Mary Sketch: First Day on the Job

This blog post is from Mary Sketch, the Rural Assembly’s new Program Associate.


I spent my first few hours on the job as the new Program Associate for the Center for Rural Strategies hiking up a slope in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.

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Struggling to catch my breath 8,000 feet above sea level, I kept pace with twenty other rural leaders from around the country, who an hour earlier were more or less complete strangers. As we worked to keep our balance across icy patches of trail, we marveled at the splendor of the landscape and exchanged words and ideas on what it takes to create stronger, more sustainable rural communities.

This hike marked both the start of my time with the Center for Rural Strategies and the beginning of the 15th annual Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) annual meeting.

Having the opportunity to spend my first 72 hours on the job with nearly 100 place-based practitioners working to create models of rural sustainability was beyond inspirational and the ideal way to kick start my work in building national rural leadership.

My background is at the intersection of communities and natural resource conservation. My desire to connect people to the places they live and to develop stronger communities through this intersection drew me to this field of work. From working on community-scale forest restoration in California to collaborative resource management in Montana to sustainable rangeland conservation in Oregon, I am passionate about how resilience in our landscapes and resilience in our communities can go hand in hand.

The RVCC Annual Meeting reinforced lessons about why we stay committed to the future of rural places. It reminded me that conservation work has something to teach us about the collaborative nature of rural leadership and about the importance of embedding yourself in a place.

Mary Sketch, Rural Assembly Program Associate

Mary Sketch, Rural Assembly Program Associate

Above all, this gathering reinforced the need to continue the work of shaping the rural narrative in ways that bring rural experiences to the forefront of the national dialogue.

I’m looking forward to all that lies ahead, in my work with the Center for Rural Strategies and the Rural Assembly and through collaboration with other organizations such as RVCC.

Here’s to a 2019 full of “keeping it rural!”


Let's Connect: Conversations About Improving Internet Access in North Carolina

The Community Broadband initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is teaming up with NC Hearts Gigabit and the North Carolina League of Municipalities for Let's Connect, a series of discussions about the need to improve Internet access in the state of North Carolina.

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These meetings will feature presentations from community leaders, local elected officials, and policy experts, as well as time for attendees to share their own stories and network with others interested in improving local connectivity. The purpose of these discussions is to raise awareness, amplify local stories, and inspire hope that change is possible in North Carolina. 

The meetings will take place on Jan 28-30, 2019. More information is below. For more details and to RSVP, please visit the event pages here.

Please help spread the word!

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Rural Assembly Receives Grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Center for Rural Strategies is pleased to announce that it has received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to build rural leadership and to connect local and national groups in ways that improve well-being in rural America.

The two-year, $900,000 grant will support the work of the Rural Assembly, a network of rural leaders and advocates working across the country to build a more inclusive nation.

Over the next two years, the Assembly will launch a national response to address long-standing issues of inequity and historical trauma in rural communities. The project will nurture local leadership and create narratives that build hope and show how rural communities are overcoming challenges. In particular, the Assembly will focus on amplifying the voices of rural women, youth, and people of color. 

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“We are thrilled to work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support rural leaders who are on the front lines of creating healthier communities," said Whitney Kimball Coe, coordinator of the Rural Assembly. “This grant gives us time and resources to expand the reach of the Assembly, to hone our approach and bring in new partners, make new connections, and nurture the rural spirit.”

The grant will support two national gatherings in the next two years—a Rural Women’s Summit and a Rural Youth Assembly—as well as the creation of an at-large cohort of rural “connectors” who represent the diversity of the rural experience.

The Rural Assembly has worked for the last decade to build a national network of leaders and advocates who represent the rich diversity of the rural experience; to create opportunities for them to work together, with funders, policy makers, and national public-interest groups; and to amplify rural challenges and rural strengths in ways that will yield more inclusive narratives, policies, and outcomes.

For more than 45 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working alongside others to build a national Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter or on Facebook.


Support The Daily Yonder on this National Rural Health Day!

This blog post is from Whitney Kimball Coe, Coordinator of the National Rural Assembly.


The Daily Yonder doesn’t shy away from drama. I love that.

As a community theater nerd, it was gratifying to me that the Daily Yonder was on hand at the 2018 National Rural Assembly in Durham, North Carolina, to capture some of the most newsworthy and dramatic moments, like David Toland waving an empty pickle jar from the main stage.

Toland, CEO of Thrive Allen County in Kansas, waved the large glass jar, “otherwise known as a rural healthcare financing system,” to illustrate that rural folks throw nickels in a pickle jar “to pay for healthcare when one of our neighbors gets cancer, has a farm accident, or is in a car wreck.” 

The fragile laughter in the room confirmed the drama of the moment. The donation jar shows that we try hard to take care of each other in small towns and rural communities. But that pickle jar also reminds us that we’ve got a long way to go to create a healthcare system that is fair and accessible for all of us.

On this National Rural Health Day, we shine a spotlight on the 60 million people who live in small towns, rural and frontier communities across the country. And we remember their efforts to work together for a stronger, healthier future. 

For more than 10 years, the Rural Assembly has relied upon the Daily Yonder to tell the story true about rural health and everything else, too. From pickle jars to politics to national polls on rural health and well-being.

Combining drama, data, and diverse voices to shape a portrait of modern life in rural America, the Daily Yonder is making us smarter, more compassionate, and better advocates for our neighbors and our nation.

I hope you'll join me in giving to the Daily Yonder pickle jar this year. 

Whitney Kimball Coe, Coordinator of the National Rural Assembly

New broadband policy brief on Tennessee's challenges

This week, ThinkTennessee in partnership with the Center for Rural Strategies released a new policy brief that addresses Tennessee’s challenges in increasing broadband internet access and affordability, particularly for rural and low-income families.

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According to the researchers, roughly a quarter of Tennessee’s rural families are without any kind of broadband access, while 23% of the total population reports that they lack a high-speed internet subscription.

“From the roads we drive on to the water we drink, public infrastructure powers our communities – and internet access is a key piece of that infrastructure,” said Shanna Singh Hughey, ThinkTennessee president. “Much like safe roads and clean water, all Tennesseans deserve access to the vast wealth of the internet.”

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The report advocates for flexible solutions that can empower local communities to improve broadband access and affordability while meeting their unique needs and context. Some options, such as digital literacy programs, help address low subscription rates, while others, like a coordinated road repair and broadband installation policy known as “dig once,” help reduce costs and create additional access for underserved areas.

“The diversity of our great nation doesn’t stop at its big cities – it lives in the rural areas and small towns, too. And while that diversity enriches our communities, it also makes solving challenges like broadband complex,” said Whitney Kimball Coe, Director of National Programs with the Center for Rural Strategies. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to internet access and affordability, but if we create more pathways for providers, invest in local programs and emphasize efficient infrastructure deployment, we can improve the lives of thousands of Tennesseans.”

The full brief is available here.