Alumni Newsletter: Spring Issue 2022
Welcome our newest addition to the team: Angella Dunston!
We are thrilled to welcome and introduce to you Angella Dunston, our new network engagement manager! In this new role, she will work to create engaging opportunities for our robust statewide network of leadership alumni and rural advocates.

Dunston is originally from rural Warren County, where she began her training as an advocate in the environmental justice movement, petitioning for the removal of toxic, cancerous PCB chemicals dumped in her community. Early in her professional career, Dunston served as the director of community and faith-based outreach for the first female governor of North Carolina, Gov. Bev Purdue. In that role, she was responsible for building a network of statewide advocates that included Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and faith communities. For close to 10 years, she was employed at the NC Justice Center, where she worked in collaboration with grassroots advocates and policymakers to pass legislation to address disparities among low income, rural, and vulnerable communities.

Dunston is a dedicated community change champion and policy advocate that has a demonstrated history of working to bring about effective statewide impact in the nonprofit and government sector.

She is a proud mom and in her spare time, she takes care of her loving family, which includes a Pomeranian pup named - Polo - AKA “Mr. Personality.”

Please join us in welcoming Angella to the team!
Alumni Spotlight - Christy Agner (REDI, 2019)
Job: Deputy Chief of Staff & External Relations Director for Western Carolina University

Currently Lives: Cullowhee, North Carolina

Hometown: Rowan County. Home of Cheerwine!

Q: What are the greatest assets of rural NC?
A: I returned to rural North Carolina in February 2022 and already have had the pleasure of waking to birdsong and wind coming across the mountain, versus car alarms, news helicopters, and highway noise from the old urban digs.

Q: What are the biggest community economic development challenges facing your town/county?
A: Lack of reliable, affordable broadband. Every entrepreneur, caregiver, and learner needs this access to prosper. The current state statutory framework limits the ways local governments can bring internet equity to its citizens.

Q: What is the best hidden gem in your region?
A: WCU’s role as the largest NC Promise campus, provides affordable tuition for a unique educational experience. The majority of the WCU student body is filled with first generation college students, like me. Western North Carolina's future teachers, nurses, engineers, artists, and entrepreneurs can access a first class education at an attainable price in a location close to home. This hidden gem is an asset for both economic and community prosperity in rural, western NC communities.

Q: Describe the impact that REDI has had on you both personally and professionally.
A: Leadership and innovation is difficult to serve up at a table set for one. It’s the ‘team-think’ that really inspires me personally. My REDI colleagues were hungry to address needs specific to their rural communities, including working with local non profit and faith leadership. It was invigorating to be engaged with such passionate learners and leaders.  I also learned the importance of nicknames – Here’s looking at you Calabash!

Q: What’s the best advice about leadership that you were ever given?
A: Sometimes your only transportation is a leap of faith. I also follow Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s approach: ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair’.

Q: What gives you the greatest pride in your work?
A: My colleagues in government service are focused on problem solving, proactive, transparent, and with customer outcomes in mind. The dedication shown for the health and safety of North Carolina's communities by my fellow government public servants during the pandemic has been inspiring.
Save the Date: Homegrown Leaders East Trainings
The final two trainings for Homegrown Leaders East will take place May 24-26 in Elizabeth City (serving Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Pasquotank, and Perquimans) and June 21-23 in Lumberton (serving Columbus, Bladen, Hoke, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland, Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender). For more information visit our website. The application will be available in the coming weeks.
Alumni News & Updates
Wayne County Leaders Present Economic Development Report
A group of Wayne County leaders graduated from Homegrown Leaders East program in February of 2021 (Julie Beck, Edward Olive, Scott Satterfield, Carrie Shields, and Vanessa Spiron) and after completing the program, the group knew there was a need to put their new network and skills into action to benefit Wayne County and the region. Over the last year, the group continued to meet and identify partners to work together and enlisted the expertise of NC Growth, the economic development research arm of the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise at UNC-Chapel Hill. As the anchor institution for the project, the University of Mount Olive is serving as the lead organization with support and collaboration from the Homegrown Leaders alumni group and many other organizations across the region.

In February 2022, the group presented the report findings and survey results and shared recommendations to ensure that existing opportunities within the region are leveraged to ensure long-term success and benefits the region.

Congratulations to these Homegrown Leaders alumni and the Mt. Olive team for their demonstrated ability to collaborate and lead within their community!
Alumni in the News
Featuring Dr. Kamala Uzzell (HGL - East 2021)
The Takeaway
Featuring Noran Sanford (REDI 2016)
Community Food Strategies
Featuring Weyling White (REDI 2015), Henry Crews (REDI 2017), and with help from Chester Williams (HGL-East 2020)
Border Belt Independent
Featuring Dr. Devoria Berry (REDI 2019)
Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust
Featuring Ed Hunt (REDI 2021)
Asheville Citizen Times
Featuring Terri Wells (HGL - West 2019)
WCU Stories
Featuring Christy Agner (REDI 2019)
Featuring Vivian Saunders (REDI 2011, HGL - East 2021)
Partner Events & Resources
Opportunity Appalachia (April 15, 2022)
If you have an upcoming event, noteworthy news, or other information that you would like to share with your leadership alumni network, please contact Emily Holder, Program Associate, at
For more information or to join the conversation: | @ncruralcenter