The Rural Assembly Team

Whitney Kimball Coe

Director of National Programs

Whitney Kimball Coe is the director of National Programs at the Center for Rural Strategies. In that role, she leads the Rural Assembly, a nationwide movement striving to build better policy and more opportunity for rural communities across the country. As an organizer, speaker, moderator, and writer, Whitney has shared her perspectives on community and civic courage with audiences around the world. She has been featured on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival and the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit, and as a guest on the radio program On Being with Krista Tippett. She writes a regular column for her local newspaper, the Daily Post Athenian, and has participated in Citizen University’s Civic Saturday Fellowship program. She holds a M.A. in Appalachian studies from Appalachian State University and an undergraduate degree in religion and philosophy from Queens University. She lives in her hometown of Athens, Tennessee with her husband Matt, and daughters, Lucy and Susannah.

Mary Sketch

Program Associate

Mary Sketch serves as a Program Associate with the Center for Rural Strategies working on national programs, primarily the Rural Assembly. Prior to joining the Center for Rural Strategies, Mary was working on her Master’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech. Through her Master’s research she worked with multiple rural communities in the western United States to gain a deeper understanding of how farmers and ranchers approach conservation and land management decisions.  She has also spent time engaged with diverse communities across the country to connect people and places across rural America. She worked on rural community development and forest restoration in the Central Sierras of California following a wildfire that tore through the community in 2015. She has also done seasonal work in multiple regions of the U.S., including time with the Nature Conservancy on Block Island, the University of Montana College of Forestry, and a dude ranch in western North Carolina. She now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Kim Phinney

Fellow, Center for Rural Strategies

Kim Phinney is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Rural Strategies. Previously she was the Vice President of Program Design for YouthBuild USA. In this position, she collaborated with senior leaders to craft  the organization’s strategic direction as well as led the overall design and implementation of TA, training, and organizational learning across education, career pathways, and life skills for rural, Native, and urban programs across the country. Kim joined YouthBuild USA in 2001 to design a national initiative to create and strengthen education and career pathways for rural and Native Opportunity Youth. She served as the senior director of Rural and Native Initiatives, overseeing technical assistance and training to the national field of over 70 rural and Native YouthBuild programs. Across these roles, Kim works on a broad range of policy issues related to rural and Native youth and their communities.

Anna Claussen coordinator of the Rural Connectors with the Rural Assembly

Anna Claussen

Coordinator, Rural Connectors Program

Anna Claussen is a photographer, community place-maker, policy and social strategist. She bridges years of practice in urban design and sustainable agriculture policy with a life deeply rooted on a Minnesota family farm. Anna founded Voices for Rural Resilience, a collective of rural leaders who embrace a portfolio of empathy building tools to create a reality where rural people are heard, feel moved and take the lead in our collective fight against climate change. She was recently chosen as a 2017-18 Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow. Prior, Anna was the Director of Rural Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit working locally and globally pursuing cutting edge solutions that benefit family farmers, rural communities, and the planet. Over the last two decades, Anna has focused on creating resilient communities through the design and vision of alternative land-use plans; by advancing market solutions within the emerging bio-based economy; by sitting in tough spaces, wrestling with problems, and believing in the humanity of all people. 

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