ARPA Partnership Project: Advancing community-driven investment in rural
MDC was awarded funds from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC Foundation to support the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Partnership Project. MDC joined Local Progress NC, NC Black Alliance, and the NC Budget and Tax Center to organize the ARPA Partnership Project—a collaborative of statewide and community-based partners working to build community capacity to ensure that local ARPA investments are equitable, accountable, transparent, and community-driven.
In the first phases of this work, the ARPA Partnership Project has supported local leaders and civic organizations with research, public engagement materials and planning, advocacy skill development sessions, and three convenings for relationship-building and learning. MDC’s technical assistance focuses on facilitation to identify collective and local goals and objectives.
New ARPA Partnership Project Manager
Trevor Flanery joined MDC Rural Forward this fall as lead for the ARPA Partnership Project. Trevor’s background in development and resilience planning, field organizing, issue advocacy, and policy research will be a tremendous asset as he supports community and government collaboration toward long-term recovery and resilience.
North Carolina Inclusive Disaster Recovery Network: Shaping state government’s public engagement practice
The North Carolina Inclusive Disaster Recovery (NCIDR) Network—convened by MDC Rural Forward—submitted a framework for community engagement to the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) to guide the Department’s public engagement efforts. The framework includes an explicit acknowledgement of why systemic racial and economic discrimination requires better public engagement practices.
The framework was developed through an inclusive, community-led process with the NCIDR Research Team and builds on an initial set of recommendations NCIDR submitted to inform the NC Flood Resiliency Blueprint.
New Research: EITC helps reduce disparities in rural places
MDC worked with an interdisciplinary team of researchers and rural practitioners to understand potential differences in uptake of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in North Carolina. Although rural residents and people of color face systemic barriers to accessing government programs, the project found no differences in uptake between rural and urban counties and that counties with larger proportions of people of color actually had higher levels of EITC uptake. These results suggest that the EITC is an important tool for reducing disparities for rural communities and communities of color.
Healthy Places NC: Improving health outcomes in rural communities
Healthy Places NC is a partnership of MDC Rural Forward and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust that seeks to improve the health of residents in some of North Carolina’s most rural and vibrant yet under-resourced counties. A lot of progress occurred in Healthy Places communities in 2022, including in Beaufort and Rockingham Counties.
With MDC Rural Forward’s support, the Beaufort County Behavioral Health Task Force presented an Opioid Action Plan to their local Board of County Commissioners, who adopted the Task Force’s plan unanimously. The plan, which includes recommendations for how to utilize NC Opioid Settlement litigation funds, is based on six years of organizing, community engagement, and research into best practices. Because of the Task Force’s leadership, the county is investing their allocation of NC Opioid Settlement funds in ways that are equitable, transparent, and accountable to community priorities.
In summer 2021, community stakeholders in Rockingham County came together to form a Design Thinking cohort supported by Cone Health and MDC Rural Forward, with timely funding from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Most team members were not connected at the start but are now working together to create a healthier, more equitable county by addressing social drivers of health. In 2022, MDC Rural Forward supported two pilot events that highlighted local individuals and organizations that are centering community voices and making positive change in Rockingham County. Watch the highlight video!
“[MDC Rural Forward’s] brilliant, sustained support has helped our coalition construct a strategic plan that will allow us to more easily achieve our short-, mid-, and long-term goals.” – Healthy Places NC Partner
“I have a greater understanding of social and racial justice issues, and the cultural sensitivities surrounding many groups’ reservations with institutions and government entities.” – Healthy Places NC Partner
Thrive Rural: Strengthening philanthropic investment in rural places
As part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Thrive Rural initiative, MDC is working with the United Philanthropy Forum—a national network of over 90 regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs)—to strengthen philanthropy’s understanding of and investment in rural communities.
At the Annual Conference of the United Philanthropy Forum, MDC President John Simpkins challenged philanthropic-serving organizations to examine their assumptions about rural America and begin educating, catalyzing, and supporting their members to address inequity in rural places.
Regional and national PSOs of all shapes and sizes want to energize their members to strengthen their investments in rural people and places, but they have expressed a need for more guidance and support. As a starting point, members of an MDC-facilitated working group drafted a set of 10 Principles for Effective Rural Philanthropic Practice, which will be formally released in 2023.
According to the principles, effective rural philanthropy:
- Challenges preconceptions about rural communities;
- Acknowledges the historical and continuing marginalization, exclusions, and disenfranchisement of rural people of color;
- Recognizes the value of place to its residents;
- Focuses on building from within;
- Emphasizes impact over scale; and
- Prioritizes equity, trust-building, and co-creation with local partners.
“We’re seeing dire needs in rural communities paired with admirable efforts to address persistent problems–and there’s a lot we can learn from what’s being done to build on the strengths of rural communities below the Mason-Dixon line.” – MDC op-ed, Courier Journal (KY)
Did you know?
Different definitions of rural places tell vastly different stories about the state of rural America. These definitions affect the way that narratives are shaped; how billions of dollars in federal funding each year are distributed; and the way that companies, banks, and philanthropies view communities and make investment decisions. “Defining Rural America: The Consequences of How We Count” uses data visualizations and mapping to explore what happens when we define “rural” in different ways.
This is the first story in the Center on Rural Innovation’s (CORI) Rural Aperture series, a project of Thrive Rural. MDC is partnering with CORI to frame the stories, articulate equity implications, and offer possible solutions.
Innovations in rural housing
MDC Rural Forward partnered with United Way of Alamance County (UWAC) to host Housing Alamance, a community forum to address affordable housing challenges. Over 130 people participated, representing nonprofits, faith communities, real estate, government, and individuals directly impacted by housing issues. As a result of the forum, UWAC created a Housing Innovation Fund to support efforts like eviction mediation and tiny home development to address local housing inequities.
State and Federal Appointments
MDC’s Calvin Allen was selected to serve on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Equity Commission Subcommittee on Rural Community Economic Development. MDC’s Merald Holloway was appointed to the NC Office of Digital Equity and Literacy’s Digital Equity Planning Core Team.
Thank you to our 2022 Rural Forward Program Assistants!
Each year, MDC Rural Forward recruits talented undergraduate and graduate students to serve as Program Assistants (PAs) at MDC. The goal of the PA program is to strengthen emerging leaders’ understanding of rural community development and help them develop skills in planning, meeting facilitation, community outreach, and more.
Thank you Breanna Bowling, Marcos de Oliveira, Paul Janampa, Jing Murray, Chisom Ojukwu, Taylor Palmer, Harini Patabendi, Brianna Ramgeet, Joey Rauch, Deja Taliaferro, Lara Veldman, Tavaura Wardlow, Lauren Welsh, and Jessie Willis!