that aims to address those causes in rural areas.
“What we are trying to do is give people the tools and resources to experience their life differently so they can start to heal that trauma,” she said.
ROI is also working with local students and teachers living in rural areas to discuss the science behind trauma and how they can develop a stronger sense of self, Richardson said.
Calvin Allen is the vice president of partnerships and programs at MDC — an organization that in part strives to advance economic mobility, including in rural communities, by supporting southern community leaders.
MDC collects economic and demographic data to promote equity in the South.
“We do a lot with food systems coalitions as well with people trying to promote healthy eating, active living, recreation opportunities,” he said.
The MDC has supported an initiative called Healthy Places NC, which is focused on improving the health of rural residents and has operated in 10 rural counties across the state.
Allen said policies are often centered on major urban areas, which often leaves out rural communities. He added Rural Week brought awareness to the “innovation and creativity” in rural communities.