Congratulations 2022 Virginia Rural Leadership Institute Graduates
The Virginia Rural Leadership Institute Session 4 & Graduation
Day 1 – Coming Together One Last Time
On Thursday, November 17th, the 2022 Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (VRLI) began its last
Session, in Staunton, VA, the birthplace of Virginia’s last United States President, Woodrow
Wilson. As rural leaders from across the Commonwealth gathered at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential
Library & Museum, Cohort members shared the progress and successes of their Community Impact
Projects, an integral part of VRLI. This project-focused approach for VRLI allows Cohort Members to
quickly apply knowledge and skills in their communities- providing benefits for individual Cohort
members and their locality while also providing a return on investment on a larger scale for
supporters of VRLI.
After detailed discussions, VRLI Cohort members were joined by Katie Frazier, Chief Marketing &
External Affairs Officer at Farm Credit of the Virginias, to learn how to better navigate difficult
conversations and how to improve our relationships personally and professionally when dealing with
disagreements or decisions making. This interactive conversation allowed for real- life examples to
be used and VRLI Cohort members to reflect on situations that they have encountered and see the
positive impact of the strategies provided by Katie.
The day ended with a dinner at the Blu Point Seafood Co, located in the heart of downtown Staunton.
Before this successful restaurant opened in 2019, the space sat empty for nearly 6 years. It was
very fitting for VRLI to highlight the ingenuity of a rural business owner who had a vision for a
seafood restaurant in the Shenandoah Valley that could serve regionally sourced seafood and
Day 2 – Exploring the Shenandoah Valley
The second day began with breakfast at the Blackburn Inn & Conference Center, formerly the Western
State Hospital, and recently revitalized into a boutique hotel that opened in 2019 but has almost
200 years of history. As the lodging location for Session 4, VRLI Cohort members were able to
immerse themselves in experiencing all that the hotel had to offer.
A highlight of every VRLI session is exploring the local community and learning about the successes
and opportunities that each unique community faces. To showcase Staunton, VRLI was lucky enough to
work with Bill & Kathy Frazier, co-founders of Frazier Associates, along with Sheryl Wagner,
Director of Tourism for the City of Staunton. After a history lesson on
Staunton and learning about the town’s revitalization efforts, VRLI Cohort members departed from
the RR Smith Center for Art & History to explore the historically preserved downtown that is home
to more than 300 businesses, restaurants, and stores. It was clear through the walking tour why
Staunton is an award-winning community when it comes to revitalization and preservation while also
working with local businesses to create economic vitality.
After exploring downtown Staunton, VRLI Cohort members were excited to hear from some of the
Commonwealth’s top experts on rural issues. Larry Roberts, Executive Director of the
Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership kicked things off with a group discussion on
“Advocacy and Civic Engagement”. This topic led our Cohort to discover the important cross-
section of government and politics and how our rural leaders must continually build relationships
with key decision-makers across the Commonwealth to ensure advocacy for rural issues remains
a priority in Richmond and Washington D.C.
Next, the VRLI Cohort immersed itself into the rural demographics of Virginia to help our rural
leaders with “Understanding Data” and how it can be used in our rural communities. Hamilton
Lombard, Estimates Program Manager for the Demographics Research Group at the University of
Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, shared his deep knowledge and love for
demographics to highlight the major data trends rural communities across the Commonwealth are
facing along with giving his expert opinion on how to address these issues. This in-depth
discussion truly opened the eyes of VRLI Cohort members on how they can use information such as
Census data to better impact their communities.
The last presentation of the day was on a topic that many rural communities are actively working to
address and one that the Commonwealth has invested heavily in- “Rural Broadband”. Evan Feinman,
Director of Broadband Equity, Access, & Deployment at the National Telecommunications and
Information Administration is a Virginia native and has worked extensively on broadband issues over
the course of the last eight years in Virginia. With his knowledge and experience, VRLI Cohort
members discussed their local broadband efforts while also gaining an understanding of the regional
and state efforts occurring across Virginia to help get the Commonwealth to be the first large
state for universal broadband.
VRLI Cohort explored more of the Shenandoah Valley by traveling north on Interstate 81 to Broadway,
VA. There are many exciting experiences that have occurred over the course of VRLI but being hosted
by a sitting Virginia Cabinet Member on their farm was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Secretary
of Agriculture & Forestry, Matthew Lohr, sat down with us to discuss the important role agriculture
plays for so many rural communities. This experience of having the ability to have these
conversations with Secretary Lohr, in his own living room at Valley Pike Farm demonstrated his
commitment to growing and supporting rural Virginia!
