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The Virginia Rural Center Announces the Inaugural Cohort of the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute

Rural Leaders from across Virginia will participate in the Commonwealth’s first program that focuses entirely on retaining and attracting rural Virginians who will build strong regional communities.

May 4, 2022 (Richmond, VA) The Virginia Rural Center is pleased to announce that 29 individuals have been chosen to make up the Inaugural Cohort of the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (VRLI). VRLI is a leadership program that develops and supports highly skilled, highly motivated leaders who are committed to revitalizing their communities across rural Virginia.

Kristie Proctor - Executive Director, Virginia Rural Center

“The Virginia Rural Center recognizes the declining population we are seeing across many of our rural areas, and we are excited and optimistic that VRLI, a program we developed, will directly address this pressing issue. VRLI will focus on leadership data and the skills citizens need to lead long-term economic and community development initiatives in their rural communities.” said Kristie Proctor, Executive Director of the Virginia Rural Center.

This four Session Program, through the course of 2022, will allow the VRLI Cohort Members to learn from Virginia’s top experts on economic and community development as well as a thorough review of rural issues, and apply their improved skills by working on Community Impact Projects, and visit five different rural regions across the Commonwealth, including: Southside Virginia, Middle Peninsula/Northern Neck, New River Valley, Shenandoah Valley, and Southwest Virginia. The program also seeks to increase cooperation, collaboration, and coordination across a broad array of rural localities.

The Honorable Frank M. Ruff, Jr. - Virginia Senate, District 15

Senator Frank Ruff, a founding member at the Center for Rural Virginia (CFRV) and current Chairman of CFRV, said “We are pleased to develop and launch the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute, and believe this program will build on the success we have created at The Virginia Rural Center. We are optimistic that VRLI will elevate our rural leaders and work to ensure prosperity across the Commonwealth for many years to come.”

A resident of Clarksville, Senator Ruff represents the state’s 15th Senate District, one of the largest and most rural districts in Virginia. “Rural communities have unique challenges that urban or suburban communities do not face. With each rural community being different, VRLI will help address these unique challenges for each

community and build the next generation of . rural leaders."

The Virginia Rural Center’s success with the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute is because of the partners who have worked tirelessly with the Center to bring together the best and brightest for the VRLI Curriculum, supporting and providing funding for the program, and recruiting rural leaders in every region of Virginia. Current sponsors are Appalachian Power Foundation, Appalachian Regional Commission, Dominion Energy Foundation, Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Liz Povar of RiverLink Group, Microsoft, Mid Atlantic Broadband Corporation, Virginia Community Capital, Virginia Tobacco Revitalization Commission, and Virginia Housing. The Center is continuing to build its list of partners as excitement and interest grow for VRLI.

Bryan David - Chair of the Council for Rural Virginia

“The overwhelming interest for this program confirmed the need and desire for leadership training for rural communities across the entire Commonwealth.” said Bryan David, Chair of the Council for Rural Virginia, “We had an extremely competitive selection process this year and look forward to the outcomes from this Cohort.”

The Inaugural Cohort of VRLI consists of 29 individuals from the non-profit, public, and private sectors. These leaders span 21 different rural communities across the Commonwealth with diverse backgrounds, ages, employers, and skill sets that will assist the Cohort to address the issues they face in their communities.

Meet Our 2022 VRLI Cohort

Listed in Alphabetical Order by Last Name

Richelle Alexander

Lexington, VA

Rockbridge Area Housing Corporation, Assistant Property Manager

Luke Allison

Pulaski County, VA

Aggregate Capital LLC, Project Manager

Garrett Blaize

Wise County, VA

Appalachian Community Fund, Grants Manager and Regional Organizer

Neva Bryan

St. Paul, VA

University of Virginia's College at Wise (UVA Wise), Director of Career Discovery and Planning

Rebekah Castle

Augusta County, VA

Augusta County, Director of Economic Development and Marketing

James Clements

Prince George County, VA

University of Richmond, Full-Time MBA Student

Stacey English

Hopewell, VA

Prince George County, Interim Economic Development and Tourism Director

Jenna French

Shenandoah County, VA

Shenandoah County, Director of Tourism & Economic Development

Jessi Fritz, MBA

Abingdon, VA

Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Regional Business Manager (Talent Solutions)

Lydia Gilmer

Pulaski County, VA

Pulaski County, VA, Small Business Solutions Manager (Economic Development)

Shannon Hair, Ed.D

Danville, VA

Danville Community College, VP of Institutional Advancement & Development/Executive Director of DCC Educational Foundation, Inc.

Debbie Irwin

Staunton, VA

Shenandoah Community Capital Fund, Executive Director

Michelle Johnson

Charles City County, VA

Charles City County, County Administrator

Lisa Jordan, Ph.D

South Hill, VA

Southside Virginia Community College, Professor - History and Political Science, Coordinator - Campus Within Walls

Zachary King

Harrisonburg, VA

Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative LLC, Sales Associate & Business Analyst

Lachanda Lee

Dinwiddie County, VA

City of Richmond Department of Social Services, Professional Development Program Consultant

Maggie Beal Longest, M.S.

Ashland, VA

Downtown Ashland Association, Executive Director

John Matthews

Wytheville, VA

Joint Industrial Development Authority of Wythe County, Deputy Director

Joseph Mengedoth, M.S.

Henrico County, VA

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Regional Economist

Allison Moore

Pittsylvania County, VA

Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Manager of Public Relations & Communications

Hope Mothershead

Richmond County, VA

Richmond County, VA, Director of Planning and Zoning

Julia Pilipenko

Augusta County, VA

Dominion Energy, External Affairs Representative

French Price

Woodstock, VA

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Value Chain Coordinator

Billie Roberts

Bluefield, VA

Virginia Community Capital, Community Innovation Advisor

Joy Rumley

Abingdon, VA

New River Valley Regional Commission, Senior Planner

Logan Ryan

Mechanicsville, VA

Covintus, Inc., Director of Community Engagement

Lauren Stuhldreher

North Chesterfield

VA - U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, Economic Development Representative for Virginia

Wendy Welch

Wythe County, VA

Graduate Medical Education Consortium of SWVA, Executive Director

James Werth, Ph.D

Bristol, VA

Tri-Area Community Health, CEO

About the Virginia Rural Center:

The Virginia Rural Center is a collaborative partnership of the Center for Rural Virginia and the Council for Rural Virginia. These two organizations established a collective services agreement to work jointly toward the mission of economic prosperity for rural communities throughout Virginia. Together, the Center for Rural Virginia and the Council for Rural Virginia work with federal, state, and local policymakers and regulators as well private sector stakeholders to improve economic opportunities and preserve the quality of life throughout rural Virginia. Learn more about the Virginia Rural Center or the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute online at or on Facebook at @VirginiaRuralCenter, Twitter at @VARuralCenter, and Instagram at @varuralcenter or using the hashtag #VRLI & #GrowRuralVA.


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