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The Virginia Rural Center Announces the 2024 Virginia Rural Leadership Institute Cohort!

Twenty-eight high-achieving individuals representing 24 rural localities have been chosen for the leadership program’s third year.

Richmond, VA- The Virginia Rural Center is pleased to announce the participants in the third cohort of the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (VRLI). VRLI is the Commonwealth’s only leadership program that focuses solely on developing rural Virginia’s existing and emerging leaders.

“The Virginia Rural Center has long recognized that cultivating rural leadership is a key component to growing and sustaining our rural communities which is why the Center created the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute,”  said Kristie Proctor, Executive Director of the Virginia Rural Center. “We welcome the third cohort of the VRLI to this unique educational opportunity and expansive network of peers working to advance rural communities throughout Virginia.”


Going into the program’s third year, interest in the program continues to surge. After an application and interview process, 28 members were selected to participate in this year’s cohort representing 24 counties and cities across rural Virginia. These community leaders represent not only the various regions of the Commonwealth, but also have diverse backgrounds, ages, employers, and skill sets that will aid collaboration across multiple opportunities for rural communities.


“Leaders are the life-blood and heart of vibrant, strong communities and the best rural leadership comes from within rural communities.,” said Senator Creigh Deeds, Chairman of the Center for Rural Virginia. “We are proud that the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute invests in individuals who are committed to living and leading in their rural communities.”


This year’s VRLI program will kick off May 22nd – 24th in Southside Virginia where the cohort will explore both Danville and South Boston. Future stops for the program include Southwest Virginia (Abingdon, Bristol, and Marion), the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck (Tappahannock, Warsaw, and King William County), and the Shenandoah Valley. At each stop, cohort members meet and learn from residents and fully immerse themselves in the area while building critical leadership, community, and economic development skills through programming and presentations from subject area experts.


Lessons learned through this program will be put to practice in these members’ communities. In addition to learning best practices across rural regions of Virginia, cohort members will complete Community Impact Projects. The projects are developed throughout the VRLI sessions and address a defined need in cohort members’ communities. For these projects, cohort members will be paired with industry leaders as “mentors” to complete a project that puts their leadership skills into practice with the goal of bringing economic and community development opportunities to their area.

“The Virginia Rural Leadership Institute provides relevant and actionable content for participants to gain new strategies and skills to advance rural development, opportunity, and prosperity,“ said Bryan David, Chair of the Council for Rural Virginia. “Equally important, VRLI provides unique networking opportunities and encourages participants to build lasting relationships with other cohort members so that they can collectively identify and navigate the challenges and opportunities faced in their communities.”

Current sponsors of VRLI include Appalachian Power Foundation, Virginia Housing, Dominion Energy, Microsoft, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation, Virginia Rural Health Association, Danville Community College Educational Foundation, Inc. and Liz Povar of RiverLink Group. The Virginia Rural Center is continuing to build its list of partners as excitement and interest grow for VRLI.

Meet Our 2024 VRLI Cohort

Listed in Alphabetical Order by Last Name


Shanetta Beck, City of Emporia

Community and Economic Development Director, City of Emporia


Lincoln Boykin, Lancaster County

Director of Affiliate Foundations, Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond


Jonathan Comer, Page County

SVP - Commercial Lender, The First Bank & Trust Company


J. David Conmy, City of Richmond

Deputy County Administrator & Economic Development Director, Sussex County


Michael Crouse, Roanoke County

Business Development Manager, ECS, Mid-Atlantic


Matthew Culbreath, Dinwiddie

Director of Planning and Zoning, City of Emporia


Brian Falin, Wise County

Industrial Development Supervisor/Executive Director, Wise County


Heather Fay, Botetourt County

Business Advisor + Regional Program Director, Greater Roanoke & NRV Small Business Development Center


Brandy Flint, Rockbridge County

Director of Economic Development, Rockbridge County


Andrew Franzyshen, Dinwiddie County

Director of Environment, Housing, and Economic Development, Crater Planning

District Commission


Ian Ginger, City of Richmond

Economic Development Program Director, George Washington Regional Commission


Gerald Goad, Hillsville

Clerk of the Circuit Court, Carroll County


Jess Gray, Chatham

CEO, Gray’s Lambscaping LLC


Matt Herron, Christiansburg

Business Development Manager, Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services


James Houchins, Patrick County

Director of Tourism and Marketing, Patrick County


Katelyn Jordan, Pungo

Local & State Advocacy Specialist, Regulatory Coordinator, Virginia Farm Bureau


Kellie Lipscomb, Dinwiddie

Drug Abuse Treatment Specialist, Federal Correctional Institution


Brooke Love, Carroll County

Tourism Director, Carroll County


Jacob McCaleb, Warsaw

Business Services Representative, Bay Consortium Workforce Development Board


Stephanie Norris, City of Richmond

Senior Research Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond


Kristen Pudlow, Prince George County

Deputy County Administrator, Prince George County


Holley Scheffel, Bedford County

Business Programs Coordinator, Bedford County


Giles Scott, Warsaw

Youth Program Influencer, Bay Consortium Workforce Development Board


Jennifer Stevens, South Boston

President and CEO, Virginia Ed Strategies


Josh Taylor, Alleghany

Executive Director, Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce & Tourism


Tara Tuck, Clarksville

Economic Development & Tourism, Town of Clarksville


Jack Wall, Floyd

Board Chair & Senior Executive, Wall Residences


Zachary Whitlow, City of Richmond

Community Vitality Program Administrator, Department of Housing & Community Development

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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