The evening ended with a dinner at Valley Pike Farm Market, which is a century-old barn that was
deconstructed piece by piece, relocated, and re-assembled ten miles south of where it originally
stood. This unique venue served as a great reminder of what many of our rural leaders want to build
in their communities. Valley Pike Farm Market has given the community a place to meet, build
fellowship, and support small businesses within the constantly shifting agriculture industry.
Day 3 – Graduation
After spending the last seven months together as the Inaugural Cohort of VRLI, the time had come
from graduation. In addition to recognizing the VRLI Cohort, the graduation ceremony brought
together many of the VRLI visionaries, creators, and supporters to be recognized.
Secretary Matt Lohr, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry and Virginia Rural Center Board
member provided keynote remarks encouraging VRLI Cohort members to look for ways
to keep growing as a leader and that little actions can often make the biggest differences. The
graduation ceremony also featured remarks from Chair and founding member of the Center for Rural
Virginia, Senator Frank Ruff; Chair of the Council for Rural Virginia, Bryan David and VRLI
Advisory Committee Chair, Jay Poole. Also, distinguished guests recognized at graduation included
former Secretary of Agriculture & Forestry, Bettina Ring; former Delegate and Founding Member of
the Virginia Rural Center Steve Landes who currently serves as Clerk of Circuit Court for Augusta
County; former chair of the Center for Rural Virginia, Senator Emmett Hanger; and former Delegate
Richard “Dickie” Bell.
A highlight of graduation was when VRLI Cohort members shared their Community Impact Projects with
all the stakeholders, board members, elected officials, VRLI mentors, and families. Countless hours
have been put into creating and developing these projects and the Virginia Rural Center is excited
to continue supporting the efforts of the Cohort as these projects move forward.
It was now time for everyone to receive their certificates and officially be the first graduates of
the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute. This moment brought so much joy to the Virginia Rural
Center staff and board after years of fundraising, planning, and executing the Commonwealth’s
first-ever statewide leadership program focused entirely on rural.
Congratulations to the Graduates of the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute, Class of 2022!
This year would not have been possible without our 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, and playing a
pivotal role in the curriculum of VRLI.
The Virginia Rural Center would like to thank the VRLI sponsors: Appalachian Power Foundation,
Appalachian Regional Commission, Danville Community College Foundation, 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
Graduates of the 2022 VRLI Cohort
Listed in Alphabetical Order by Last Name
Rockbridge Area Housing Corporation, Assistant Property Manager
Pulaski County, VA
Aggregate Capital LLC, Project Manager
Wise County, VA
Appalachian Community Fund, Grants Manager and Regional Organizer
St. Paul, VA
University of Virginia's College at Wise (UVA-Wise), Senior Director of Academic Enhancement &
Coordinator of National Awards and Fellowships
Augusta County, VA
Augusta County, Director of Economic Development and Marketing
Prince George County, VA
University of Richmond, Full-Time MBA Student
Dinwiddie County, Economic Development & Marketing Manager
Shenandoah County, VA
Shenandoah County, Director of Tourism & Economic Development
Jessi Fritz, MBA
Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Regional Business Manager (Talent Solutions)
Pulaski County, VA
Pulaski County, VA, Small Business Solutions Manager (Economic Development)
Shannon Hair, Ed.D
Danville Community College, VP of Institutional Advancement & Development/Executive Director of DCC
Educational Foundation, Inc.
Shenandoah Community Capital Fund, Executive Director
Charles City County, VA
Charles City County, County Administrator
Lisa Jordan, Ph.D
South Hill, VA
Virginia Department of Military Affairs, Historic Preservation Specialist and Collections Manager
Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative LLC, Sales Associate & Business Analyst
Dinwiddie County, VA
Dinwiddie County, Director of Human Resources
Maggie Beal Longest, M.S.
Downtown Ashland Association, Executive Director
Joint Industrial Development Authority of Wythe County, Deputy Director
Joseph Mengedoth, M.S.
Henrico County, VA
Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Regional Economist
Pittsylvania County, VA
Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Manager of Public Relations & Communications
Richmond County, VA
Richmond County, VA, Director of Planning and Zoning
Augusta County, VA
Dominion Energy, External Affairs Representative
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Value Chain Coordinator
Virginia Community Capital, Community Innovation Advisor
New River Valley Regional Commission, Senior Planner
Covintus, Inc., Director of Community Engagement
VA - U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, Economic Development
Representative for Virginia
Wendy Welch. Ph.D
Wythe County, VA
Graduate Medical Education Consortium of SWVA, Executive Director
James Werth, Ph.D
mmunity 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 www.cfrv.org or on