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The Virginia Rural Center Announces 2023 Virginia Rural Leadership Institute Cohort

Twenty-eight high-achieving individuals representing 21 rural localities have been selected for the leadership program’s second year.

Richmond, VA- The Virginia Rural Center is pleased to announce the participants in the second 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 the unique opportunities and challenges to living, working, and leading in rural Virginia,” said Kristie Proctor, Executive Director of the Virginia Rural Center. “Through VRLI, our goal is to create a space for aspiring leaders to develop skills, network with peers, and find innovative ways to support rural communities across the Commonwealth.”

There was overwhelming interest in the 2023 VRLI program. Through the application and interview process, 28 members were selected to participate in this year’s cohort representing 24 counties and cities across rural Virginia. These leaders bring with them diverse backgrounds, ages, employers, and skill sets that will assist the cohort in addressing issues they see facing their communities.

“The data is clear. Rural Virginia is losing residents every time the population is counted. The Virginia Rural Center created VRLI as a tool to help rural Virginians who want to continue to live and lead in their community find ways to better serve the community they love,” said Senator Frank Ruff, a founding member at the Center for Rural Virginia (CFRV) and current Chairman of CFRV.

This year’s VRLI program will kick off May 18 – 20th in Danville. Future stops for the program include Tappahannock on the Middle Peninsula, St. Paul in Southwestern Virginia, and Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. During each visit, cohort members will meet and learn from local 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.

“This year’s VRLI cohort brings experience in small business entrepreneurship, economic development, healthcare, local government, and more,” said Chandler Vaughan, VRLI’s Policy and Leadership Adviser. “Through VRLI’s focus areas and the engagement with rural communities, cohort members will be able to share their knowledge and experience while finding ways to take the next steps in their careers and also stay local.”

Along with the leadership development curriculum and sessions held in rural regions of Virginia, cohort members will complete Community Impact Projects. 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 community.

“VRLI embodies many of the characteristics that are inherently rural- building connections, finding common ground, and working together,“ said Bryan David, Chair of the Council for Rural Virginia. “The VRLI program relies on the work of the Virginia Rural Center and partners who have united to create each component of the program from the VRLI curriculum to the critical funding needed to sustain the program.”

Current sponsors of VRLI include Appalachian Power Foundation, Microsoft, Mid Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation, Liz Povar of RiverLink Group, and the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative. The Center is continuing to build its list of partners as excitement and interest grow for VRLI.

Meet Our 2023 VRLI Cohort

Listed in Alphabetical Order by Last Name

John Patrick Clair


Town of Marion, Chief of Police

Donna J. Dagner


Community Resources Services, Executive Director

Jackie Davis


Bay Consortium Workforce Development Board, Executive Director

Jessica K. Drake


Filanthropie Consultancy, Founder & Principal

Jarrod Elwell


Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Community Development Regional Manager

Todd Fortune


Commonwealth Regional Council, Deputy Director

Olivia Garrett

Henry County

West Piedmont Planning District Commission, Regional Programs Specialist

Josh Gillespie

Louisa County

County of Louisa, Director of Community Development

Courtney L. Harper

South Hill

Building Blocks to Success, LLC, CEO and Occupational Therapist

Darren Hayes


Spotts Fain Consulting, Government Relations Assistant

Tabitha Hodge


Floyd County Economic Development Operations Director

William Johnson, III


City of Emporia, City Manager

Stephanie Lillard


Shenandoah County Business Retention & Expansion Manager

Jamie Lynn Anderson Lindley

South Boston

Comfort Systems USA MidAtlantic, Outreach, Recruiting, & Training Manager

Vanesa Livingstone


Richmond County Department of Social Services Director

Craig McCroskey


United Way of Henry County & Martinsville, Director of Financial Stability Programs

Angela McPhaul


Town of Waverly Mayor

Nick Minor

King George County

King George County Director of Economic Development

Alex Rendon

Henrico County

Dominion Energy, External Affairs Representative

AJ Robinson

Tazewell County

Tazewell County Director of Communications and Tourism

Jennifer Schmack

Fluvanna County

Fluvanna County Director of Economic Development

Beth Simms

Franklin County

Franklin County Director of Economic Development

Kim Smith

Russell County

Heart of Appalachia, Interim Executive Director

Joe Sumner


New College Institute, Executive Director

Rhett Weiss


DEALTEK, Ltd, Chairman & CEO

Alex White


Town of Luray Councilman

Kendra Wood


Rappahannock Community College, Dean of Strategic Enrollment Management

Dr. Terrence M. Wood

Greensville County

Greensville County Director of Human Resources

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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